Well, look at you. You’ve done it. After months of quietly exploring new, better career opportunities, you’ve landed a job that makes you giddy just to think about. You’ve even mustered up the courage to tell your current employer. And just at that moment when you should be on cloud nine?
The guilt comes rolling into the station. You begin to question the decision. You feel awful that you’re leaving your team with big endeavors still in flux. You wonder if you could swing working from home for the next two weeks, to avoid having to break this bombshell news face to face.
Stop that. Assuming you manage your departure gracefully, you absolutely shouldn’t feel guilty.
But guilt is a natural feeling that many people have when leaving an employer, especially if the company’s been great to you. And even though you shouldn’t feel bad, our brains are great at coming up with reasons that you should.
Here are some of the common reasons people feel guilty about leaving their jobs—and what you should tell yourself instead.
Reason 1: “I feel like I’m abandoning my team.”
Instead, tell yourself: “Professionals are expected to develop and grow.”
Your colleagues are not unlike you. They aspire to grow, develop, and in many cases, also climb into positions with new challenges and responsibilities. This is human nature, and it’s expected. Even if your peers or supervisors act pouty or irritated when you announce you’re leaving, realize that this is probably just them thinking about the pain in the rear your departure may create for them in the short term (or wishing that they were you right about now).
But even if your team’s truly going to feel the burn in the time immediately after your departure, it won’t last forever. Your employer will hire someone else to fill your job (and if they don’t, that’s not on you). In the time you have left at this job, do everything you can to ease this burden by creating a strong transition plan and bringing your coworkers up to speed on anything they’ll need to know in the interim.
Reason 2: “I can’t be disloyal to my employer.”
Instead, tell yourself: “If the tables were turned, the company probably wouldn’t feel guilty.”
If your employer were facing budget cuts or layoffs, and your job was going to be among those impacted, do you think they’d be loyal to you? Probably not. Do you think that your company’s executives or the HR director would spend endless hours wringing their hands with guilt before they alerted you of the layoff? Well, they might. We’re all human, after all. But even if they felt badly on a personal level, they’d surely realize that this is business, and in business, difficult decisions sometimes need to be made.
Now, apply this to your own decision, and realize that most employers understand that you, too, are making difficult choices to further your own business—the business of your career.
Reason 3: “My team (or company) can’t function without me.”
Instead, tell yourself: “If I stay out of guilt, I’m not doing anyone any favors.”
I’ve actually coached a few clients who’ve turned down great offers because they just couldn’t get the nerve up to face their employer and resign. (“They’ll fall apaaaart without me.”) And in at least two of these instances, guess what happened? The person who stayed became more and more resentful or unproductive in their role, and the employer was negatively impacted anyway.
Even if you know your company is going to gripe and moan when you quit, if you’re only staying out of guilt, you’re doing both them and you a disservice.
Reason 4: “My boss has been a great manager to me.”
Instead, tell yourself: “They were fine before me, and they’ll be just fine after me.”
When Muse writer Abby Wolfe was thinking about leaving her first “real job,” she felt guilty about leaving her supervisor: “My manager at the time was a smart, kind, and patient individual, and he made it clear that he valued me and wanted me to be happy,” she writes. “But because he truly respected me, even though I was an entry-level minion (or at least, that’s how some of my colleagues made me feel), I felt horrible about starting up my job search again.”
The bottom line is that you’re probably not the first direct report your boss has seen quit. “Sure, your boss probably doesn’t want you to leave, but it also won’t be the end of the world if you do,” Wolfe writes. “It’s nothing personal—it’s just the way the world works.”
They—like your coworkers—will understand that careers progress and people move on. You can read more about what mindset helped Wolfe overcome this guilt.
Reason 5: “I’m going to miss working here too much.”
Instead tell yourself: “I’m going to make the most out of my final days at this job.”
Have you enjoyed your time at the company you’re leaving? Have you met at least a couple of colleagues or clients that you really like being around? Well then stop the moping and appreciate this workplace before you move on. Lift that load off of your shoulders and enjoy the hours you have remaining with these comrades. But don’t be too sad. Because guess what? You can (and should) exchange contact info and stay in touch!
The bottom line
Even when you’re downright ecstatic about your pending transition, quitting a job can be emotionally tough. Feel the emotions, absolutely. Just don’t let guilt sneak in and steal the moment. You’ve got basking to do.
Regina Borsellino contributed writing, reporting, and/or advice to this article.