The Day I Quit My Job

Paula worked in marketing at a consulting firm for seven years. The report of a farewell

For a long time I had the feeling that I was in the wrong job—or rather, in the wrong company. To be honest, it felt like it started when I signed the contract and accompanied me the whole seven years I was there. It’s not that I didn’t look around for other jobs. But then came a baby break, my return, and after the second baby break a very good opportunity opened up. I was given a leadership position, was able to build a team, and the subject matter was interesting. I was suddenly so busy and distracted that the search for another job faded into the backdrop. The feeling again became virulent when the direction of the department changed and I had to switch from strategic focus back to operational focus. Additionally there was a change at the management level. In seven years I had six superiors, and now number seven was coming. The twisting in my stomach got stronger.

And then that day came last summer. I had met a good friend, we spent a wonderful evening together, laughed a lot, drank a lot, talked. Also about the fact that we had to make changes again—career-wise. Not today or tomorrow, but definitely in the mid-foreseeable future. It was one of those evenings where you go home elated; inspired even. I was in a radiant mood and then made the terrible mistake of checking my email. The beautiful evening was gone within seconds. I read a colleague’s email which was so inappropriate in tone and content that I immediately burst into tears. Of course, people get unfriendly or unfair emails regularly, so how could such banality throw me so off track? I arrived home in total disarray. “I don’t know what to do,” I told my husband, “I can’t just quit.” And he said, “Why not? Sleep on it one night and think about it.” That was on a 28th. I only had this small window of time. If I didn’t want to lose a whole month, I had to quit the next day. I fell asleep equally agitated and excited.

When I woke up, it still felt right. In the car on the way to work I did what I always do when I don’t know what to do: I called my mother. She reacted cautiously. “Do you have anything else lined up? You can’t just quit like that. Think it over again,” she advised. But I was determined to go through with it. Since my direct boss wasn’t there, I asked two of the partners to talk with me. They were shocked. They tried to change my mind and offered to organize my job differently. To reduce the workload. But that wasn’t the point! We agreed on a two-week waiting period in which time I was supposed to reconsider everything. I didn’t stonewall them although I knew it was over. I had decided. On the way home I called my mother again. Something had also shifted in her within the course of the day. She said, “You’re doing just the right thing. You can count on me.”

I came home, let myself fall on the sofa and took a deep breath. A long story had come to an end. A new chapter would begin. I drank a glass of wine. To me.

What I learned:

1) There is always a way

What kept me up during my lows (because of course there were lows) was the knowledge that I would find some job, even if at Aldi’s checkout. You have to look at it soberly: it’s work, there’s money for it, it’s not that bad. That makes you independent and enables you to work on your big plan and to say to yourself again and again: believe in yourself, you can do something, there is always a way.

2) No thought restrictions

What surprised me was that I suddenly thought in completely different directions; I allowed myself to think completely freely. I didn’t have a plan. Theoretically, everything was possible: completely independent, partially self-employed, or a marketing job in a company? Anything was possible. I sought interaction with self-employed people, with marketing people, with many different people. I had to get clear with myself though: did I just want to get out of the company, or out of the job? I had never consciously asked myself this question before.

3) Ask, learn, ask

By being on the lookout, I had a lot of conversations and met people I would otherwise have never met. I got exciting introductions, went to startups and interviewed people there as that was also a conceivable alternative. In the last few months I received an incredible amount of valuable input, which really helped me move forward.

4) Fancy title? Who cares?

I had to realize what was really important to me in my next job: the company’s reputation? Status? Salary? The position itself? What do I need, where am I willing to cut back, and what do I perhaps no longer want? And what I found out is, of course I would have liked to have had my previous salary, but I was prepared to accept cutbacks. Leading a team? I don’t need that. And if I am completely honest: I don’t want it, either. I would rather develop people, motivate them, and coach them. I want to help them get ahead without having to judge or be the administrator. And that too was a realization: I don’t have to be the head of anything and have at least ten people under me to make it look good on a CV. It doesn’t help if it doesn’t make you happy.

What happened afterwards? Five months after her resignation, Paula found a new job.


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