When You Want to Quit Your Job, But Can’t

quitting options

Lately I’ve been speaking to a friend who doesn’t know what to do about her job. She hates it. She hates the work, the boss, and her coworkers. The environment is toxic, with a lot of sexual harassment and verbal abuse. She desperately wants to quit but can’t because she needs the money. She knows that in this economy it will take a long time to find work and she cannot do without an income for that long. Plus, if she quits she won’t get unemployment to help bridge the gap. She feels trapped and it’s making her stressed and depressed. She’s taking it out on the rest of her family, too. She doesn’t know where to turn, but she knows that if something doesn’t change she’s going to end up in a bad way. Fortunately for her (unfortunately for me), I’ve been exactly where she is.

In the recession of the early 90’s I was in a job that I hated. The boss was a bully, his wife (second in command) was a shrew, the work was utter drudgery, and the office politics were worse than any in Washington. At least most of my coworkers were nice, but that was the only plus. I couldn’t quit because we needed my income and new jobs were almost impossible to find. I hated my life and I was constantly lashing out at my husband. I blamed him because I couldn’t quit. None of it was his fault, but he was the nearest punching bag. I went through my sick leave and vacation time ridiculously fast in an effort to avoid going to work at all. I was depressed and miserable and I was making every one around me miserable, too. I ended up hating myself because I heaped all the blame for that miserable situation on myself. I know better now, of course, but at the time I thought it was my fault and that just made it all worse.

Fortunately, the story has a happy ending. First, let me say that nothing happened overnight. From the time I started at that miserable place until I left was a total of about three years. Keep in mind that the miserable economy prolonged the agony, simply because finding new work was difficult and doing anything other than working that job was risky. Had it happened in the boom times of the mid-2000’s, I probably would have been in and out in six months. If you need to get out of a place and can’t just quit, prepare yourself for a long haul in this economy. Maybe you’ll get lucky and find work quickly, but that’s not likely. I wish there were a miracle cure, but there isn’t.

Second, I’ll tell you that all the whining in the world won’t make a difference. I mastered whining. I whined to my husband and my parents. I whined to the neighbors and my friends and anyone else who would listen. My coworkers and I would gather around the water cooler and engage in a group whine. I thought that venting would help, but it only made things worse. I came to confuse whining with taking positive action. I thought that if I just whined enough, some magic door would open and it would all be okay. Obviously, life does not work that way. It was only when I stopped whining and started taking real action that things started to change.

So what can you do if you need out of a toxic job, but can’t just quit?

Take responsibility

As much as I hated every minute, I had to go to work. I had to do it for our family, at least until something better could be found. There simply was no other choice. I had to do the right thing. Today I apply that resolve to other decisions that really stink, like canceling vacations when the money has been used somewhere else. The experience made me grow up. I thought I was an adult, but I really wasn’t. I was still living in a fantasy where if I just complained loudly enough someone would take care of it. I learned that there is no magic bullet and sometimes you just have to suck it up and deal with it until you can make another plan.

Don’t make it your fault

The sexual harassment, the bullying, and the toxic environment had nothing to do with me. There was nothing I could do to make it better, either. That place was going to be that way no matter what I did. As the saying goes, it’s not your fault but it’s your problem. You have to solve the problem and find other work without taking the blame on yourself.

Remember that the job is a paycheck, not your identity

I had to learn that what I did, who I did it for, and where, was not all of me. I was not my job. I wasn’t a bad person or a failure, no matter how much the bosses tried to make me feel that way. The job was a job; a way to make money and that was all. Once I realized that, it was easier to deal with all the foolishness that was going on and just put my head down, do the work, and collect the checks.

Understand that you need money, not this job

Then find new ways to make money. I felt trapped, but the trap was of my own making. I believed that I needed that job; that I would be lost, poverty stricken, and homeless without it. The big epiphany came when I realized I needed MONEY, not that job. Big difference! I started thinking of ways to get money separate from the job I hated. I started doing some freelance work. I took a part time job at the mall. Hey, it wasn’t sexy work, but the atmosphere was a heck of a lot better. I started entering contests and banking prize money. I did little things like lawn work for an elderly neighbor. Even in a recession I was able to find ways to make money. That job wasn’t the only place or person paying money! I wasn’t making enough to quit the job that I hated, but the extra money took a little pressure off and I saw that I could make money without that job. People needed my skills and would pay for them. I wasn’t trapped, after all. That fired me up to get out of that place.

Get serious about getting out

Once I committed to making a change, I made looking for new work the point of every minute that I wasn’t at my job (and, to be honest, some that I was). I sent out pallets of resumes, even to places I didn’t think I was really qualified for because you just never know. I called every person I could think of and let them know what I was looking for. In the middle of a recession I felt at times like a fish swimming upstream, but I was motivated. I channeled all my hate and anger into getting out. I fantasized about the day I’d get to say, “I quit” and used that as motivation to keep going. I finally got an offer at a company that I respected and practically ran into work the next day to give my two weeks’ notice.

Many years and a few more changes later and I’m self employed and loving every minute. That’s the happy ending. But I had to stop whining and do a lot of work to get here. Otherwise I’d still be there, miserable and thinking I had no other options. As much as I wanted to quit, it wasn’t the responsible thing to do. I had to step up and fix the problem. I might not have been able to leave that job the moment I wanted to, but I was eventually able to leave. Had I whined less and taken action sooner, I probably could have saved myself at least a year. If you are in a similar situation, start taking action today. The sooner you make getting out your full time job, the sooner you’ll be free.

(Photo courtesy of Iain Farrell)

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13 Responses to When You Want to Quit Your Job, But Can’t

  1. All of us should make it our goal to be able to do what we love not what pays the most. This means being financially responsible and saving money today (even if you love your job or feel financially secure). Unfortunately, people get stuck in a job they hate because they do not have any kind of financial cushion.
    Thanks for the informative post.

  2. Anonymous says:

    On the off chance anyone I work with reads this, let me say thank you (anonymously) for this article, as I’m stuck in a job I’ve hated for a while now, but like many need the job. Unfortunately, I’m not yet an expert at anything, I’m intermediate at so many things, but my resume doesn’t read well enough to get hired by most people at the rate I make now and even a pay cut is out of the question right now (and i’m under paid as it is). One suggestoin I have, if it’s possible, is headphones. Due to the tasks of my job, I can wear headphones while I work. Listening to music helps drown out the gossipy nonsense most of the time and makes it easier to focus on my job…though I must admit I probably am not as productive as I would be at a job I liked…

  3. simpleyme says:

    I hate my job,and that is part of the reason I have worked so hard to pay down my mortgage it is paid off soon and I am QUITTING my job!

    226 working days left!woohoo

  4. fern says:

    If verifiable sexual harrassment is really taking place, there’s certainly no reason to tolerate tht in this day and age.

    If your friend fails to take action by speaking to HR about it, then she shouldn’t complain about it.

    What’s she waiting for? Every company is legally mandated to have clearly established written guidelines for dealing with sexual harrassment. It’s the law.

  5. Bekki says:

    That is such a great article- I am in a situation just like the job mentioned…I too have a bad habit of taking it out on my husband- I have been her almost 4 years and I am now committed to change and have committed to send out 1 resume a week- but you are right on- It is a job not an Identity

  6. Gail says:

    I was in that situation twice. At one point with a divorce pending, mountinas of credit card debt due to the ex, knees that weren’t working and then bleeding stomach ulcers I KNEW whatever happened I had to quit with no job to go to. I was a nurse so was able to find part time home nursing job and then within a month a Monday through Friday desk job! Any nusre reading this will understand how hard those are to come by. I was at that job for the next 3 years until my body couldn’t go on full time anymore. I know it is scary to quit and hard to find jobs, but sometimes that poison has to be let out of your system before it kills your body. Quiting that job was one of the best things I have ever done career waise. At this point, even if I became well enough to work full time, I wouldn’t go back to punching anyone’s time clock but my own. Working a part time on-line business in between health problems I have realized that if I was up to working a good 40 hours of self-employment a week I would be doing better than any other job I’ve ever had. No office politics, no office collections, no driving back and forth to work in blizzards, no begging for days off for special family occassions, etc.

    If your job is poison find a way to quit. Start being guerilla frugal, go on a strict budget, enlist family support, find little and big ways to make money. Working in toxic environments will only make you sick.

  7. Jay says:

    I couldn’t stand where I worked, but love what I do. I am an insurance agent, so I am fortunate enough to be able to start my own agency. Not all jobs are like this. I have been self employed for almost 2 years now and don’t dread going back to the office on Mondays. It took a few years of saving to get to do this though.

  8. Deuce Carter says:

    “Its not your fault but it is your problem”. I like that. I read that part and thought of a few things in my life that if I approach with that mentality I would be better off.

  9. Neil says:

    I had a job just like this for 6 months. I was lucky to find a way out so quickly because the stress was making me ill. Now I use the fear of having to go back to a job like that to motivate me. I work hard at my current job and my spare-time business as a result!

  10. Richby30RetireBy40 Blog says:

    Congrats for getting out! I think in a down economy, everybody dislikes their job a little more b/c there’s more work to do, and less pay.

    In a bull market people are happier.

    Maybe in 10 years, i’ll look for something new. But for now, it’s about survival and hanging on.



    Rich By 30 Retire By 40

  11. walla walla says:

    i thought this was a great article. but – it’s not the same situation for many people, something to consider. i’m 36, female and single; i have no choice at all – the author was married, or so it sounded. you are not in the same situation ever, unless you are supporting yourself, completely. i know so many “freelancers” that “make a living” when they are married. that translates to splitting the bills or having someone else pay the major ones. more often the second because really they are “stay at home moms” with a secondary “freelance career” – current pet peeve.

    i’d like to see more articles about single women making a living and surviving on their own. it’s not easy. and vastly underestimated.

  12. jackie says:

    Hi…I just read the article and your comment. I absolutely agree. I am a single person and in a job I absolutely hate. I like the work – although I am in a lesser position that I am qualified for. I was head of a department (HR) for many years, but due to the economy and financial circumstances of the company, I was downsized. I accepted this lower position (because I needed a job and I was told that the HR Director position would be available shortly – since the person doing it was not qualified or doing a good job). Well…the HR person is still here and seems intimidated by me and treats me miserably. I am comfortable in my job…and would be ok doing it…..but I have to work with the HR Director. She gives me no information, refuses to answer my emails or at the very least in a timely fashion. She speaks to everyone but me. I have only been here 7 months and every day I dread it. My boss the Finance Director is wonderful…but she sits in another building for now (due to unavailable space). She also is going through difficult times with the HR Director because she is a qualified Financial expert and the HR Director is just a high school graduate who got the job because her mother had an affair with the owner. (Ok too much information). In any case, I hate this job…but need the job because I am single and do not have another source of income.

    I agree with the article because being in this situation and having to live in this situation (demeaning, marginalized behavior), we do have to try to put the negative people and behavior out of our minds…rise above it. It is hard and I am challenged by it everyday. Venting is difficult to harness…you have to tell someone. I don’t discuss it at work – but when I have – people told me they feel the same way.

    I agree…maybe another article about the same subject – but from a single perspective would be interesting.

  13. Angel says:

    It’s not easier just because you’re married. If anything it is just as stressful because my spouse is out of work and comes from a career that is disappearing. We have three kids and all the usual expenses . Since I’m the one with the stable job, it’s extremely hard to leave even though I am not happy there.

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