At the age of 28, I quit my job. Not because I made a fortune on bitcoin. Or wanted to go back to school. Or decided to serve on a long-term service trip. Or saved enough money to backpack through Europe for the next year. I quit because I was burned out. I had less than a decade of experience in the “real world” and I was already disillusioned and worn down.
I had been working as a marketing director and, prior to that, spent about five years at an agency. Growing up, I put an enormous emphasis on my education and career. It wasn’t that I only filled my time with studying and SAT prep and loads of internships, but my entire identity was defined by what I was going to do Monday through Friday. I did not aspire to be some big shot or work my way up the corporate ladder, but I wanted to have a cool job. Deep down, I wanted people to think I was interesting and impressive. Pride is a funny thing.
I’m not sure when it happened, but somewhere between graduating college at 21 and quitting my job at 28, intense anxiety became a daily occurrence. Every Sunday night, I’d feel a heaviness come over me. Every weekday morning, it took all my energy to lift my head off my pillow. It’s not like I was working Wall Street hours seven days a week or had a horrible relationship with my employer. On paper, my career was a sequence of dream jobs. And yet, it was sucking the life out of me—and that unhappiness was spilling into every other area of my life.
I tried to find contentment with the career path I had forged. I would remind myself daily that I worked to honor Christ, not make an employer or client happy. I believed that if I could just refocus my perspective or change this or that, I would feel better. I didn’t. On one particular night, I had an ugly cry-into-my-wine-glass meltdown. I felt stuck and didn’t know what to do. I picked up the phone and called my mom. Her advice was simple: Quit.
It didn’t make sense, of course. I would be walking away from a good salary, benefits, stability and all the other perks that come with full-time employment. But there was something powerful about hearing my mother, a hard-working woman who has been dedicated to the same company for more than 30 years, tell me to quit my job.
All too often, we wait for God to open a miraculous door without taking a single step of faith. I’m not saying that the grass is always greener or that anyone who is dissatisfied (in a job or any area of life) should simply throw in the towel; the Bible reminds us time and time again of the value of contentment and to be grateful for all that we’ve been given (Timothy 6:7-8, Hebrews 13:5, Philippians 4:11, Timothy 6:6). However, I also believe we tend to substitute contentment for complacency or comfort. And, even though our hearts plead with us to make a change, we don’t take that next step out of fear, obligation, money, position—fill in the blank.
I believe God wants us to make wise choices. I also believe we serve a God who dreams with the dreamers and encourages us to live boldly. Maybe you never have and never will have an experience like mine. Maybe you’ve been in the same season of life I was, unsure how to get out. If that’s you, taking the first step is the hardest part.
Here are five ways to help you get started:
1. Be proactive.
I think the worst part about growing up in the Church is that we spoonfeed people—especially young people—the line, “Seek the will of God” without ever explaining what the will of God actually is (Spoiler alert: It’s not some cryptic, hidden secret God keeps from us.). Yes, some people have specific callings on their life, but I don’t believe that following the will of God is synonymous with my job title. Following God’s will requires taking a first step.
2. Identify what you value.
I identified very early in my career what I value and what I do not. For example, I care far more about flexibility and control of my day than a salary. These priorities look different for every person. The important thing is to identify what they are and use them to gauge the decisions you make about your career path.
3. Don’t burn bridges in past jobs.
It was the foundation I built in previous jobs—the connections I made and the skills I developed—that equipped me to pursue a full-time freelance career. I’m so very grateful to the people who took a chance on me and invested in me in my professional life. You never know how the people and circumstances of your past might circle back in your future.
4. Seek affirmation.
I cannot express the importance of this enough. It’s dangerous to make decisions in a silo. It’s equally as dangerous to make them based on the feedback of one person. My mom put the bug in my ear, but it wasn’t until I ran that idea past my husband, a best friend and my small group leaders that I truly felt I was making the right decision.
5. Let go of your pride.
We’ve all read the stories about major league athletes who leave million dollar contracts to the simple life or the corporate executives who quit to spend time with their families. The point is, don’t let your job dictate your life. When your job takes more from you than it gives, it may be time to leave. And that also means potentially leaving the things—the salary, recognition, security, etc.—that come with it.
Maybe your next step is to stay right you are. Maybe it’s to move on to something new. Regardless, your job does not define you. We are made for so much more than the status and salaries we so often use to measure our lives.