From attending post-work fashion events for interviews with celebrities to writing news stories over the weekends, my weekly schedule as the senior fashion writer at Vogue India was pretty jammed. I could never switch off and my body was constantly giving me signs that I needed to switch off. But I couldn’t—such is the nature of digital journalism.
Just 8 months into the job, I longed for a phone-free vacation. By lucky coincidence, my brother planned his engagement ceremony, and my time-off request was approved.
Those few days away from work felt like a breath of fresh air. I meditated on my life and realized my true purpose was beyond this identity I had attached to my career. No amount of material or monetary success could help me catch the elusive happiness I was desperately chasing. I decided to quit my job, not realizing that I was one of many taking part in The Great Resignation that’s come to define the year.
Ahead, explore more stories of courageous, honest women who decided to leave their jobs—their reasons range from burnout to plain old boredom.
“I turned down a $10,000 performance bonus to regain my peace of mind”
“While working at one Big Four banks in downtown Toronto, I was expected to maintain a ‘work-life integration.’ From 7 a.m. meetings to 8 p.m. calls, my working hours as a senior associate were crazy. Not soon after, my boss offered me a dangling carrot to become a manager. My boss was a partner and he saw potential in me.
It can take three to five years for a senior associate to be promoted as a manager, and I became one fairly quickly within two years. This was hard to digest for peers my age whom I was now directly managing.
I remember one particular incident with a female colleague who was part of the project I was managing. She refused to work with me, and blatantly lied to my boss, who believed her story. I was shocked that our mutual trust was evaporating. This colleague put the delivery of my project in jeopardy, and my boss valued her skills over building a culture of transparency. It felt like he was ok with toxic colleagues as long as they delivered.
There was another incident that made me question my boss’ motives. At that time, my mom had been diagnosed with cancer and I had to fly back home to care for her. He let me work remotely but showed no empathy whatsoever. He piled on more work than I could handle, and this was the last straw that broke the camel’s back. I knew he was taking advantage of me, and I started feeling like I was just another pair of hands only as valuable as my billables.
What the company said about supporting my career goals turned out to be a sham. My boss was busy imposing his vision on me for projects I was managing while I struggled to maintain a work-life balance with a 60-hour workweek. Plus, the onus of learning new technical skills was on me, but I barely had any time left for it, let alone for personal relationships or my emotional and mental well-being.
What good was my high-paying salary if I didn’t have the time or energy to enjoy it? After nearly five years, I felt like my calling lay elsewhere. I was so burnt out with the toxic work culture that I left a sizable performance bonus of $10,000 on the table that I would have received had I stayed on for a month and a half more.
I hung on to my job for so long because I thought my boss was looking out for me, but that vision crumbled during the pandemic when I had time to reflect. I now realize we owe it to ourselves to take care of ourselves, and that we can only find fulfillment at work when we feel fulfilled within.” —Ellen, 28
“I needed antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications to help cope with my job’s pressure”
“I’ve always wanted an online job, but this wasn’t exactly what I had in mind. I found this job during COVID-19 as a sales development representative with a digital marketing agency with no prior experience in this field.
I had never worked as a telemarketer and my first month was so miserable. We were given a long script to follow with opening paragraphs, engaging one-liners, counter arguments, and other conversational topics. All our calls were recorded and monitored, so I had to be extremely careful with how I spoke. We also had a digital whiteboard where everyone’s scores were tallied together. The top management always had the best scores; I believe it’s because they had the best leads to follow that garnered conversions.
The criticism began in the first month itself. It started with my manager asking me to improve my tone. “You have to feel upbeat while talking. You have to be smiling,” he told me. I began to give myself goals every month that would encourage me to stay. I worked hard to prove myself during the initial three-month probation period, and then I shifted my focus towards touching the six-month mark.
My best performance came halfway through in March when I met all my allotted sales targets. Ironically, it was the worst period in terms of my mental health. I had multiple breakdowns that month, and I was constantly anxious, feeling like I was going to be fired if I didn’t meet my daily sales quota. At night I would lay awake in bed, overthinking the conversations I had with colleagues and potential clients. I was now taking antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications to help cope with the job’s pressure. Occasionally, I used CBD oil to calm myself.
However, the medications were slowing me down, and I was afraid that my performance would be impacted. It was as if my body got used to the pills, and I felt I was manipulating my body to make it function at its optimal.
The biggest revelation about my company’s dirty politics happened when I was accidentally transferred my colleague’s salary on pay day. It was four times higher than what I was making! I was shocked beyond belief; my minimum wage rate salary looked puny compared to hers. My self-esteem shattered into a million shards of broken glass.
I knew I wanted to quit, but everyone told me not to until I had a new job.
It was around the eighth month that I decided I’d had enough. My friend helped me write a resignation letter, and I asked my colleague for guidance on what to say to my manager. He wrote a few lines and I followed it like a script while on the call with my manager. I guess I did improve my tone after all.”—Cindy-Georges, 31
“I quit to go freelance—and I love it.”
“I was working at a magazine, doing social media and digital content marketing. I had so much creative freedom and I loved it. Then there was a management shift that took a lot of what I loved about my job away. That became a big mental health battle for me, it felt like something was missing. So I left that job and took another full-time job for two months. But, again, something was still missing.
Freelancing was something I always wanted to do, but I thought you’d need a supportive partner to bring in most of the income in order to be able to actually do it. But I realized that freelancing full-time would mean that I was in control of the work I would be doing, when and with whom. So I took the leap on August 1st of this year. Luckly, my old job took me on and became my first client. They were so supportive, and I’m still working with them right now. All my work is with social media marketing and some copywriting.
People do glamorize freelancing. Like, ‘Oh, you can work from a café on a Tuesday afternoon,” and while that’s true, it’s still a full-time job and a lot of juggling. One of the biggest shocks was the accounting side of things and taxes—you should get an accountant and track your invoices and expenses. I was on the phone with an accountant and they were like, ‘Okay, you are a full proprietor’ and I was viciously writing notes like, ‘Oh my gosh, I have no idea what a full proprietor means!’ So I had never heard of this term, I think I went into it very naively thinking you just freelance.
I do set limits for myself: at 5 o’clock, I need to stop and, especially working from home, separate life and work. And the nice thing is, if I’m having an off day or if cramps are really bad one day, being able to say, ‘You know what? Today is not the day.’
When I first started, I knew it would be a bit of an income hit, and I did prepare for that. I am constantly looking at other opportunities, not always to pursue them, but to see what skills people are looking for—especially working in social media. You have to constantly be honing in on new skills. It definitely is a lot of pressure.
I’ve had to part ways with some clients already. It feels so wrong to say, ‘Hey I don’t want your money anymore.’ I really strive to find projects that I am passionate about—it’s why I quit my job in the first place. It’s definitely a roller-coaster, but it has gotten me to a point where I am working full-time and making more money than I ever have before, and that’s incredible.”—Krysten, 27
“I was told I shouldn’t handle clients because I don’t have an American accent”
“When the marketing manager at my company quit, I was promoted to the position without any incremental compensation or benefits. Ours was a start-up company working remotely during COVID-19; we had employees all over the world. I was told that as we grew, the team will get a raise. Little did we know that they were empty words.
Just a few months ago, I was convinced I had found my dream job. The hiring manager who brought me on board fiercely supported diversity and made me feel part of an inclusive culture. It was evident she deeply cared about the company, which is why I was taken aback when she announced that she resigned and found another opportunity.
Her new replacement didn’t care about inclusivity in the workplace. I still remember when she told me that even though I was the manager, I couldn’t attend client-facing meetings because I didn’t look American or sound like one. This sole incident deeply shattered my confidence and trust as I tried to manage my new responsibilities while straddling my new boss’ ever-increasing demands.
Over time, the stress of the job started affecting my mental health. The hours were becoming increasingly long, and I was also urgently called to work on days I had requested as paid time off.
I tried to voice my concerns by writing emails to my boss, and she kept saying that she will make things better. My boss preached about women empowerment, but she was treating us exactly the opposite by using emotional manipulation and deception to make us work extra hours. Instead of teaching me how to be a good manager, she was shattering that ideal within me. Working in this toxic environment with no job security made me question my career trajectory. I didn’t like lying or being lied to either; I wanted to work with a leader who was accountable for her actions, not one who got her way through coercion.
One day my boss told me I was getting a raise for all my hard work. But it wasn’t equal to the extra energy or time I was investing at all.
I finally decided it was time to quit and emailed my resignation letter to my boss. My last day dawned, and I was the happiest I’d felt in a very long time.
It’s been a few days since I resigned, but I still feel stressed when I look at my WFH desk. I’m reminded of all the days I spent crying in my chair. I haven’t sat on that chair ever since.” —Sarah, 31
“I quit my dream job because I was bored”
“Have you heard of the hedonic treadmill? It’s the term for what happens when we get something we thought would make us happy, only to want to move on and chase the next ‘thing’—a fancy trip, new designer handbag, and, in my most recent case, a new job.
I had the dream gig working in lifestyle journalism: more free swag than I knew what to do with (I would joke to my friends that I was sponsored by Everlane), flashy press trips (well, pre-pandemic, anyway) and most of all, the ability to make my living doing creative and truly fulfilling work—the highest privilege I can think of.
But over the years, I felt like I had hit my professional ceiling. Or, if I’m being more honest, I wasn’t overly motivated to push through it. I found myself a little bored, even. WFH in a pandemic didn’t help. Without the routine of an office and animated coworkers to bounce off of, I found myself becoming less and less engaged—with my team, with our company goals. While I was still putting out work I was really proud of, the joy of writing a fabulous story wouldn’t sustain me for long. I craved the kind of hard reset that only a fresh start could provide.
I left in the summer of 2021 for a new role at an upstart brand. I wasn’t the first person to jump ship from old-school media into new-school tech or a startup (all those apps on your phone? I can probably name an ex-colleague that works at each). Had I stayed, I would have enjoyed an easy summer doing work within my comfort zone. I’d be able to sign off early, work at a quiet pace and feel secure (at least until the next round of inevitable media industry layoffs). But I wouldn’t be growing.
The actual quitting conversation with my boss happened over the phone. It felt awkward, only because I was leaving the best job I ever had, and felt like I had to justify the decision even more than if I was leaving a company that was toxic. Yes, it was a bit like leaving your perfectly nice, perfectly loving boyfriend. There’s nothing wrong on paper, but you want to see what else is out there.
Then came the other part: Divorcing who I am with what I do (or did, rather). For the longest time, at parties or meeting new people, I always led with what I did and where I worked. I’m trying to separate my identity from my work, and it’s a work in progress.
Do I miss my old dream job? Yes and no. Some days I’m like Dorothy just wanting to go home. But most days my old job feels like a small town where I grew up. That said, I’m still in touch with a lot of my former colleagues and I’ve done the odd bit of freelance work for them. I guess when it comes to my old job, I’m a clingy ex.—Lucy, 30”
“Resting is as important as working, and I respect that now”
“The lockdown gave me a lot of time to think about my life. My husband and I were trying to have a baby, and despite the constant trips to the gynaecologist, I wasn’t able to understand why we weren’t successful. It never crossed my mind that I could have something.
It turned out to be endometriosis.
I had to undergo surgery, and the entire process was so painful. Mostly, I was disappointed with myself because I had become so busy with my job as a multi-site retail manager with a luxury brand that I forgot to prioritize self-care.
The salary was high, and so were my expectations from myself. After a long day at work, I’d get home by 9 p.m. or 10 p.m., but then I’d be so wired up that I wouldn’t be able to fall asleep. My mornings began early at 7 a.m.; the weekends were spent working too. This was my life, on repeat for almost six years, barring that one weekly day off I’d spend at home with my husband.
I realized I got sucked into a career I didn’t plan for. At the store, I used to wear my uniform and I was constantly on my feet, shuffling between different stores I was managing. There was no pattern or routine to my life, and my gynaecologist informed me this was one of the main factors that brought on my endometriosis.
I remember this voice in my head telling me that I was better than this. I was inspired to visit an ayurvedic doctor who helped me change my diet. Quitting meat was one of the major lifestyle changes I made. My doctor also told me to change my work environment. According to him, we tend to mirror our environments, and since I was constantly working in a stressful retail environment, I was always feeling stressed out.
I was well aware that changing jobs meant less money, but I decided to quit to take care of my health. It was super hard for me to leave, but I’ve learned that it’s important to take out time to enjoy life. Resting is as important as working, and I respect that now.” —Ana, 37