Moving into the 4th day of my break, I am beginning to realize many people are genuinely surprised by my decision to leave my job. However, this should really not come as a surprise because I have been talking about doing this for the longest time. That said, I can also understand why people around me react the way they did. It is rather like the boy who cried wolf; after talking about resigning for years and not doing anything, most would naturally assume I was merely whining.
So, why did I leave my job?
1. I was exhausted.
Most of us are exhausted after a day’s work and our strength is renewed after a night’s rest. This is how our bodies work and how we deal with physical exhaustion. However, physical exhaustion is but one type of exhaustion we have to deal with. If we are not careful, we can also end up mentally and emotionally exhausted, which is harder to cure; and I believe this was what happened to me.
Over the past few years, I allowed myself to become frustrated, filled with mistrust and angst, often quick-tempered and sharp-tongued. In all honesty, I was really just trying to do my job and do it well, bringing the best to teachers and students. I have always believed in education as an enabler and I did all my work with the best intentions. Yet, whenever I took a step back and examine myself, I did not like what I saw. I had an inkling that something was not right, for I was beginning to identify myself with an ogre (a.k.a. Shrek before he met Fiona). However, I was too busy fighting the many fires at work to realize what what happening.
You see, somewhere in me lived a perfectionist who believed in doing my best, and that means giving my 120% at all times. I have always been quite aware of my strengths and limitations and the adventurer in me always pushed to outdo myself for each assignment. Whether I was aware or not, I was working at a pace and exuding expectations that was creating an immense amount of stress, both for myself and those whom I work with. Inevitably, a lot of negativity ensued and I was headed for burnt out, overwhelmed by physical, mental and emotional exhaustion.
How do I know I was burnt out? Well, there were the usual tell-tale signs of prolonged fatigue, stress-related health issues and unpredictable mood swings. It just took me a while to see them.
2. I did not like who I was becoming.
I have always known that patience is a virtue I do not possess but I never thought of myself as a mean spirited or snappish person. As such, I was horrified and affronted to realize that I was snapping at people, including loved ones at home and thinking mean thoughts more often than I would like. This realization felt like an out-of-body experience where I realized what an awful person I have become. Surely this is not the kind of person I had hoped to become: the ambitious b****h of the office?
For a while, I tried to regulate myself only to create more stress and thus having the left hand column surface more often than I cared to, which again was something that needed to be managed. I also realized that people began to tip-toe around me, anticipating my moods and trying their best to accommodate my tempers. Needless to say, it was not a great feeling. I felt like I was passing the buck, making other people pay the price for my problem, and perhaps that was where I drew the line.
Realizing that I had issues and needed time-out, and that my issues were affecting others led to the decision to take a break. I believe the saying “enough is enough” encapsulated very nicely how I was feeling. That said, leaving a job was not an easy decision to make (I agonised over it for months) and I continue to struggle with self-doubt even as I feel relieved to be out of the rat race.
Am I sorry to leave my job? Definitely. I had what most would consider a job with good career prospects, awesome bosses and excellent colleagues, what more could I ask for? It wasn’t the perfect job – we had our fair share of office politics and disagreements – but this really is as good as it gets. Furthermore, it was not like I hated my job, truth be told; I had so many good memories of this place that saying goodbye was dreadfully hard. However, as the Chinese saying goes “天下无不散的宴席” (which means “all good things must come to an end”).
Do I miss the money? Of course. But, I am not miserable living a simpler life. It made me more humble, more appreciative of what I have, more appreciative of the people who stand with me during this season of my life, cheering me on as I embark on a soul-searching journey. I begin to see what a rich life I lead outside work, a life that I never really spend time to appreciate or enjoy.
How do I feel now? I am at a place where I am at peace, where I am learning to let go of my past, learning to savour the present and leave the future where it belongs… in the future.
To all those who might be in a similar position, I would want to encourage you to think about your options. If we wait too long, we might find ourselves caught in a situation where we have to make such decisions and we know decisions made under duress are generally not our best decisions. Furthermore, most would find it disconcerting to be without a job and without a plan to move forward. In considering options, as much as we seek wise counsel from family and close friends, we can also turn to the Internet for practical information and advice on making life and career changes.
What have I learnt through this process? Do not hurry; do not limit. We do not know what we can or cannot do until we try it. If we give ourselves permission to explore, we might find that we can do more than we ever imagined. Carpe diem!