How I Got Over Feeling Guilty About Quitting

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woman thinking about future

Jessica Polar (via Stocksnap)

Jaclyn Westlake
Jaclyn Westlake
May 30, 2024 at 4:8PM UTC
It’s nice to be needed. Like a lot of people, I take great pride in knowing that I’m an integral part of a team, and I’ve worked hard to establish myself as a crucial asset to my employers – past and present. I have a feeling a lot of you approach your careers this way, too. 
The only problem with this is, when it comes time to leave your job – whether it’s to pursue a new opportunity, to raise a family, or just to take a break – you end up feeling incredibly guilty. What will your company do without you?
I really loved my first full-time job. The work was interesting, I felt challenged, and my co-workers were great. I was a pretty strong performer, too. My sales numbers were good, I was (almost) always happy to work late, and I was even trusted to manage my boss’s accounts during her maternity leave. That was a huge deal to my 22-year-old self. They needed me!
Knowing that I had become an essential member of the team felt great; all my hard work had paid off. But, as time went on, I started thinking about my next move. Of course, guilt quickly crept in. Each step of my job search felt like I was secretly betraying my employer – I felt awful. When I finally received an offer for a job I was really excited about, I found myself seriously debating whether or not I could actually accept. I genuinely believed things would completely fall apart if I left.
I didn’t know what to do. So, I turned to a trusted and seasoned source for advice: my dad. With over thirty years of corporate experience under his belt, I knew he would understand my conundrum. But, when I shared the details of my situation with him, he just shrugged and said, “You can leave. They’ll be fine without you.”
I think my jaw hit the floor.
Then he shared this analogy with me: 
Imagine that your hand is in a bucket full of water. The water represents your company, and your hand represents you.
Now pull your hand out.
That’s how big the hole you leave behind will be.
In other words, my resignation would cause a temporary ripple (and maybe a few small waves) and then things would settle down and go back to normal. My boss, my co-workers, and my company would all be just fine without me.
This is not to say that my contributions weren’t important, or that my co-workers wouldn’t miss me. Of course they were and of course they would. But, they didn’t absolutely need me to survive. They’d figure it out.
My dad went on to say that he’d never seen an employer decide not to lay someone off because that person needed the job. And to this day, I haven’t either (and I work in HR). Businesses just don’t really work that way – so why should you?
I ended up giving my two weeks' notice the very next day – and guess what? My boss was totally supportive. So was everyone on my team. I’d spent hours on end stressing about giving notice for nothing. Aside from the minor (and probably necessary!) blow to my ego, I was completely relieved.
Since then, I’ve quit my fair share of jobs and seen tons of my friends and co-workers quit theirs, too. While some resignations go more smoothly than others, one thing remains the same: the companies never fall apart.
I'm certainly not saying that the decision to leave a job is one that should be taken lightly – quitting is a big deal. And yes, I realize that some departures create larger ripple effects than others. But ultimately, you need to make decisions based on your wants and needs first and foremost. In other words, put yourself first. That said, I always recommend doing your best to exit gracefully. Be sure to give plenty of notice and do what you can to make the transition as smooth as possible. You’ll then be able to move on to whatever comes next feeling excited and guilt-free.
It really does feel good to be needed – but don’t let that get in the way of putting your needs first. The next time you’re struggling with whether or not to pursue a new and exciting opportunity, think of that bucket full of water. Instead of worrying about the negative (and temporary) effect your departure might have, focus on what's best for you.
Oh, and in case you were wondering, my first employer - and every other employer I’ve left since then - are all just fine without me.
Jaclyn Westlake is a career advice columnist, creator of the Job Hopper's Job Search Strategy Guide and founder of The Job Hop. With more than ten years of experience in the recruiting and human resources space, she is passionate about empowering job seekers to achieve their career goals. She's also particularly fond of coffee, every dog in the world, and the city of San Francisco.


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