Money Matters: How to Quit a Toxic Job and Survive
Written By: Kyle Jude Jones, Thursday Network Member
First, I should tell you what this is not. This is not a means of how to slowly, methodically, seamlessly migrate from one career to another. This is not about planning for months to take time off so you’re financially sound for as long as you need to. This isn’t for those who can hold out in their current role for 6–8 months while they interview at other firms or build a portfolio of work.
This is for those of us at the breaking point, where any more time spent in this specific environment would compromise and crush our emotional and/or spiritual health. This is for those of us who are less than a step from either cursing someone out or crying in our (home) office. Heck, this for those of us who’ve done both. Often. Sometimes you just gotta go. Trust me. I know. I’ve seen it up close.
16 years ago I was helping my mother set up her classroom on an August afternoon. She was a veteran public school teacher in New Orleans — 34 years on the job. She was great at what she did, but she was tired. She kept saying over and over how she didn’t want to go back for the upcoming year; how she was ready to retire and move on. But she was going to stick it out. It was the “right” thing to do.
The very next day, she had a stroke. Her life (and mine) would not return to normal afterwards.
I carry that memory with me. I promised myself I would never let a job kill me.
So don’t let that job kill you either.
For those of us at the end of the rope; for those of us who needed to make a change yesterday but aren’t sure what the first thing they should do today; for those of us in toxic environments, suffocating in silence but screaming inside, I offer this:
How to leave that job *now* and survive, in 12 steps.
Step 1: Make the decision definitive…in your head.
I’m willing to bet you’ve thought of leaving before, but you talked yourself out of it, settling into a morose sadness that makes the daily slog that much burdensome.
To move forward towards your eventual healing (and success), you must commit to leaving. You have to be definitive with your intentions. You have to mentally close off any loopholes and lose any hope of changing things where you are. You must stop settling for merely surviving to see the next day. You must be assertive and direct (and kind) with yourself. You must make the decision, and I guarantee you, you’ll be much happier when you do. Deciding “this is it, I’m leaving” is empowering.
So empower yourself. Make the choice. No more half-steps. Decide to leave.
Or decide to stay! In either case, make the decision and stick to it.
Step 2: Write down why you’re leaving AND what you love(d) about where you were.
You don’t owe your former employer anything but a two sentence resignation email. You don’t owe an explanation or an exit interview. But you do owe it to yourself to detail every single bit of hurt, frustration, and piece of pointless pain you endured. Be direct (there’s a theme here). Explicit. It doesn’t have to be coherent to anyone but you.
Along with the disappointments, it’s equally, if not more important to note your wins as well. Remember the things you enjoyed that you couldn’t or didn’t do enough of. Give yourself credit for all you’ve accomplished.
All of this will come into play in later steps.
Step 3: Assess your skill set and write down your dream career/endeavor.
Let’s build off your wins; What can you do well? What did you do well? What kind of work could you do forever? Do you have any interests you’d like to pursue? Any goals you’ve pushed to the side? What does the ideal job or career look like to you? Are you on that path? Does it involve grad school? Take the time to self reflect to give yourself guidance going forward. Remember that you’re not simply leaving a bad job; you’re embarking on a journey toward your ideal life. Again, be explicit and direct about what gives you joy. It’s ok if you don’t know exactly what it is. At least you’ll be able to asses if future opportunities are aligned with your values and experiences.
What you write here will guide where you apply to, be it jobs or school; whether you decide to build your own platform or work on someone else’s; whether you will stay in the field you left or try to make a start in another one. It is critically important to not just be honest with yourself, but to be laser focused on where you’ll want to spend the bulk of your time as you navigate these new opportunities.
Step 4: identify your personal and professional support circles.
You are not and island; You cannot do this alone. The stress of making this decision, along with all of the subsequent stresses that will arise from the decision, can bend you. But they won’t break you, especially if you identify and connect with your support circle. Be it your mom, dad, best friend, sister, cousin — whomever they are, make sure they’re kept abreast of what you’re feeling and what you’re doing. It helps to have a second pair of trusted eyes and ears helping you through decisions, to identify blind spots and opportunities. Also, this is the time to take advantage of all those professional affiliations you’re a member of. From your alumni network to Thursday Network (https://thursdaynetwork.org/join/) to any mentors you’ve accumulated — now is the time to engage them all humbly, directly, and honestly. A closed mouth does not get fed, and you absolutely need to eat.
An aside: I’m sure you’ve noticed most of what we’ve talked about has been emotional preparation; heck, we haven’t even formally quit the job yet. This is all by intention. People make bad decisions, especially financial ones, when they’re not in a good headspace. Before you move any money around, before you make any formal declarations, it’s critically important you engage your emotions, motivations, and supports centers first. In this way, you can make better, logical, beneficial decisions around your next steps.
Step 5: Pick and prepare your last day, strategically and silently.
So you know you’re going to quit fairly soon (again, this guide is for those who need to leave ASAP). But that’s still no reason to leave support on the table. If you’re considering quitting around an extended holiday, consider sticking around since your bosses and subordinates will likely be on vacation. Take your vacation days, especially if you can’t “cash” them out. Don’t leave any money on the table. Make sure you utilize all of your health benefits, including and especially vision and dental. (Also, make note of when your benefits expire; for some plans, if you work even one day in the month, you have health benefits for the reminder month, since you *paid* in advance.) Take all the personal stuff off of your work computer. Understand how much you have in retirement/investment accounts and how you can access them if need be. If your job is paying for other benefits (i.e. tuition), figure out how or when they will be affected if you leave.
In normal circumstances, I would suggest you reach out to HR with specific questions after you’ve done your research. But you need to be strategic with when and how you reach out to them, as It may not be beneficial to have these conversations before you announce your departure. Remember, HR works for the company. They are not your friend. They can gossip and have ulterior loyalties and motives. And while yes, much of what you discuss is private and should be protected, there’s no guarantee they will do their job correctly. The key is for you to leave on your terms, not theirs. I suggest you look through your HR manual and contact any vendors (Health, investments, etc.) directly. This is also a good time to engage any members of your network who work in HR for a unbiased opinions if you have general questions.
Finally, if you have have strong relationships with consultants, vendors, or other outside associates you work with regularly, make sure you have their emails and LinkedIn information. It will help to be able to have other references to engage as you conduct next steps.
Step 6: Create an emergency budget for the next 5–6 months.
Assume you’re not going to have career-level job income for at least 4 months. Yes, four (4) months. Even if you get a call back on the day you leave your job, it may take a 2–3 months to get officially hired, and another two to three weeks to see your first paycheck. Exasperated yet? Good. Scared? Normal. But guess what? You can do it.
- This process is overwhelming. I highly suggest you take it on with members of your support circle. Preferably over lots of carbs and/or lots of wine.
- Given step 5 (figuring out the exact day you’re leaving), figure out how many paychecks you have left. You’re gonna have to make these stretch, prioritizing the costs you can’t put off.
- Prioritize in your revised budget 1) a place to sleep, 2) buying food, and 3) what you’ll need to apply for jobs and be able to (tele)work. Everything else can be delayed for at least a little bit.
- Check your credit score. If there are some outstanding items or issues that can be easily rectified, take care of them now.
- You’re probably not going to qualify for unemployment if you’re leaving voluntarily, but you should still check for yourself (https://www.dol.gov/coronavirus/unemployment-insurance).
- How long can you make rent? Do you need to break your lease and move in with a friend or family? This is hard. It can be embarrassing, discouraging, and humiliating. I understand. But it is much better to live on a couch for a month or so than to get evicted trying to keep up appearances.
- Call all the people you have loans with to see if they have forbearance plans available. Student loans may or may not be delayed further. If you have a home loan, you’ll need to know what (if any) leeway you have to lower or delay payments. It’s possible some of the provisions companies made for COVID can also give you some temporary cover.
- Cancel all ancillary entertainment services, like Spotify and Netflix. That 13 dollars a month is gas in the tank or a few days worth of food. That doesn’t mean you can’t have Spotify and Netflix, however. You may just have to, uh, get creative in how you access them. (See: your support circle)
- If you have health needs, get on the phone with your insurer and your state’s insurance marketplace. Figure out what COBRA (keeping your current insurance at a monthly, generally pretty expensive rate) will cost so you can transition to another health plan that covers your needs. You may also qualify for an Obamacare program. Check here (https://www.healthcare.gov/)
- If you’re seeing a therapist, ask about services for people with financial hardships. Some providers can give your referrals so you can continue services; some providers may even allow you to pay at a lower rate, especially if you’re in need. I would argue this is a service worth continuing, especially at this pivotal time in your life.
- Prioritize WiFi/ internet service so you can still email, Zoom, have phone interviews. It may be worth your energy to switch providers if it means you’ll be able to get some introductory rate savings while keeping your number. Every dollar counts.
- Find a friend who has warehouse club membership and go food shopping in bulk. Now may be the time to learn how to cook
You are going to have to make some really hard and radical choices. Embrace them. This is a part of your testimony. Struggle always comes before a breakthrough. There is always a cost to success; this is yours. The key is to plan and be proactive with these changes, so you’re not overburdened.
Step 7: Figure out where temporary/ancillary income will come from.
Yes, you will need to find some gap employment (even if you get unemployment, you are often still required to look for a job). Check with your network; you may be able to do some consulting work. No opportunities there? Don’t be mad; UPS is hiring. Literally.
You left the job because you were not satisfied. You were lacking in something spiritually. Emotionally. Fiscally. You are paring down your life to weather this temporary storm, with a definitive idea of where you want to be when the sun is shining again. The worst part of this experience won’t be taking the financial or pride hits; those you can recover from in time. No, the worst part would be ending up in the exact same situation months later, feeling even more dejected and hopeless than before. There is no shame in doing something for a little as long as your eyes and actions stay focused on the long term prize.
Step 8: Quit.
Now it’s time to make the announcement *on your your terms.* Depending on your situation, your soon-to-be-former organization may move to push you out sooner. They may ask you to stay on longer, or to consult while they bring someone on new. Only you know what feels best for you. But no matter what, you prepared for the possibilities already. You’re confident in your decision. You have support behind you. You know your rights. You know you’re right.
You’re finally free.
You want to leave on the best terms you can (even if they’re not objectively “good” terms). Keep your conversations and complaints to a minimum for the duration of your time there. Identify who you’ll want to reach out to for a recommendation, but use non-work channels to get their approval. If you have clients, prepare an email to them *immediately* after sending your formal resignation letter, informing them of how they can reach (personal email and LinkedIn), blind copying your personal email.
Finally, if you have a team, manager, or other associates who were helpful, feel free to send them an email thanking them for the experience with your personal info attached. Even if the work itself wasn’t beneficial, the relationships you forged are.
Step 9: Take a day or two to decompress. You earned it.
You’ve done a lot of work in a short amount of time. You have taxed yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally. It is perfectly ok, even with all you have to do, to take a day to rest. You’ve earned it. Breathe. Enjoy not having *that* burden on you. Eat some ice cream. Take a walk in the middle of the day. *Don’t* answer the phone. Again, there is a lot of work to do, but you need to be in the correct mind space to do it in. Take some time to let the wear and tear of the previous job fall off.
Step 10: Create a daily schedule.
While not everyone works best on a schedule, I’m willing to bet everyone can benefit from a little bit of a routine. Set a bed time and a wake up time. Make sure you give yourself tasks to accomplish for the day, even if they’re as simple as washing clothes and writing in your journal. Be *consistent* with your forays into a new job or career, yes, but also be *consistent* with the care you give yourself. You’ll need to Keep balanced to be sane and confident enough to keep pushing on. Take up a physical activity like yoga or walking around your neighborhood. Volunteer. Attend virtual seminars. Make your time count, but make sure you’re balancing your time effectively.
Step 11: Enjoy freedom, even in the midst of uncertainty.
We may not be able to go to museums or movies during the day, but you can read. Walk in the park. Catch up with an older (or younger!) family member. As you return to the grind, you may not have the time to enjoy these simple pleasures. Take advantage as much as you can.
Step 12: Don’t run from help.
There may be a point where you might feel like you can’t make it. Where you’re short a dollar here, or need a boost there. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. It’s ok. You would do it for others. You probably have done it for others. It’s ok to collect on the good you’ve put out to the world, without shame. If you need money, or soap, or a hug, ask for it. It’s ok. You will have plenty of opportunities repay people’s kindness.
You’ll make it. And when you make it, because I know you will, remember these three things:
- Keep a journal of all you did as a reminder of how you conquered adversity. You are much stronger than you can imagine. You’ll see. Trust me.
- Pay it back. Eventually you will land on your feet. You will get into a new normal that is healthier than the one you left. You will now be in a position to help others. Do so liberally. Again, that’s the beauty of being in the Thursday Network — it’s not just for receiving help. You can give. You should give. You must give.
- Make a “$;&? You” fund. As dope as you are for making it this far, I’m sure you won’t want to go through it again. And yes, your first few weeks or months back in normality will be dedicated to paying folk back. But as you pay people back, aggressively put money on the side. Call it a $&;@ You fund; to be used just in case you need to say ;@&$ you to an employer again. For while you made it through, you don’t want to struggle again if you don’t have to.
Again, there are other, more ideal ways to do quit a job. There are significantly less financially painful ways to plan to leave, and more astute ways of determining next steps. But life isn’t always convenient. Sometimes you just have to move. And if you’re at the point where staying much longer isn’t possible, then I hope these words support you, enlighten you, and encourage you to move in your truth, towards your light.
Take on the challenge, make the change, and embrace the joy you are owed.
You’ve got this.