How to Stop Feeling Guilty about Leaving Your Job

By Laura @ IWMLB Project | Other Stuff

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Feb 13

You drag yourself into your office every day with legs like concrete. Deep down, you know you want to leave but you just feel so damn guilty.

Guilty about leaving your team and colleagues, guilty about leaving the company in the lurch, guilty at leaving a well-paid position that others would give their right arm for.

Buried under the pile of guilty thoughts, you just keep trudging in, Monday after Monday after Monday.

It doesn’t have to be like this. Those guilty thoughts you are having are just a form of self-sabotage. Your brain is trying to keep you safe and comfortable, rather than stepping into the unknown.

You will be fine though, so will the company you work for and so will the other people that work there. (Unless the company environment is toxic in which case most other people will be getting the hell outta there too).

So, here’s how to stop feeling guilty about leaving your job from someone who felt ALL the guilty thoughts before finally handing in her notice. Spoiler alert: everything worked out fine, more than fine in fact!


How to Stop Feeling Guilty about Leaving Your Job

Why Do You Want To Leave Your Job?

The first stop on the Guilt train is getting really clear about why you want to leave your job.

There needs to be a driving force behind your decision which is stronger than all of the guilty thoughts your brain tries to throw at you.

Is it that you are deeply passionate about something that isn’t your job, and you want to start a business.

Maybe the salary you earn just doesn’t make up for the time you are losing to the office.

Or, you ‘ve spent so long putting others needs before your own that you are burned out and exhausted.

I bet that your ‘why’ is about making your life better. So why would you feel guilty about that?

Let Go of Your Ego

“But they can’t possibly do without me! No one else knows how to do XYZ as I do! They’ll be screwed!”

Got bad news for ya. You are replaceable.

Slightly morbid but if you got hit by a bus tomorrow, the company would not crumble to the ground.

When we are freaking out about leaving a job, we sometimes feel guilty about screwing over the people we work for.

The sad truth is, you may be amazing at your job, but the company is interested in profits, and not you.

If the company needed to let people go, I am sure the HR department would feel bad on a human level, but ultimately they would still get the job done.

Doesn’t mean what you contributed wasn’t important. It just means that the business will always do what is right for the business. So you need to do what is right for you.

Feeling Guilty About Opportunities

When you are leaving a well-paid job, it can be easy to fall into the trap of feeling guilty about walking away from an advantaged position.

Guilt about the education you received. Guilt about the opportunities you were given that weren’t available to others. Guilt about the lifestyle it has enabled you to lead. And guilt that you are choosing to leave it behind.

 This is a hard one as it feels like a bit of a minefield and it’s one I wrestled with myself.

There is a fantastic article on the Frugalwoods blog about privilege and opportunities. Although this is about financial independence (saving enough to not have to work at a very early age) the point is still the same.

Ultimately, you are who you are. You can do good things for others but you can’t feel guilty about the life you were born into.

If you had a better education than others or more opportunity, then you can feel lucky, but not guilty.

Are They Really Your Friends?

Work colleagues may feel like your friends when you are chatting over lunch or moaning about the latest strategy change your bonkers CEO has recently announced.

But when it comes down to it, how many of these people are actually true friends?

Do you hang out with them outside of work (apart from the forced fun of office events)?

Do they know who you are outside of work? Would you invite them to your house for dinner?

From working in retail for 15 years, I have made one best friend and 3 great friends. And that is it. From the hundreds of people I must have worked with, I have kept in touch with 4.

If you feel guilty about leaving friends behind, just have a think about who you will really stay in touch with. And then, stay in touch with them!

You Might Be Doing Your Team a Favour

One of the major guilty thoughts that we have when leaving a job is letting out team down. Throwing them to the wolves without you there to protect them.

Yes, maybe you leaving will result in them getting more work or being exposed to things you sheltered them from. But it might not necessarily be a negative thing.

People in your team might also be thinking about leaving but have been stuck in the status quo. If they see that you have finally gathered the strength to resign, it might give them the confidence to make a change too.

When I resigned from my corporate job, one of my direct reports resigned the next day, and her direct report the day after that. We were all miserable and it only took one of us to hand in our notice for others to decide that now is the time.

Or perhaps, you leaving will prompt a reshuffle and others will get promoted.

You can’t know the outcome so you can’t feel guilty about what it might be. All you can do is give your team as much encouragement and support as you can while you work your notice.

Others Will Secretly (or Openly) Admire Your Decision

If you are leaving to start a business, or create a life where you have more time for the things to love, most people will be wishing they could do the same.

You feel guilty for ‘breaking the mould’, leaving a well-paid job or a career you’ve been in for over a decade.

But you are leaving to try something new, to do something exciting. Which is what most people dream of but never actually do.

That isn’t something to feel guilty about, that is something to be proud of!

stop feeling guilty

Hiking in New Zealand after I quit my job

The Longer You Stay, The Worse it Will Get

Guilt keeps us is bad situations when we should have left long ago (this applies to relationships too).

I am sure you know from experience though, the situation doesn’t change no matter how many guilty thoughts you throw at it. 

In fact, it just ends up getting worse, as the longer you stay the more guilty you feel. 

There is a reason you want to leave your job, and that isn’t going to change no matter how guilty you feel.

The longer you delay the decision, the more resentful you will feel. When you are feeling resentful at work, you don’t tend to do the best job.

You know you aren’t doing a great job but you can’t muster the energy to do any better. So you berate yourself for not making enough of an effort even though you know the answer is to quit.

It’s this horrible little cycle of guilt, self-sabotage and self-doubt. You go round and round in it like a demon washing machine from a Stephen King film.

You need to stop the cycle! (I’ll stop my rather weak Stephen King washing machine analogy now).

Make the decision that you are going to quit. I actually set a date in my diary and wrote my resignation letter long before I actually did it, just so that I had a deadline.

Just make sure you have enough money saved up if you don’t have another job to go to or you are starting a business (I have a course coming out soon that will help you do this).

The Anticipation is Worse

The lead up to handing in your resignation is infinitely worse than actually doing it.

I know because it took me MONTHS to hand in my notice at my well-paid corporate job. Even though I was burned out and miserable, I still couldn’t bring myself to resign as I felt so guilty and terrified.

As soon as I walked out of the office door (after an interminable 3-month notice period), all those feelings disappeared, and all I felt was the relief.

Once the deed is done, however, you realise that you will be fine. The decision is made and you will make it work.

We Are Hardwired To Fear Uncertainty

I found an interesting article in Psychology Today that explains we are hardwired to fear uncertainty.

They ran a (slightly scary) study where they had 3 scenarios: 1) I am not going to give you an electric shock, 2) I am definitely going to give you an electric shock, 3) I might give you an electric shock

Turns out that number 3 is worse than number 2. The uncertainty creates more fear and anxiety than knowing you will be given an electric shock.

Our reaction harks back to a time when there might have been a large animal that would eat us behind a tree so we needed to be wary of things we weren’t sure of.

The uncertainty of what lies ahead when we quit our jobs can seem a lot more dangerous than it really is. It causes us to throw up all these ‘what if scenarios’ and guilty thoughts.

As long as you have the money to leave, your decision is not as binary as you think. 

It’s not like you couldn’t change your mind and get another similar job/try something else later down the track.  Or have a portfolio career and explore different possibilities.

As it says in the article

“….oftentimes you simply need to recognize when a choice is reversible and just make it.”

Where is the Guilt Coming From?

If you were brought up Catholic, that might be your answer right there (speaking from experience). 

Of course, you can feel sad about leaving your job, it’s the end of an era (whether it was good or bad). But you don’t need to feel guilty.

It might be that the guilt is coming from somewhere deeper. I am not a psychologist so I am not going to wade too far into this.

All I am going to say is reading (good) self-help books or seeing a therapist could really help you to understand where the guilt is coming from. Guilt is just thoughts after all, and thoughts are part of the story we tell ourselves.

Perhaps the story you tell yourself isn’t actually true or is tangled up in other negative beliefs. Unpick that and you might feel a whole lot lighter.

And finally,

You can’t let guilty thoughts get in the way of living your life the way you want.

A palliative care nurse wrote a book on the top 5 regrets of the dying. The number one regret of the dying was

I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”

Make sure you have enough money to leave (very important) but other than that, stop feeling guilty! Live your life the way you want.

You can still be a good person and do nice things for others, but that doesn’t include staying in a job that makes you miserable.

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About the Author

Hi, I am Laura. I set up the 'I Want My Life Back Project' after burning out in a corporate job. I quit in May 2017 and set about getting my life back. I now freelance 2 days a week, run this blog, manage my rental properties and am SO MUCH HAPPIER! All the content on this blog is to help you to get your life back too :-)