When I graduated from grad school, I convinced myself, like most people in the helping professions, that I would go out and change the world. I chopped my hair off and moved home to Michigan where, bright-eyed, I walked into my first day as a new therapist. I applied to over 50 jobs before moving back home, where I accepted a job from the one and only company that took a chance on a new graduate like me. Being fresh in the field, I was motivated to work, learn, and discover my purpose through my new career. I dreamed about being able to help everyone. But less than a year in, I quit my first job– a decision that I now see as transformative in my own personal growth.
In many ways, I look back on my first job very fondly. At the time, I was providing intensive therapy. I spent many sleepless nights in the hospital doing crisis intervention, and spent several hours per week with my clients. I loved it. There was never a boring day in my job, and being able to work with people who really needed my help was incredibly rewarding.
But the burnout rate the field is very high. I provided therapy out in the community, which meant that my office was my car, client’s houses, coffee shops, school conference rooms, and anywhere else we could find a private space. Because the burnout rate was high, some of the clients that I saw had seen two or more therapists before me, and were feeling hopeless themselves. Even still, I was convinced that I could help them all. And if I couldn’t help them, I’d find someone who could.
After about 9 months, my job started wearing on me. I watched other therapists come and go, burnt out by the intensity of the work. I didn’t want to be one of them, so I pushed myself through my stress. But the more I fought against the fatigue and burnout of my job, my stress turned into depression. When I got called in the middle of the night to help someone, I’d cry. And then I’d cry because I was frustrated with myself for crying. I felt guilty that I couldn’t do it all, that I wasn’t strong enough for the job. I was confused because I still cared for my clients and my coworkers. This was the career I wanted, right?
7 months into my career, I experienced a traumatic event on the job. I talked to my supervisors, who felt for me and encouraged me to bring the situation to the higher-ups of the company. But unfortunately, even as traumatic as the event was, the company was unable to remedy the situation. I felt let down by the ones that I thought would support me in the case of an event like this. Was I willing to put my mental health aside and continue the work that I was convinced I was called to do, or would I leave my job and take care of myself?
I worked at my job for another three months, questions whirling through my head. “What would happen to my clients if I left? What if I wasn’t able to find another job? After all, I put in over 50 applications before I was called for this one!” I knew what the right decision was after I put in two job applications and was called for one within three days. After 10 months in the field, I quit my first job.
I now work for an amazing company doing what I had always envisioned. I work in a clinic setting working with a wide variety of people. My coworkers and fellow staff are all supportive and genuinely care about each other. I feel more fulfilled in my work than I could ever have hoped, and I owe it all to taking the plunge when I quit my first job.
I discovered my Limits
Working in crisis intervention and intensive therapy is still work that I find fulfilling, but I learned that I can’t do that every day. Two and a half years out after I quit my first job, I’ve discovered what I’m able to handle and what is too much. I know when to step back and ask for help, and what I know I can do for myself.
Strong Coworker Relationships are Essential
I could not have gone through what I did without the support of my coworkers. I knew going into my current job that the relationships I would build there would be essential in combating burnout. Let me tell you– working with a bunch of therapists is one of the biggest blessings! I know I always have support when I need a pick-me-up, when I need someone to bounce ideas off of, and when I need someone to challenge me.
Self-Care is a Necessity
Friends. Self-care has to be a priority in a high-stress job. I still struggle with PTSD to this day from what I went through two an a half years ago at my last job. There are days when I still struggle to manage my trauma triggers, even though I have improved dramatically. When I’m feeling burned out, I have learned that trying to trudge through the stress only makes things worse. I’ve learned to step back, slow down, and take care of my own needs.
I Knew More than I Thought I Did
When I quit my first job, I was worried that I would still feel like an inexperienced, underqualified clinician. However, I learned that I actually had learned a lot about helping people. When I went into my new job, I realized that I wouldn’t feel as clueless as I did on day one of my first job. I actually did know what I was doing. I wouldn’t have gotten a new job as quickly as I did if they didn’t believe that I was qualified. Quitting my first job meant I gained confidence in myself.
Yet, I Still Knew Nothing
When I quit my first job, I was leaving as one of the longer-standing therapists there. Before I left, my coworkers would come to me to consult. At my new job, I am surrounded by coworkers who had been providing therapy for 20+ years! I now work with counselors, social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, and nurses that have infinite wisdom. They continue to teach me every day!
I Felt Empowered
When I quit my first job, I knew that I was doing more than leaving a position that was causing me a lot of stress. I was proving to myself that I knew what was best for me. I used to let people walk all over me. When I graduated and chopped my hair short, I was symbolizing that I was a new person. Staying in that job would mean that I was continuing the same patterns of self-abuse. When I quit my job, I felt empowered to pursue what I had envisioned for myself.
I discovered a lot about myself when I quit my first job even through my trauma. I count myself fortunate to have had the experiences I did, because without them, I’d never be in the place I am now!
What valuable lessons have you learned since leaving a job? Let me know in the comments!