“Burnout is a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands. … Eventually, you may feel like you have nothing more to give.” -Psychology Today
What happens when you unexpectedly quit your job? It happened. Subtle like adultery. Then, one day it glares and snaps you out of your dream state and into reality.
Six and a half years deep into my career as a social worker turned my gas tank well-beyond E, not to mention broken on the side of the road stripped and sold for parts.
It’s 2013, my elbows rested on my knees while my head laid flat in between the palms of my hands. I began to wonder what the hell happened to my life while sitting on my ex-girlfriend’s living room floor.
I had to quit. If misery had a face, my mug would be it.
Have you ever devoted all of your time and energy into something to only learn it can’t, and it won’t give you anything back? It’s like being in a marriage with someone who doesn’t love you.
I didn’t become a social worker to have my ego stroked. My ego isn’t that fragile. However, the constant witnessing of trauma dampens your spirit.
Throw in the mix incompetent employees who are gainfully employed no matter what, then there are supervisors who endanger families because high-level administration turns a blind eye. They built the system to protect but it fails more often than not. It’s nauseating and exhausting.
As a result, resentment and bitterness built a thick film around my thoughts. My attitude deteriorated. Most importantly, it started to spill into my relationship with my son.
We didn’t get along during his freshman year. Indeed that’s when I found myself on the verge of burnout.
Ultimately, that became the day I decided to quit social work. What happens when you unexpectedly quit your job?
The Day that I Left Social Work
Fog circulated my mind. I didn’t know how to make my life better. My ex-girlfriend tried her best. She threw in long drawn out explanations about energy and the law of attraction.
She told me that I had to control my destiny and how I’m the one in the driver’s seat. Then she laid it out in black and white, “You have two options, you either make it work, or you make plans to quit and do something else.”
Was it that easy?
I sobbed. What does it mean to quit? I invested two degrees for this profession. I had no other skills, or at least I thought. Honestly, I didn’t know too many people around me that actually loved or liked their jobs.
In fact, less than half of the American population are satisfied with their jobs.
Have you ever fantasized about what your life would look like without the job you hated?
Work consisted of removing children from their families, spending hours at courthouses, testifying, and standing in front of judges.
Child welfare work is beyond challenging. I didn’t go into this blinded. However, I failed to consider the toll it took on my mental and emotional health.
You name it, I’ve seen it: late night emergencies, investigations, suicides, runaways, residential facilities, and addiction.
My life became enmeshed with it all. The lines blurred.
Still the worse of it all, it’s not the families, the children, although difficult, the rage came from bureaucratic red-tape that hindered great social work.
I saw things. I knew more than I wanted to know. There’s this hope for blissful ignorance because knowing weakened me. It consistently exposed me to the darker side of life.
The question became what to do next? I thought maybe, I’ll finish the clinical licensure, which would allow me to conduct individual practice.
However, I never made it.
Two months flew and with my 33rd birthday vastly approaching, I made a non-verbal decision.
I woke up feeling extremely depressed and unable to get out of bed. Therefore I didn’t.
I didn’t show up to work. Nor, did I call anyone to let them know that I wasn’t coming. Subsequently, right before the day came to an end, I received a phone call from one of my colleagues, “One of your kids is in the hospital. They need your signature.”
He’s always hospitalized, I thought. Hospitalization for him is like filling up your gas tank on a weekly basis. My colleague said, “Everyone is wondering where you are.”
Her statement about my whereabouts fell on deaf ears. Despite what she said, I asked her for the information and then made a few phone calls.
My supervisor signed the admittance to the hospital on my behalf.
Although there were no issues with the admittance process, I felt terrible as a professional. Desensitization is a real thing, I finally experienced it for the first time.
Moreover, I had always told myself, if I were to ever become desensitized in this field that I would submit my registration.
This career mattered. The seriousness of my job isn’t something to take lightly. This job gives me the ability to influence and access to people’s lives. A lot of people depended on my ability to remain present at all times. I let everyone down.
The next day I walked into the office with a feeling of resignation. At first, I sat at my desk and checked my emails. It all didn’t seem real, like some actor in a movie. It didn’t feel like reality.
My inbox overflowed with requests, demands, and concerns. I couldn’t breathe. Providers, lawyers, and family members pulled me in several directions.
I walked away from the phone and the computer. It’s like I snapped. I decided to make tea.
My supervisor’s supervisor walked in. She had a confused look on her face. She asked, “What happened to you yesterday?”
I said, “I was out.”
She asked, “You didn’t call anyone, your supervisor; no one knew where you were.”
I responded, “Yeah. I decided to quit today.” The resignation later didn’t exist yet. My comment surprised her. “No, we’ll talk about this, I’ll come grab you in a minute.”
Saying those words out loud liberated my spirit because I felt unleashed for the first time in my life.
Furthermore, typing my resignation later that day made me feel in complete control of my destiny for the first time.
I walked to my supervisor’s office and handed it to her. Indeed, she had a surprised but not so surprised look on her face. We all shared the same internal turmoil.
Next, we sat in silence for a few minutes, then she said, “Was it something I did?” She had only been in our division for a few months, however, not new to the game. “No, not at all,” I said trying my best not to cry.
In short, I explained to her that I couldn’t do it anymore because of yesterday’s incident it felt best that I resigned.
I no longer felt connected to the work and for me to not show up for work the way that I did was a powerful indicator: I’ve officially burned out. She understood.
My supervisor’s supervisor found me, and we walked to her office. She said, “Don’t quit. Which unit do you want? I can put you anywhere. Independent living? Adoptions? Tell me which one and I’ll make it happen”, however, it was too late for that.
Despite my resignation, she began to tell me how much of what I said resonated with her. According to her, she wore many hats, going from one place to the next throughout the industry.
It’s hard work she tells me. However, there isn’t anyone else to do it. She asked me to hang in there for the long haul. I told her that I couldn’t. She asked me, “What will you do?” I replied, “I don’t know.”
Under those circumstances, two and a half weeks after that conversation I quit social work. The guilt gnawed my insides like a rabid dog chewing on a piece of steak.
Seeing that, I dedicated my life to this career, but then I abandoned it, leaving the children and their families behind.
Inasmuch, that’s the greatest guilt of all. It took me years to forgive myself for leaving. I knew what I left, hence why it tore me up inside.
Many of the children that I worked with were going to age out of the system. In due time, many of them without anyone to believe in them.
More importantly, the children didn’t have any family members. I’m just another person who abandoned them.
The guilt is like a shadow in both daylight and dark nights. I didn’t know how to process it. The Department of Social Services operates in this cycle. Unfortunately, it’s a revolving door.
Following that decision my life took turns, and curves, similar to rollercoaster rides filled with adrenaline. It’s never easy.
More challenges awaited me. Many of which, I had no clue how to manage. I jumped over a cliff and crashed into entrepreneurship.
For the very first time in years, I had no one to answer to but myself. The inescapable mirror. I couldn’t fall back on anyone because I couldn’t shift the blame to another system.
What rose to the surface during those years that I worked for myself were three things: anxiety, depression, and bringing value to the world as well as myself.
I collapsed in the face of discomfort. The comfort zone didn’t exist. This challenging transition had me doing things that I never thought I would.
Have you done something drastic to your career? Please comment below.
Lessons I’ve learned:
1. Whatever happens in life, find your passion quickly.
2. In fact, don’t be afraid of what may or may not happen.
3. The future isn’t ours. Only the present is.
4. Create a self-care routine and be honest about your emotions.
5. Don’t feel guilty for taking care of you first.
6. Don’t ignore the warning signs.
7. Some of us have invested in something at some point in our lives. Because of this, the guilt may haunt us. We may beat ourselves up, as a result, however, we must practice forgiveness. Remember there is nothing wrong with deciding to drastically change your life. In fact, if you’ve tried something and realized that it isn’t working, then try something else. Furthermore, keep going until it clicks.
8. Continue to do whatever brings joy and peace into your life.