Here's Why You Shouldn't Stay at a Job Out of Guilt: Your Company Will Be Fine Without You
A little over two years ago, I was seven months into my first “real job.” Full-time, salaried, benefits—the whole package. But the honeymoon period was over. It took me half a year to realize that, though the amenities at this company were beyond stellar, I just wasn’t happy. And I couldn’t stay solely because of the perks.
I’d made my final decision: As soon as I was offered a new opportunity, I was leaving. But I felt guilty. Really, uncomfortably, guilty.
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. But the reality was, unless he created a completely new position for me—a role that didn’t even exist at the company yet—there wasn’t anything he could do to make me like my role more. Bottom line: It was a bad fit and I needed out.
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. And I was desperately afraid of hurting his feelings. On top of that, I also knew he was wildly busy. If I left, more and more tasks would pile onto his already overflowing plate.
This wasn’t the only source of my guilt, though. Growing up, society had taught me that you choose a career and you stay there—forever. While I knew this wasn’t necessarily the case anymore, I couldn’t help but think, “How can I leave after only seven months?” This company had invested in me, taken a risk on me, and I was going to leave them high and dry, abandoning my commitment and appearing unreliable?
For weeks, I was so guilt-ridden that I spoke to everyone I knew about it (sorry, guys). One day, as I was walking from the metro station to my apartment, I called my grandmother. When the conversation got to the topic of work, I expressed my current mindset. After a few moments, she said to me, “Now, don’t take this the wrong way, but your company was fine before you, and they’ll be just fine after you.”
Drop the mic.
Wait a second—did my grandmother just tell me I didn’t matter? Basically, yes. But she wasn’t saying it to be unkind. She was speaking the truth. The very sobering truth: To my company, I was not irreplaceable.
In no way am I suggesting that those I worked for didn’t care about me. That would be a flat out lie. What I am saying, is that I wasn’t vital to the company’s success. Yes, I did my job well, even if I didn’t understand the healthcare and IT lingo half of the time (read: 95% of the time).
But there were plenty of other people out there who could do it well, too. And, furthermore, there were likely some who could do it much better. My company would be just as happy with any of those candidates, and, until then, they’d redistribute my work and move forward relatively seamlessly.
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Again, I know—it’s no fun to recognize that your employer just isn’t that into you (rejection is hard). Sure, your boss probably doesn’t want you to leave, but it also won’t be the end of the world if you do. And, furthermore, if he ever had to dismiss you from your position “for the good of the company,” he’d probably do it before he’d volunteer to quit out of protest. It’s nothing personal—it’s just the way the world works.
As Jenny Foss, Muse Master Coach and President of Ladder Recruiting Group, LLC, explains, “If your employer were facing budget cuts or layoffs, and your job was going to be among those impacted, do you think that your managers or the HR director would spend endless hours wringing their hands with guilt before they alerted you of the layoff? Probably not. Sure, on a personal level they may feel badly. We’re all human, after all. But they’d surely realize that this is business, and in business, difficult decisions sometimes need to be made.”
And you know what? That street goes both ways. This is your life. And in your life, difficult decisions sometimes need to be made.
When my grandmother gave me this advice, something clicked. I can’t say I was completely guilt-free from that point forward (sneaking around and job searching is always going to feel a bit sketchy to me), but a substantial burden was lifted off my shoulders.
Maybe it was because I wasn’t soliciting advice—I didn’t ask, “What do you think I should do,” or “Do you think it’s OK for me to look for a new position?” She was simply speaking her mind, saying what she thought without any prompting.
But mostly, I think it’s because her words reminded me what’s important in my life—for me, it’s my constant support system. It’s the friends and family who I know will be by my side rain or shine. I know in my heart my grandmother will always love me. Hands down. No decision I make about my career can change that.
In a way, this revelation brought me back down to earth. It reminded me that my job is not the most important thing in my world. Nor is the company I work at. And so, I shouldn’t be so torn up about something that isn’t part of my foundation. Something that won’t love me no matter what. At the end of the day, I needed to do what was best for me. And that was leaving. ASAP.
If you decide to leave your company—that’s perfectly fine. Do I think you should leave every position you have after seven months? Nah, probably not a good idea. But if you’ve determined it’s definitely time for you to move on, do it. Don’t let guilt hold you back. Just make sure you quit with grace.
(P.S. Thanks, Mom-mom. You’re the best.)
Abby works in health education and prevention at a university in Washington, DC. When she’s not trying to make the world a healthier place, you can find her taking selfies with her cat (Mildred Meow Meow), hunting down the city's best grilled cheese, or zipping through the city on her bike, named Libby. Say hi on Twitter.More from this Author