It was the email that broke the employee’s back. The last one I would put up with.
I took a deep breath, pushed myself away from my computer, and choked back tears.
They were still welling in my eyes as I turned away to face the wall of my cubicle. I didn’t want my co-workers to see me cry, but it was too late, two of them were already at my desk ready to provide some comfort.
For the past several months, they witnessed the immense burden I was carrying from overworking, micro-management, and endless attempts to resolve ongoing issues with my supervisor at work.
Not knowing what to say, they recommended I take a walk and let some steam off before I gathered myself enough to respond to the email and continue working.
I, however, knew there weren’t enough walks or deep breaths that could solve the problems at hand. That night, without much hesitation, I drafted my resignation letter.
The next day, I walked into a meeting with my supervisor and gave them notice of my departure.
Dream Job Turned Nightmare
I didn’t always dislike my job. In fact, the day I got it was one of the happiest days of my life—a total dream come true. When the human resources representative called me to say the job was mine, I bounced around with joy feeling like the luckiest woman in the world.
Getting that job had been my aspiration since my early days at University. Everyone I had ever known to work there was competent, cool, collected. I too wanted to be a speck on the fight to further women’s rights.
Once I started working there, I was enamored immediately by everything about it. For starters, I was surrounded by some of the smartest women on the planet. Everyone was lovely, informed, and passionate about what they were doing—or at least that’s how it seemed.
Some of my most wonderful friends came from there, which made work fun as I interacted with them daily. The workload itself was also beautiful and rewarding. I was collaborating with people from all over the world, speaking Spanish and Portuguese, using up all my skills.
Every day felt like a new learning experience. It was the perfect place for me to grow and lose myself in the promise of steady paychecks and paid vacation time.
Initially, I thought people who left (which were many) were crazy. How could they leave such a wonderful place? Where did they find better jobs? Everywhere else I had worked previously didn’t even compare to the benefits we received here. They hadn’t been bad, but they were never THIS good.
I never expected one day I’d want nothing more than to walk away.
“What You’re Feeling is Stress-Triggered Depression”
Almost two years later, anxiety, depression, consistent migraines, and a belly pouch were the fruits of my labor.
I stared at my doctor in disbelief when she told me the kangaroo pouch protruding from my lower belly was in fact caused by stress. Lack of sleep, burn-out, and odd schedules all could be a cause for my body to be screaming for a break.
By the time the new year started rolling into Spring, I was taking sick days to rest from my daily grind. Weekends were no longer free time for me, they were extra working hours, a timeframe in which boundaries didn’t exist and were open for my boss to contact me.
At first, I didn’t think or say much about it.
“This is normal, right?” I used to tell myself as I shoved lunch into my mouth with my left hand and typed with my right.
I should have known to run when my supervisor closed the door to her office and told me the skirt I wore the day before was distracting my co-workers. It was a knee-length, corduroy, worn with leggings underneath—nothing to see there, folks. Aside from that, the company did not have a dress-code policy, some people wore yoga pants and flip flops every day.
Additionally, I had suddenly become my supervisor’s personal assistant—something quite far from my actual job description. I was taking on more tasks than I could handle, and resolving IT problems instead of tending to an ever-growing to-do list.
After months of this happening, and casually speaking with other co-workers, I realized I was the only one being asked to perform these tasks, and none of them received text messages from our supervisor over the weekend or nights unless it was an emergency.
Eventually, those I worked closest to urged me to seek help from the department’s director or human resources, to see if this was all just a misunderstanding that could be resolved with conversation and a steady work balance.
To our surprise, the “solutions” created a tornado of micro-management and ever-growing skepticism toward my work instead. After translating several documents in Spanish and English without compensation, I was told by my supervisor that she could tell from my work that English was not my first language.
When I requested a raise or compensation for the copious amounts of work I had been doing—after all, the department didn’t have to hire a translator to handle Spanish-speaking accounts—I was brushed off and told that they would transition into using Google Translate from that moment on.
After several meetings with the human resources department, things did not improve. Instead, everything I had accomplished at the company previously was now scrutinized.
During my time there, I had received various compliments for excellent work, but now I was placed on an “improvement plan”. After nearly two years, I was now to mimic the work of senior employees, and copy my supervisor on everything I did. From then on, every interaction I had in the workplace was evaluated.
The bathroom stalls and the mother’s lactation room became my best allies in fighting the daily burdens of coming into work. I would escape there to cry and breathe through what became daily anxiety attacks and waves of self-loathing.
Worse off, I couldn’t escape them, as my boss sent text messages and emails at late and early hours to my personal phone number, confronting me about not responding to them once I was back at the office.
As I searched for answers to my endless anguish, I found I was not alone. A 2017 survey by Ipsos published the results of a poll on mental health in Americans. The report stated that about one in four Americans (28 percent!) named their workplaces as a source of anxiety and depression.
Furthermore, 52% of employees reported that they have considered leaving their workplace or switching careers due to workplace stress.
In addition, a 2005 study documented one-third of U.S. employees are chronically overworked, with 20% of employees reporting higher levels of mistakes made due to being overworked than those who experience low overwork levels.
The statistics go on and on, and they are alarming. Have we really become a culture of endless work and unhappy people?
I knew that for me, waking up to get to the office each morning or getting through the workday itself felt more like a punishment than a reward.
Before my job had become the biggest stressor in my life, I was active, inspired, content, and felt fulfilled. After, all I wanted to do was go home and do nothing. I was finding more inspiration at my catering side-gig than in my own career.
I knew that it was time to start doing something differently.
180 Days of Doubting
“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”
Choosing your mental health over your job is not as easy as one might think.
When we see people leaving their jobs abruptly, it is not always as spontaneous as it seems. Most of them have been planning or contemplating their exits for months. Our concepts of employment and our relationship with money also play a big role in the decision-making process.
Some of the common thoughts I had were:
“How am I going to pay for rent or my bills?”
“What will I do with my day instead?”
“Will I have to move back home with my parents for a while?”
“What will people think?”
“How will I finish paying off my student loans?”
I realized then that my fears stemmed from a cloudy mind that for a very long time had stopped dreaming. I had become so accustomed to my daily routine, I had forgotten to take time to dream and aspire for more along the way.
Who was I now?
What did I really want for my life?
What would fulfill me?
During a meeting at work, the answers became clear to me.
We were discussing gift card rewards that were distributed based on the years of service an employee had served at the company. There were the one, five, ten, and then, the “25-30” award.
Goosebumps crawled up my spine as a thought crossed my mind…
“That person drove to and from work for 30 years on the same road, to the same office, to do the same thing…most of their life was spent in an office.”
My chest contracted, I felt claustrophobic. I knew then, there was nothing wrong with traditional employment—it just wasn’t for me. My dreams were far bigger than my cubicle, and by then, they had become far bigger than the entire building we were in. It’s as if they were reminding me, pushing me to run toward them.
When I finally sent the company-wide email stating my departure, my inbox flooded with requests for speaking to HR about other injustices that went on inside the company. People were collectively unhappy, stressed, burdened, and burning the candle at both ends.
Before my last day, I carefully collected their anonymous stories, hoping to voice their concerns and improve their working conditions with my reporting. I held nothing back. After all, I had nothing to lose, I was just about to gain my life back.
Always Choose Yourself
When I made the decision to leave my job, many close friends and family members told me I was insane.
“You’re a single young woman in your twenties, you live far away from your family, how will you live?”
Exactly. I’m a single, INDEPENDENT, woman in my twenties, and I’m fully capable of forging my own path.
Some even told me to “put up with it” for as long as I could. Fortunately, I didn’t choose that option.
On my last day of work, I turned in my badge, computer, I packed up my desk and turned in my final departure paperwork.
The day was bittersweet. I hugged my beloved co-workers and made the decision to move forward into this new journey. As I drove away from the parking lot, I felt relieved at knowing that from that moment on, I would be getting to know myself all over again.
It was not easy—I would be lying if I said it was. However, the alternative was worse, I was not ready to become something that was but a memory of my true self simply to preserve a paycheck.
If you’re out there and you’re dreading the day spent at your job, I give you permission to fire your boss. You’re free.