Intense work can be exhausting and burnout-inducing—and thrilling. Walking away isn’t so easy.
In my dreams, Google begs me to come back. Human resources tells me that they have the perfect software-engineering role and that I alone can do it. Even though it’s been three years since I quit—frustrated by sexual harassment, an excruciating HR investigation, and being discouraged from applying for a promotion, which led to a reduction in pay—I always accept their offer, flooded with joy and relief. I clip my holographic badge back on to my belt loop; I clutch my corporate MacBook to my chest. Reunited with my colleagues, I throw myself back into debugging, ecstatic that my life has a clear purpose again.
I always wake up disappointed. Even though I’m glad I left Google, after which I worked at Facebook briefly before exiting tech in mid-2021, moving on was complicated. Like many workers who were part of the so-called Great Resignation, I walked away because of burnout worsened by the pandemic, along with a heightened sense that life is short. Quitting seemed like the path to taking control of my mental and physical well-being. But it was not the panacea I’d anticipated.
As a culture, we’ve come a long way in identifying the bad parts of all-consuming jobs, but saying goodbye still often comes with an enormous sense of grief. I’ve never felt more alive than when doing intense work in an intimate environment. Even after nearly two years of reflection, I still can’t decide if that euphoria is bad for me, incompatible with a healthy life, or if labor is, in fact, sacred. Talking with fellow quitters about what we lost when leaving, I found that there’s a fundamental tension between doing projects that thrill us and being able to shut our laptops, disconnect, and sleep through the night. We hoped that career switches would solve the problem, but we’ll probably be struggling with it our whole lives.
Derek Thompson: Three myths of the Great Resignation
I arrived at Google in 2015, right after college, and immediately fell in love with the full-throttle pace. My team combatted misinformation, and our bosses warned us that our mistakes could kill people. When democracy seemed to be melting down outside our office tower, I believed I had the power to help.
This shared mission, plus the considerable perks that tethered me to the office, made relationships there fierce and visceral. At 5 p.m. each day, I filed into a conference room with the other young engineers for “Capybara Abs” time. We rolled around on the carpet, doing crunches and planks. It smelled like sweat and old socks, and it felt like home.
For all the perks, the job took a toll. After I reported sexual harassment, I was unable to sleep soundly for weeks on end. My lower-back pain became so severe that I couldn’t sit down at my desk—I had to code standing up, for hours at a time. I showed up at the on-site health clinic and broke down crying. The nurse practitioner prescribed muscle relaxants and tramadol, an opioid painkiller, and urged me to quit. Before I did, I bawled like a child on my sofa every night for weeks, saying, “I don’t want to go.” My next role, at Facebook, had similar drawbacks but few of the upsides. (In addition to back problems, I started getting crushing migraines.)
When I gave my notice at Facebook in 2021, indefinitely leaving tech, I had every reason to celebrate: I’d recently sold a book and had the financial resources to write full-time, a childhood fantasy. Before long my pain disappeared, further vindicating my decision to depart my grueling job.
I didn’t realize it yet, but I was part of the Great Resignation. In 2021, a record 48 million Americans left their jobs, followed by more than 51 million Americans in 2022. The news coverage was triumphant, featuring headlines and subheadings such as “Everyone Is Quitting Their Job. Great!,” while “QuitTok” videos portrayed even more elation—one featured a Taco Bell worker who cannonballed into a sink to celebrate his last shift before becoming a full-time video-game streamer.
My experience turned out to be less straightforwardly positive. Passion for my new endeavors didn’t erase the loss I felt about my old prestigious job. Once I got over the initial exhaustion, I ached for what I’d abandoned: my deep bond with my manager, whom I viewed almost as a parent; the promotion ladder that, for years, gave shape to my future; my self-image as a hard-core woman engineer making it in a male-dominated field. Dead set on moving forward, I threw myself into new ventures until I felt the twinge in my spine return. My old health issues had come back to haunt me.
Libby Vincent, a Scottish woman based in London, also had confusing feelings after departing an intense job. She spent her 20s running nightclubs, then climbed her way up the ladder at Just Eat Takeaway, a global tech conglomerate that owns food-delivery services such as Grubhub. Burned out by the pandemic, she quit in 2021, one month before her 40th birthday. But free from the constraints of her role, she found that relaxing was harder, not easier. “Everything I did, I felt it wasn’t the thing I should be doing,” she told me. She struggled to read. During yoga, she daydreamed about her old responsibilities. Seeing her company grow without her was excruciating. “It’s like seeing an ex do really well.”
The expectation to feel happy and calm once freed from the corporate albatross weighed on Vincent. At Christmas, three different people gave her copies of Glennon Doyle’s self-help book, Untamed. “They advised me to ‘stop trying to live up to other people’s expectations’”—an unwanted judgment.
Derek Thompson: What quitters understand about the job market
Wellness and self-discovery turned into expensive, exhausting work. Eventually Vincent realized that she hadn’t failed at finding balance. Instead, harried is her preferred state. “I don’t want to be outside the corporate machine. I don’t want to be teaching yoga,” she said. Vincent launched a consultancy that assists women executives transitioning into new positions. She works more now than she did in tech, but is happier than she was in her old job or while unemployed. Vincent expected self-care to be the answer, but instead she found satisfaction in a more fulfilling, equally challenging career.
Khalid Abdulqaadir had a profound relationship with his profession after nearly 20 years serving the U.S., including time in the military. He took pride in the prestige and selectiveness of his post at the National Security Agency. “I was at the tip of the spear,” Abdulqaadir told me, “on the forefront of America’s security with the most sophisticated technology and capabilities in the world.”
But the pressure also weighed on him. It was hard to take vacations or even lunch breaks, because he had to be doing “what your countrymen expect you to do.” With a top-secret security clearance, Abdulqaadir was constantly on edge: Even in the grocery-store checkout line, if strangers made small talk, he wondered if they were trying to extract classified information from him. “That takes it from being a job to being a lifestyle. It affects your family too.”
These stresses wore on Abdulqaadir until he eventually quit in 2020, eager to begin a new chapter in his professional life. He and his family moved from Washington, D.C., to Kansas City, Missouri, where they crammed into his aunt’s house. Pursuing his dream of starting a film-production company seemed like a welcome reprieve—the last few years of his service to the federal government had been under President Donald Trump and had overlapped with the coronavirus pandemic and the unrest following the killing of George Floyd.
But after saying goodbye, Abdulqaadir felt loss every time he turned on the news. “I was a player and now I’m out of the game. I see what’s going on all over the world. I used to be able to look at that and think ‘I’mma go in and do something about that tomorrow.’”
Eventually Abdulqaadir’s wife found full-time employment, and he and a business partner landed their first clients. When he struggled with the transition, it was magnified by the fact that the people around him assumed he was doing fine. He said that many people see him solely “as a resilient individual,” incapable of experiencing the strain of a crucial job, the loss of walking away from it, or the uncertainty that comes with starting a business. “They think I’m not having a nervous breakdown when I am. That I’m not terrified by my future, watching my kids sleep at night.”
Abdulqaadir is grateful that increased awareness of mental health—particularly through conversations led by Black men—gave him the courage to prioritize his well-being and make the change. He still struggles with knowing he’s “on the sideline” of global politics but, now that he’s immersed in entrepreneurship, has no regrets. “When you quit the job, you’re obviously going to miss everything you loved about it,” he said. “Being able to find something else you love in the same way is key.”
Just before the pandemic, Hadassah Mativetsky was promoted to management at a hardware manufacturer in rural New York. A year later, in 2021, her daughter’s day care told Mativetsky to find another placement. Nearby facilities had lengthy waiting lists. “This isn’t the city. Nannies are not a thing here,” she told me. She found babysitters on Care.com and trained them, only to have one college student after another flake at the last minute. After several months of this, Mativetsky, newly pregnant with her second child, felt forced to resign to stay home with her kids. She’s not alone: According to a 2021 survey by the consulting firm Seramount, about a third of working moms quit or scaled back their jobs—or planned to do so—during the pandemic.
Read: What you find when you leave your job
When I asked Mativetsky if she grieves for her old work, she seemed to fight back tears. “When it’s nice out, I still go eat outside with my old co-workers.” Despite interesting freelance assignments, she misses her colleagues and the thrill of fixing crises. “When you’re in quality assurance, everything is critical, critical, critical,” she said. “You complain about it, but you love it.”
A recent survey showed that 80 percent of Great Resignation quitters regret their decision. Though many people left for better work-life balance and mental health, only about half of respondents were satisfied with these things in their new roles. Meanwhile, employees long for their former cubicle buddies, mentors, and company cultures—which suggests that our office mates offered far more support and stability than triumphant QuitToks let on.
Giving up the office and the jobs that kept us tethered to it represents the loss of an institution that constrained us but also provided community and meaning. Moving on means reevaluating our relationship with work—a far more arduous task than anyone warned.
Today, I log many more hours than I did at Google for an order of magnitude less money. Everything I adore about my new career pushes me to go harder, but it still has the same consequences. I write this at 10:23 p.m., exhausted, desperate to stretch out my seizing back. Leaving tech didn’t fix my old habits. They’re right there waiting for me.
And yet I feel clarity, realizing how ingrained effort is to my identity and values. Even if it’s cringey, I love who I am when I’m focused, when I put my all into a goal. Childlike devotion blankets my body. Even in my solitary pursuits, I feel like I’m connected to something bigger: part of a long line of humans who have toiled and strived, cheered in glee, and wanted to smash our laptops. Maybe this is all an illusion, but it’s the one I know as well as my own face. More than any company, it feels like home.
Google did not respond to questions about the author's experiences working at the company.
Is it normal to feel regret leaving a job? ›
It's Normal To Feel Badly About Exiting a Role
If you feel badly about quitting your job, whether you've been in the role for a year or a decade, this is a perfectly normal feeling.
Although it is considered proper etiquette to give two weeks' notice if you plan on leaving a job, sometimes a situation arises where you need to quit without notice. It's important to think carefully about making such a serious decision and behave professionally when you leave.Are you a failure if you quit your job? ›
Just because you quit something doesn't mean you've failed.
Whether it's a short-term quit or a long-term quit, it's time to take control. It's time for you to take the necessary steps to get yourself out of situations that aren't bringing you value.
If you like what you do most of the time – and know you're good at it – stay put. Your resume will look worse for quitting. Leaving a job before you've been there for an entire year almost always looks bad on your resume. Great resumes also don't show several years spent bouncing from job to job.What's the #1 reason someone leaves quits their job? ›
According to the Pew study, 57% of Americans quit their jobs in 2021 because they felt disrespected at work. And 35% of those surveyed highlighted this as a major reason for quitting.
80% of workers who quit in the 'great resignation' have regrets, according to a new survey. The “Great Regret” is the latest workplace trend to sweep the nation, with the majority of professionals who quit their jobs last year wishing they could get a do-over, according to a new survey.Can I quit on the spot? ›
Under normal circumstances, it's best to give the standard notice—but there may be no legal reason why you can't quit on the spot.How long to stay at a job you hate before quitting? ›
“I usually recommend at least a year, but sometimes you just know when an opportunity isn't right,” she said in a recent Facebook post. Bennington suggests asking yourself three questions: Is this position contributing to my long-term goals? Am I growing professionally?What is quietly quitting? ›
Key Takeaways. The term “quiet quitting” refers to employees who put no more effort into their jobs than absolutely necessary. A 2022 Gallup survey suggested that at least half of the U.S. workforce consists of quiet quitters. 1.How do bosses feel when you quit? ›
Leaving a job can be an emotional experience for you and your boss. When you tell your supervisor you're quitting, you are essentially stating that you are firing him as your boss. He may feel shocked, angry, or defensive. He may have to answer to a superior about why you decided to leave.
Can I just quit a job and not go back? ›
your resignation can't be taken back, unless your contract allows it, or your employer agrees. you will get your final pay on your normal pay day unless your contract says differently - you do not have the right to ask for it any earlier.Can you come back after quitting a job? ›
You can go back to a job that you quit or was asked to leave from. Are you clueless about how you will ask your ex-employer for your job back or for a new role? You are not alone. Most professionals hesitate to do so and thus let potential opportunities pass by.At what point should I just quit my job? ›
It may be time to quit your job when you're no longer motivated to complete your daily tasks, feel overworked or burnt out, or want to move beyond your current position into a more advanced one. These are a few signs that it may be time to quit your job and get a better one that more effectively meets your needs.Why am I so scared to leave my job? ›
Concerns About Leaving
For most people, change and the unknown are scary concepts, which may make them stay in that comfortable job. When someone is thinking, “I want to leave my job but I'm scared,” the prospect of a different and unpredictable future is often a significant source of that fear.
Some of the managerial behaviors that can cause good employees to leave are: The managers are generally hard to reach, meaning their employees feel exposed. They leave the managing to others, meaning they aren't adding as much value as they could be because they aren't as present.What are the top 3 reasons for quitting a job? ›
- A New Job. The best reason for quitting a job is that you've found a new one. ...
- Illness or Family Issues. ...
- A Bad Boss. ...
- Difficult Work Environment. ...
- Schedules and Hours. ...
- Going Back to School.
- Thank them. ...
- Stay calm. ...
- Review your legal obligations as an employer. ...
- Conduct an exit interview. ...
- Find a way to fill the gap. ...
- Promote from within. ...
- Develop an effective job description before external hiring. ...
- Use an external hiring company.
Although job hopping is beneficial for candidates in many ways, don't forget why some employers may have a bad taste for this term. To this end, it's helpful to have some sort of steady work history on your resume. Be careful about changing careers instead of just positions.What is the gap of great resignation? ›
This phenomenon—dubbed the Great Resignation—has resulted in a talent gap, a labor shortage that has had firms in the financial services and cybersecurity dramatically rethinking their approach to retaining and attracting talent.What is the Great Resignation stress? ›
Work-related stress has taken a toll on the average American employee. Many employees have fallen victim to “The Great Resignation” as a result. The Great Resignation is a movement, essentially, that is driven by employees leaving jobs at increased rates.
What happens if I don't give 2 weeks notice? ›
Despite work etiquette and standards, no laws require employees to give any notice whatsoever – let alone two weeks – before quitting. While breached contracts may impact compensation or trigger a lawsuit, there aren't any legal protections for employers when employees decide to leave.How do I quit without notice without burning bridges? ›
- Tell Your Boss In-Person, Not Your Colleagues. ...
- Give at Least Two Weeks' Notice in Writing. ...
- Put in a Strong Two Weeks and Train Your Replacement if Possible. ...
- Express Gratitude and Ditch the Baggage. ...
- Be Helpful After You Leave Your Job.
If you quit a job without notice, do you still get paid? According to the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, or FLSA, your employer must pay your wages for hours worked and may not withhold your wages under any condition.How long does the average person stay at a job? ›
The typical employee stays at a job for just over four years, according to a 2020 study from the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics . The study found that these numbers apply to both men and women and that older employees typically have longer tenure at a company than their younger counterparts.What not to do when quitting a job? ›
- Don't Burn Bridges. No matter how sure you are that you're never going back to where you are working now, don't do anything you'll regret. ...
- Don't Lose Focus: ...
- Don't Miss Seeing That It's Time To Move On: ...
- Don't Quit Without Giving Notice. ...
- Don't Forget That You're a Professional.
Yes, it is OK to quit a job after three months. If you have a change in circumstances or the job isn't a good fit for you, it's okay to quit after just a few months. Just don't make it a habit, and make sure you leave gracefully and courteously.Do I tell HR or my boss I'm quitting? ›
While no two employers are exactly the same, in most cases you'll provide a resignation letter to your boss, then work with HR to finish out your time at the company.How do employers feel about quiet quitting? ›
As “quiet quitters” defend their choice to take a step back from work, company executives and workplace experts argue that although doing less might feel good in the short-term, it could harm your career—and your company—in the long run.Can you get fired for quiet quitting? ›
But can employers fire employees for quiet quitting? Generally, yes, if they are “at-will" employees.Do companies get mad when you quit? ›
Depending on their emotional state at the time of your conversation, your manager may become immediately upset, or even furious that you are resigning. They may feel a sense of betrayal, as well as anxiety about how they will manage the workload without you.
What are the blues after quitting a job? ›
The negative feelings the brain can cycle through after quitting can be significant, with shame, guilt, fear and a sense of failure all common reactions. Two common responses are spiralling anxiety over whether quitting is the right decision, or freezing with fear at the thought of moving forward into an unknown future ...Why do I feel guilty after quitting? ›
Feeling guilty about leaving a job is a totally normal reaction. It shows how much you care about the people impacted by your decisions, and how much you're invested. That's a strong reflection of your values.Is it embarrassing to go back to a job you quit? ›
It's not just a matter of convenience — they want to hire you. It's not just flattering that an old employer wants you back. It can be a sign of how much they truly value you, and that's worth its weight at any company, new or old.How long can you reapply to a job after quitting? ›
If you leave without notice its 180 days before you are eligible for rehire.Can I just quit my job and walk out? ›
Can you quit your job without notice? We all know that giving two weeks' notice about leaving a job is customary — but do you have to give two weeks' notice before quitting? The short answer is no — there's no law preventing you from walking out today.What time of year is best to quit job? ›
“There is no definitive 'best' time of year to quit your job. Quitting your job should be based on a number of factors, including (but not limited to) whether you have another job lined up, if you need to relocate for a new job and what notice you are expected to give to your current employer.Is it normal to cry leaving a job? ›
This is totally normal. If you haven't been working for an utterly awful company in a completely miserable job, you're probably going to feel a lot of emotions about leaving—even if it's the 100% right move for you. Change can be hard, and it has a tendency to produce nostalgic feelings.Should I quit my job to deal with anxiety? ›
Will quitting your job help your anxiety? Maybe. If you work in a high-stress job and have a lot of anxiety, there's no doubt that taking some time off or changing to a less stressful career will help your anxiety.Should I feel bad for quitting my job? ›
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.What is the main reason for leaving your job? ›
The emergence of a new opportunity to work in a different work environment, earn better compensation or get a more challenging work process is another good reason for leaving jobs. It is reasonable for any employee to go for a new opportunity that offers better terms than their current work.
What is the best reason for leave? ›
Perhaps you are sick, have other personal reasons, family emergencies or work commitments that require you to leave early. Whatever your reason, convey it honestly to your manager and make sure that you request time off only if it is crucial.