In January, I quit my job. It was the first Friday of the New Year, and I’d managed to convince myself over the holidays that I could stick it out, even though I’d been miserable for months. I wanted to do what I thought was the right thing: stay in a secure role while I looked for another full-time gig.
That Friday, after sitting through a needlessly stressful morning meeting, I spent the next three or four hours staring at my computer screen, unable to comprehend the project I’d been assigned or to do anything else for that matter. It wasn’t that I didn’t understand what I was supposed to do (I did), or that I didn’t have the bandwidth for it (okay, that I didn’t have). It was me. I couldn’t picture myself doing the project, and the more I tried to imagine myself as that person, the more I wondered why I had to do it at all.
It turns out, I didn’t.
We all know there are a lot of good reasons not to quit your job. Keeping your health insurance is one. Having the money to pay back student loans is another. Your family, which counts as, let’s say for the sake of this argument, seven reasons on its own.
But my issue went deeper than those surface-level factors. It was societal.
Women face a very real pressure to “power through” their jobs, even when they’re miserable, toxic, or, god, unsafe, and that’s because “having it all” isn’t always about raising kids while working a 9 to 5. It’s about being everything–a put-together, successful working woman who can “handle” what life throws at her, Olivia Pope–style.
And if she can’t? The consequences are severe. If a woman stays in the office and actively campaigns for change, she’s labeled as “emotional” or “demanding,” and if she leaves without another job lined up, she’s liable to lose a lot of money. Research from the Harvard Business Review tells us that if women take gaps in employment for any reason–kids, aging parents, millennial burnout–they’ll end up earning 18% less than their male peers when they return to work.
That reality can feel pretty hopeless. At least, it did for me. I felt stuck, and for a long time, I tried to convince myself that there wasn’t really a problem, that I could fix how I felt by talking to my boss, therapist, coworkers, friends, family, or even Googling “how to adjust your attitude at work.”
What I found through that canvassing was that none of it made me feel better, and that, eventually, I actually had to turn down the noise that was driving how I thought about work in order to make a decision that was right for me.
The most powerful moment of my career thus far was when I was sitting in my office alone that day and realized that being alone in the decision to leave my job was a good thing.
There’s always going be new research about what women should and shouldn’t do in the workplace, just as there are always going to be articles about how generation whatever is lazy and quitting your job is stupid. But no matter what you read online or even hear from your mentors, you should always leave a seat at the table for your own voice.
Remove financial responsibility for a minute (I know that’s hard, and maybe impossible).
Remove tradition and decorum and that slight nausea you get when you think about carrying a box to your car. Ignore your cell phone. Forget everything your parents sacrificed to get you where you are. Stop Googling “should I quit my job.”
Despite everything that’s working against you, your career is still yours. Take ownership of that.
Beth Castle is the managing editor at InHerSight.