Why it took me 3 years to quit my job

It took me 3 years to quit my safe, well-paid job. These were the years of internal dilemmas ripping me apart, spontaneous outbursts of self-pity tears and brining home the unhappiness I had suppressed all day… whilst avoiding at all costs the dreadful question “How’s work?”. It wasn’t all bad of course, there were momentary glimmers of excitement and some amazing people who kept me going. But the overriding feeling was that of being out of place. So why did it take me so long to leave? And what was the tipping point?

I doubted my abilities

I was living a paradox. I was working for Procter & Gamble, the school of marketing, yet my self-esteem was low. People outside would rightly say this doesn’t make any sense– yet many millennials working in large prestigious companies will tell you they feel the same. I have uncovered two main reasons for this. Firstly, these companies attract insecure perfectionists – straight A students and club captains whose self-esteem hinges on external recognition and managerial approval. It only takes an “employee of the month” award to keep the insecure perfectionists working through the night for no extra money. Secondly, these over-achievers are shocked when they transition from university where they are surrounded by people of all abilities to an office full of top performers. Suddenly they are a small fish in a much larger pond.

I was afraid I would never find a better company

Working in a big company had lulled me into a false sense of security inside the office walls and a false fear of the unknown outside. Since the company promotes from within, most people around me had never worked in other companies. Human beings prefer the familiar, so naturally most thought it was better to stay than to embark on an unproven path. My own fear was feeding on the fears of my colleagues and I found a strange comfort in that consensus reality.

I didn’t know what I wanted to do next – and I invested zero time in figuring it out.

It took me a long time to admit to myself that I didn’t want my next role to be in FMCG marketing. I would apply for jobs and politely pull out before the inevitable “Why do you want to work for us?”. I dreaded this question because the true answer was “I don’t” and I am a terrible liar.

Since I hadn’t come to terms with the idea that I wanted a career change, I had never actually asked myself what I wanted to do. I limited myself to the menu of local and regional marketing roles. Sometimes I would do what I thought was “out of the box” and apply for a creative agency, but this was just doing the same thing on the other side of the fence. I did nothing to explore different industries and functions: I didn’t leverage my network and friends, I didn’t reach out to new recruiters, I didn’t ask my mentors for help and didn’t even consider getting a career coach. This was partially due to pride – I was working in one of the best companies in the world and any move would be a step down…

I was afraid of what people would say about me

Most training and coaching work is delivered by small companies or freelancers. After seven years in a large prestigious organization like P&G, I was ashamed to admit I would be moving to a much smaller and less known company, let alone be a freelancer. How would I explain this “downgrade” on my CV? What would people say about me, especially my former colleagues who stayed at P&G? Senior people who I had worked so hard to impress would dismiss me at once, forever shutting the door to future opportunities. My peers would look down on me and I would fall from grace.

I allowed myself to be held back by the fears of my parents

My parents grew up in a world where career success equaled a stable job in a big company for life. The millennial dream – trading salary and stability for a meaningful and exhilarating job – was their worst nightmare. Like all parents, they wanted to protect me from what they considered crazy – and what safer place than a large multinational? Unconsciously, I adopted their fears. I let them feel at home in my head. Even when I had overcome my own fears, I was still clinging on to those of my parents because I valued their opinion:

“You work in a big prestigious company and you earn good money – how bad can it be?”

“If you wait, things may get better.”

“Why don’t you find another full time job first and then quit?”

Sometimes the force that holds us back disguises as the people who love us most.

The TIPPING POINT

So who could I talk to? In my first coaching session, my coach asked me one very simple question “what will you give up in order to do your dream job full time”? I began calculating the hours – I still needed to sleep and eat… I could reduce the time with my family and friends, but that was already very little… I could work less hard in my current job, but I am diligent and hadn’t managed to pull that off for the past three years, so it wasn’t realistic…. And then I said it out loud for the first time “I will give up my job”. Three years of tension, fear and paradox melted away. I quit my job that same week and I haven’t looked back since.

It doesn’t need to take you 3 years to get clarity and move forward with your life. I am by no means saying quit your job now, or ever – you have a unique story and need to do what’s right for you. I urge you to get clarity on what makes you happy and what is stopping you from getting there. I urge you to get help from someone independent. If you want to try coaching, the thing that brought about my tipping point, get in touch on [email protected] for a free session.

*The Spark that (Re)ignites your Engine*

Follow me here or on LinkedIn for my next posts:

  • How I learnt to let go – the effervescent lightness of being free
  • Why you should take a sabbatical once in a while
  • The secret wave of millennials that no one has noticed

Find out more about Desi’s story.

Photo credit: Jerry Huddleston

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