I seem to have gotten myself into quite a pickle at work.
I am sooo nervous, more nervous than I can remember ever being my whole life. My hands are clammy and sweaty, even as I continuously wipe them down on my jeans. My heart’s threatening to jump right out my chest. And you know the expression “scared shitless”? Yeah… no idea where that came from, for I had the exact opposite problem (but ok..TMI). For today was the day I knew I was telling my manager that I’m quitting to travel the world.
I got up a few times to make the 15 foot walk from my office to his, only to turn around and sit right back in my chair (or run to the bathroom again).
What was my problem?! And what brought me to this point?
First, we need to go back 5.5 years, when I graduated college and entered my first real grown-up job. (Get comfy because this is a long post!)
I’ve never mentioned on this blog what exactly I did before. I am a fully licensed civil engineer and worked as a project manager for the government. I build (or manage the construction of) government buildings, namely hospitals. In short, I build huge, multi-million dollar hospitals.
It sounds awesome! Right? I suppose it could have been exciting. But the initial ambition and eagerness to learn slowly faded along with the realization that I was only performing tedious, menial tasks. Most days, I felt like I was nothing more than a glorified secretary (albeit a well-paid one, heh).
It was the kind of job where I felt like if I quit, I wouldn’t even be missed. It was just as well, as D and I started talking about traveling and making tentative plans.
Then one day a few months ago, I was assigned to a new project. It was under a new manager who specifically requested for me, and who believed with all his heart that I had it in me to be a great manager only if given the chance. And so he made it his personal mission to groom me into the best manager my department has ever had. It sounded great, except 1) I already knew I would be leaving him shortly, and 2) he had a reputation for working long, long hours.
I almost didn’t take the job (how could I take a managerial position that I knew I’d be quitting in a few months?!). But in the end, I knew I needed the paychecks until April when our RTW trip starts (call me greedy). So I kept quiet and went with him to the new project.
I have to admit… I hated it at first. It was the project from hell. The scope was way over my head, and on top of that, we were working towards an impossible deadline. The hours were long. The office constantly reeked of cigarette smoke. The new manager was OCD to the point where I wanted to strangle him (not really) sometimes. And forget about lunch breaks! I started to regret not quitting right then and there.
And then something funny happened: I started to enjoy my work for the first time ever. True to his word, my new manager taught me everything he knew about construction management. He pushed me to be the leader. I was given challenges and I rose up to face them (and thrived). I had real responsibilities finally. People looked to me for answers. I was part of a team that needed me.
And I fell in love with my team members. The challenges of the project excited me and the ambition I thought had died was rekindled.
But still, I came into work everyday wracked with guilt. Every time someone assigned me as the lead on a task, I silently screamed “Don’t! I’m leaving! I won’t be here to help you!” Every time my manager praised me on a job well done, I thought “You don’t even know how much I’m going to disappoint you when I leave.” There were even times I went home sobbing into D’s shoulder, “I can’t quit! Everyone is depending on me.”
“Stop it,” he’d tell me. “You’re prioritizing the needs of others over yourself. You know what your heart wants to do. Don’t put others before you and us.”
He was right. If I had to pick my ultimate weakness, I would say it’s my desire to make everyone around me happy, even if it meant quietly suppressing what I want.
I felt guilty for leaving the project and people who need me. I felt guilty for having the opportunity to live a life of freedom, while my overworked colleagues wither away on this nightmarish hell of a project. I felt guilty for wanting something different.
But then slowly, I got over it and learned to forgive myself. I forgave myself for leaving a struggling project behind. And I forgave myself for going to live a life that so many people envy. It wasn’t my job to please everyone. Your life isn’t your own if you are forever worried about how it will affect others. I shouldn’t feel guilty for going after the life I want to live. Just like I shouldn’t live a life dictated by the needs of others.
“You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something,
sometime in your life.”
– Winston Churchill
During my emotional stressing over quitting, many friends offered their advice: ranging from “you better quit now before going to the new project!” to “just a 2 weeks notice is enough”. Some told me to soften the blow by saying that I have to leave due to an emergency personal situation. One even told me to say I’m planning a vacation, and just before going, say that I don’t plan to come back from said vacation!
None of those seemed right to me. I needed to do what makes me comfortable.
So in the end, I opted for honesty: I’m quitting to travel the world. Support it, accept it, or hate it – it was the truth and I have nothing to be sorry for.
To tell the truth, I almost didn’t do it that day. Hour by hour, I watched the clock tick closer and closer to the end of the day. Until almost everyone had left the office. It was so easy to also pack up and go, but I told myself that if I didn’t even have the guts to leave my job, then I don’t deserve to travel. If there was ever a time to go after something I believed in, it was now, at that minute. It was time to make some enemies.
So I chose to be brave, and in doing so I chose my own future. I took a deep breath, marched over to the next office, and popped my head into the door.
“Boss, I need to talk to you about something. Let’s grab coffee.”
After note: My hands were still uncontrollably shaky throughout the lengthy conversation, and it did break my heart a little to tell him that I’m leaving the team. But most of all, I felt relief. It was no longer a burden I was carrying on my chest. And what completely blew me away: he wholeheartedly supported me and told me I’m doing the right thing by following my heart. The heart will always win. I didn’t make an enemy that night, but rather gained a true friend.
And thank you to my friends who talked me through this, and who told me I could do it. If it weren’t for them, I’d probably still be sitting at work, and NOT flying to South America in a week!