The complex mental struggle of leaving a job you love


“It can be a very emotional time. And when it’s a key part of your identity, it can absolutely leave you feeling lost.”

The process of leaving a job can uncover a range of pretty complex emotions, like grief, anger or relief (sometimes all at the same time). When you’re particularly fond of your job, it can make the experience of leaving even more difficult.

Recently, I made the decision to move on from a role that I’d been in just shy of three years. After enduring a pandemic, a degree and a few of life’s curveballs, I felt a growing desire to experience something new.

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I was itching for a new chapter, but my job was something I’d grown so attached to. I can almost guarantee that no one’s professional environment is completely carefree and enjoyable every single day. There were times I relished in my work and times it knocked me down a few more pegs than I’d care to admit.

But the vision, the people and the overall nature of my job was something I aligned with. The decision to leave and start a new chapter was, honestly, pretty torturous. I spoke to Laura Thain, the Director and Principal of Optimise Talent Coaching, to understand the cocktail of emotions I experienced over several months, and why they were so intense.

“It can be a very emotional time,” she tells me. “And when it’s a key part of your identity, it can absolutely leave you feeling lost. You no longer have the same structure, the same conversations, the same comfortable routines, the same environment – all of that is gone and replaced with whatever comes next. And finding your feet in the new role or new you naturally takes time.”

When you like who you work for and with and the day-to-day of your role, there’s a tendency to put someone else’s needs before your own. As it was my first proper role, I felt a sense of duty to stay at my company. I was questioning why I wasn’t feeling as fulfilled as I should be despite enjoying my job but I realised this was a signifier that it was time to take a closer look at my goals.

Laura knows these feelings all too well, telling me leaving a role you love can feel like “getting divorced”. For me, it’s been a bittersweet experience leaving a role I felt so comfortable and happy in, but I’m excited by the prospect of a future filled with new experiences, people and opportunities. Here’s what I’ve learnt from this experience.

It’s okay to grieve

Our jobs are, whether we like it or not, a big part of our identity. In many cases, people see more of their coworkers than their own family and spend more time in the workplace than at home. Of course, this means that we grow attached to where we work, regardless of whether we find it crappy, draining or difficult.

If you’re not leaving by choice, the cocktail of emotions would be even harder to accept. It’s a hard blow to your self-esteem and can leave you with a sense of incompleteness and feelings of dread when thinking about the future. Either way, whether it’s a challenging or perfectly amicable exit from your role, it can feel impossible to pick yourself up and start writing cover letters. It’s okay to mourn the routine, the people, the potential and the work itself.

Pause and reflect

This is something that can be overlooked in the craziness of your two weeks notice, but it’s important to gain feedback, reassess and take a deep breath. Laura highlights the importance of processing what happened and keeping up your routines, rather than wallowing.

“It’s all too easy to think you don’t have time and money for things like the gym, socialising and self-care, but they can make you feel your best self mentally and physically and allow you to stay confident right when you need it most, so try and keep them up as best as possible,” she says.

Fear is a catalyst, not a roadblock

There are so many ‘what ifs’ when it comes to leaving your job. What if I’m moving into something that isn’t as good for me? What if I fail? What if things go sideways? They’re all such valid feelings, but the reality is, each of these questions would still apply if you stayed in your current role.

Try to view it as an opportunity to not only expand your resume, but your networks, your skillset and your perspective. It opens up the space for growth and progression that may have not been available for you, or it gives you the opportunity to try something entirely new.

Bridges aren’t burned unless you choose to burn them

While things may be rocky, awkward or sad, maintaining connections with your bosses, managers and coworkers comes with a range of positives. There’s nothing better for your next chapter than a glowing recommendation from a past employer who can vouch for your work ethic.

It’s super common to view work friendships as a reason to stay in a role for much longer than you should. Chances are, you’ve made amazing friends that you’ll find difficult to leave but if they’re true friends, they’ll weave in and out of your life forever.

These are people that function as both your professional and personal network, whether it’s your work bestie or someone you merely co-existed with in the break room. Nurture and maintain the connections that matter to you (plus, it means you can still hear about all the latest gossip from your old workplace).

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