What quitting my job revealed

Quitting Strip

Written by David Templin

My job was hurting me.  No, I wasn’t a professional wrestler or an asbestos miner, but nonetheless, I was being hurt. For the longest time I didn’t pay attention.

I worked with people I liked, in a field that I enjoyed. Yet it was hurting me.

Part of my problem is that I am a perfectionist. I get down on myself when I do not perform up to the highest standards. As I progressed through my career, I took on more challenges and responsibilities and I was able to build up my confidence after each new role. During that time I found my co-workers and superiors and employees very supportive.

Eventually I was in a situation where I was put in charge of 10 programmers. I found that I was no longer the expert in anything we did. I worked for a client that was far more expert in his field than me or my team.  Although we were providing very competent help in a professional manner, nothing was good enough for him. He was not only unappreciative of our work, he was verbally abusive. He was a bully, pure and simple.

My standard response to verbal bullying is with humour. A little mixture of sarcasm and self depreciating humour usually helps diffuse a situation and can interject some humanity into the situation. Unfortunately some people do not have much a sense of humour, and this client is one of those people.

That had a big impact on my self esteem. No matter what I did or said seem to make the matter worse. My employees did what they could to provide support over and above the call of duty. I tried to protect them as best I could from what I thought were unfounded complaints, but I did not feel I was getting any support for my superiors, and I was starting to feel physically sick.

The mornings were the worst for me. I had a hard time waking up. I felt tight in my stomach and I stopped eating breakfast because of it. I relied on coffee at work to get my energy up to get through the day. When I woke in the morning I did not feel rested.

After over a year of helping the client through some difficult times, I still did not receive any respect from him. My bosses acknowledged he was difficult, but when issues were escalated above my head, my bosses always took the client’s side due to their commitment to “customer service”.

Finally, at a meeting where the client laid into a colleague of mine, I started to tense up. My bosses did nothing to support him. I was in no position to provide support either since it was not a subject that I had direct knowledge of. I felt helpless. It would have been better if the client had been attacking me. At least I was used to it. But watching someone else go through it was too much for me. I broke out in a cold sweat and found it hard to breath. I could feel my heart pumping. I waited for a bit of a break in the conversation and excused myself.

The next day I asked for a change in jobs. To their credit, the bosses acted quickly. I was given new duties and a new client who liked what I did for them. But the damage was done.

My confidence in myself was shaken. The anxiety persisted.

Although the new client and my new immediate boss were far more appreciative of my work, they had little influence over my appraisal that year.

It wasn’t just the official appraisal of the bosses and my bosses’ bosses that was painful. It was my own appraisal of myself.

I started to see an analyst who helped a lot. The analyst helped me understand how I feel responsible for situations over which I have no control. She tried to show me how I was not completely responsible for the perceptions of poor performance in my team and myself. That maybe, just maybe, the client and my bosses were also at fault.

On the surface, this just seemed to be obvious. But there are many levels of fault one has to come to grips with.

I was taught as a child, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.”  Even as a child I understood the wisdom of the statement and I took it to heart. But being a perfectionist, I have exaggerated the meaning of this simple axiom. So, if I am hurt by nasty names, or other mean words, then it is my fault.

I beat myself up for being vulnerable, which ironically tended to make me more vulnerable.

As a child I was raised in a highly moral and religious household. I was taught to love my neighbours as myself. This is the golden rule which comes in many flavours. Judge others as you would have them judge you. Treat others as thyself.

As a perfectionist, I am afraid I have warped the meaning of this simple rule. So when it comes to judging people, I tend not to judge them as myself, because that is far too harsh. I think people deserve some compassion from me. I tend to give them a break

Unfortunately, I paid a price for my interpretation of the golden rule.

I did not hold my client and my bosses responsible for the things that triggered my anxiety. I held myself responsible for reactions to their behaviour. That in turn contributed to my anxiety.

I ended up forming a deep resentment for the individuals at work who had a direct influence on how I was judged. I could not address that resentment other than beating myself up for even feeling resentful.

I felt a deep need to forgive these people, yet I could not, because they were entirely unrepentant. They thought they were doing a great job. Hey, they even seemed to agree with me that it was all my fault.

So what did I do about it?

The first step, to switch jobs, helped a lot. It removed me from the immediate situation.  I had no more anxiety attacks, but the anxiety was ever present. Although I had a new immediate boss who was very supportive, her boss and her boss’s boss were still the same. I knew that I had lost their respect and I could not forgive them for it.

It ran deeper than that. I watched the whole process of annual evaluations and bonus payouts. Like many other corporations they established a predefined threshold of what percentage of employees would receive high, medium or low bonuses. 15 % would receive a high bonus and 15% would receive a low bonus.

As a manager, I had to make that determination about the employees that reported to me. Very often my determinations were superseded by my superiors based on their own criteria. I had to inform a number of my good employees that they had been judged to be in the lowest 15% of performers. I hated the process. Now that I had felt the pain of that judgement on myself, which I felt was arbitrary and unnecessary; I could not feel I could participate in the exercise anymore with a good conscience. I not only resented a few individuals. I resented the organization that would have such hurtful policies.

So, I decided to take an early retirement. It was a tough decision to make. On a financial level, I have given up a significant portion of my income. I am very fortunate however that I do have a fair amount of savings, and I knew it would not have an immediate impact on my lifestyle outside of work.

One of the hardest aspects of quitting was that it seemed like I was admitting defeat. But in the end I knew if I did not take action, my health would suffer.

It has been about a year. Almost immediately, the level of anxiety dissipated. I feel much better. I am not sure what exactly caused that. I believe it was two main things. First, since I was no longer surrounded by reminders of the pain, I felt better. Secondly, it was me that took the action. I could not change the environment, but I had taken an action that I had control over. I had quit.

There is no question the primary triggers of my anxiety were work related. When I left work, the triggers were gone and the relief was almost immediate.

Yet, I still feel wounded.

I have not yet been able to completely forgive the one client and two of my bosses who I think acted poorly. I have not yet completely forgiven myself for being hurt by them.

One big surprise revelation to me is this: I do not have to forgive them before I forgive myself. In fact, I am pretty sure now, that I have to forgive myself first. It is alright to feel resentment. I am human after all. I am certain I will eventually be able to forgive them for their faults as well. It is far more important for me to forgive myself.

I am now thinking about going back into the work force. I am not sure what I will be looking for. I need to prepare myself for what I will find. I am somewhat afraid that I will feel the anxiety again.

So, I am re-evaluating my value system. If similar situations arise, how should I react?

Now I realize that sticks and stones may break my bones and names do hurt me. I will hold the people who call me names accountable, just as I would if they threw stones at me. I will still continue to respond with humour, but I will also stand up to verbal bullying and unfounded judgements with a more direct approach when humour has no effect. I will defend myself against false accusation as I hard as I would defend a friend falsely accused.

From now on I will try to love my neighbour as myself and try very hard to judge myself as charitably as I judge others. I will try to forgive myself of my trespasses first, in order to forgive those who trespass against me.

Armed with that new outlook, I will be able go forward without fear of failure.

 

Cartoon credit: David Templin

 

David Templin Bio PicDavid Templin is a retired systems analyst from Ottawa Canada who enjoys eating, sleeping and other even less demanding activities.

He keeps busy by volunteering to help seniors and helps organize an annual dinner to feed well over a thousand less fortunate people on Christmas Eve.

His greatest joy in life is when he successfully makes people smile and laugh.

He is a regular contributor and editor at MHT.

View all posts by David.


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Comments

  • Caroline

    Thank you David T. for sharing your experience, I can relate to much of have you have shared, I too struggle with forgiveness in much of the same way, and am working hard let go of all the hurt resentment and blame that I carry in my wounded heart… you have helped me remember that I may not be as alone as I sometimes feel, and for that I am thankful. I wish you strength in your journey.

  • David T

    Thanks Caroline,
    It really helps me to know others have experienced similar feelings. Thank you also for your
    well wishes. I have found that self forgiveness can be somethimes be very difficult, but it is so important. I hope you too can forgive yourself as freely as you can forgive those you love.

  • Rachel Miller

    Wow, this is me!

    I’ve just quit my job due to a bullying boss and I have very similar perfectionism/fear of failure issues and feeling responsible for every one else’s happiness. I was also brought up in a strict Christian household.

    Since I quit my job 5 weeks ago I’ve really started to feel more like myself. It was killing me, literally, to keep going. I know I have a lot of issues to work on from a screwed-up past. I’m starting to learn to be kind to myself and forgive myself for not being perfect. It’s not easy to change the habit of a lifetime but I’m definitely on the right track.

    Really enjoyed reading your post. Thank you.

    Rachel

  • David T

    Thanks for you’re comments Rachel. It certainly was comfort to me to know I was not alone in feeling the way I did. I haven’t overcome being a perfectionist, but I am quicker to recognize when I am being hard on myself and I am able to let things go much easier.
    It can take a a fair amount of courage to quit a job, and that courage comes in handy as you face new challenges. Good luck, and thanks again for your feedback.

    David T

  • Harry

    I have never taken my job to be my life. I was once laid off and that changed my perception of corporations and jobs. However, I am facing a very stressful situation at work too. I may take a break from life for a few months. I dont know yet. I am not enjoying my work. There is so much work that it is almost certain that something will go wrong.

    • David T

      Hi Harry,
      Thanks for your comment. I still do not regret my decision to leave my job although it hasn’t all been easy. There were some major financial consequences of that decision. Luckily, I have enough income from my reduced pension to survive comfortably enough. The experience, including the decision to leave, has left some scars. It has been three years and I have not actively searched for work.
      If you are like me, you may take too much personal responsibility for negative outcomes at work. I often thought, “if I can just work a little harder…” . Looking back now, I realize I should have let some things go.
      So my only advice is to take a look at all your options and choose the one you think is best for your health. I wish you all the best!

  • Charlie

    Thank you for sharing David. I identify with much of what you said. I’m not a perfectionist, but I am surronded by people who are so brilliant they expose all my weaknesses (to me at least).

    I have zero reasons for be in a constant state of anxiety. I got a superb result from a top-5 UK university, got my dream job, etc. I had a great childhood, I’ve had no problems really at all. These days I can’t go a day without having a panic attack. In the benign cases my muscles go into spasm and I can’t speak. In the worst cases I loose up to four hours of time that I can’t account for. Does anyone else have this? How did you solve it?

    My doctor has given me a course of citalopram, but it’s not helping. I regularly practice mindfulness, and have started seeing a CBT counsellor. My work environment and the place I have to live to work there are what is causing my anxiety (I think, maybe if I quit it would get even worse because of the sense of failure). I feel too cowardly to quit though. I’ve only been there 7 months out of univeristy, and I feel like I would be burning bridges to quit. There doesn’t seem to be any reason for my state of mind, so I feel like quitting wouldn’t make sense to my employer, and they’d assume I was just lazy.

    I’m pleased you found the courage to make a change. Take care out there.

    • David T

      Thanks for your comments Charlie.
      I wish you all the best with your decisions. They are not easy. One of the hardest things for me to do was to recognize that I needed help when anxiety was taking over much of my life. I see that you have already sought out help and that you are taking solid steps yourself to deal with your anxiety. For me, seeking help was a huge step that signified to me that I was taking action to address the anxiety. It was also very encouraging to know that I did not have to face it on my own. I understand the idea that quitting can represent failure. I experienced that feeling upon quitting my job. However, I know I did the right thing for me at that time, and the feeling of failure faded away. I am lucky. I am able to live well with my reduced pension so I did not have to look for work to get by. I have been blessed with the time to devote to things that are important to me. My perspective has changed on what is important. Not surprisingly, my health and happiness rank higher now than ever before.
      Thank you again Charlie for your thoughts.

  • Ruth

    Hi,
    Thanks for taking the time to share your story. I’m a 22 year old recent college graduate with all the excitement to start my professional career. I started my first job, and within a month of being there my self-steem has dropped to the ground. One experience I can relate to is, “My bosses acknowledged he was difficult, but when issues were escalated above my head, my bosses always took the client’s side due to their commitment to “customer service”.

  • Tori Kay

    Thank you for writing this article. You have helped me persevere despite what I am going through because I now know I am not alone. My upbringing has been my rock, but sometimes I forget all that it encompasses. Thank you, again.

  • Helen

    Thank you for this piece. I have similar problems and it’s helping me to think through what I should do. I’m a university lecturer/researcher and I’ve been in my job for about 25 years. I used to enjoy it, but over the past 5-8 years I have become increasingly anxious. The environment is obviously horribly competitive and I have to prove myself over and over again by bringing in money, having ideas, writing papers etc.
    My level of responsibility has increased over time and in fact I was promoted a year ago, which has, ironically, made things much worse. My anxiety and depression have escalated in the last 2 years such that some days I can hardly focus on the job at all. Once or twice I have physically struggled to actually leave the house to drive to work. My colleagues don’t appear to see any problem, but I feel completely worthless every day that I’m in work. I feel like the stupidest person in the world. I have tried to resign several times but have let my boss persuade me not to go. He needs me to be there because no-one else can pick up the work short term, and he doesn’t believe what I tell him about my inability to cope, but I can’t do the work as effectively as necessary, and other people’s careers are depending on my ability, which has declined severely because of my problems. There are important aspects of the job I just don’t do because I can’t deal with the feelings the induce.
    I have recently cut my hours, but the amount of work has basically stayed the same. Although it helps not to be there so much, my anxiety is still as bad, or worse, on the days when I do have to go. More and more I think that I should leave completely, but I’m afraid to lose the (very good) salary and I hate the feeling of failure. I’m at an age where I will struggle to build a different career, though there are ways I could make some money. I am kept in my job only because I feel it will be letting myself and my family down to abandon the career. I’m pretty sure I could be happy if I gave it up, but I’m afraid to make the decision. So tiring to feel like this all the time, and what a waste of time it all is, fighting the anxiety.

  • Chucky

    I have had a anxiety disorder on and off for 25 years.Been to the depths of depression and anxiety.I was a an athlete my whole young life,this got me to a powerhouse Jc after HS where I had a coach that much like a bad boss I could never please,all I got was negative feedback and told I would never play.I ended up physically sick every day,anxious and became a perfectionist in hopes to please this dude.Ended up starting as my Head coach gave me a shot,in my bid to please my pos coach I ended up depressed with an anxiety disorder.Been with me most of the last 20 years but I have learned to live with it.Recently last 6 years I have coached and even though this sport is what made me sick I enjoyed helping young kids learn.This year I was hired by the same college where this happened.After 2 months there I stsrting having horrible anxiety attacks.Ptsd I guess on top of my other issues.i just told the head coach I was gonna step down due to health concerns.although embarrassed to make this move its been a week and I can at least eat now.Just want a simple life and deal with my disorder and not try to please everyone else.

  • Paloma

    I left a job 3 months prior to being vested because I couldn’t take the clearly organized harassment and bullying. Due to budget challenges, I was moved to another department after 7 years, and that’s when it started. I tried to stick it out but was deteriorating, not sleeping, crying all the time and feeling like a failure. Ultimately, I thought I would feel better once I left, but had a breakdown, resulting in the loss of our home. Several years later I am still not working and battling depression. I’m so sorry I didn’t go a legal route so that I didn’t have to leave or at least get justice, but I didn’t. I had tried however to move departments and for whatever reason, that was denied. Don’t hesitate to do so if you have a good Personnel Department, or seek advice from the legal community if that doesn’t work. I feel again, I let myself down by not doing so.

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