Feeling guilty about leaving your job is a completely normal and natural thing to feel.
After all, you’ve spent time building up skills, developing professional relationships, and cultivating a strong network of colleagues—some of whom you may even consider friends. You have likely put in loads of time, blood, sweat, and tears at your company and may feel as though it would be wrong to pick up and walk away.
However, on the other hand, you also know that this may not be the right fit anymore—and that’s fine; we all have situations we’ve simply outgrown. It’s part of maturing, growing up, and cycling through the various phases of our lives.
You’re probably feeling guilty because you feel like you are leaving people or really important work behind. Whatever your reason(s) is for feeling guilty about leaving a job—knowing yourself better will help ease those feelings of guilt over time.
Taking the time and allowing ourselves to understand why we feel this way will be deeply important in our processing, so we can take action accordingly instead of letting guilt run our lives, possibly even stalling progress.
Let’s take a look at how you can manage this transition easier and release yourself from the guilt.
When feeling guilty about leaving a job, take a breather
If you’re feeling guilty about leaving a job, stop, and take a breather. Take a moment to indulge in immediate self-care to get yourself back into a positive headspace.
If the situation is forcing you to make a decision quickly, take some time to think about what’s best for your future. Ideally, this can include going on taking a day off, or even attending a retreat where you can recharge and get away from everything else going on in your life. When considering important career changes in your life, you have every right to take a step back and really assess what makes sense for you, even in a time crunch.
When you come back from your break, and put your head back up, you’ll have more energy and be able to think more clearly about what we want out of life, and work. No harm, no foul.
Validate your feelings because sometimes there are other reasons to go
There can be a ton of reasons to call it quits, most of which are likely very valid reasons.
An example could be you’re not getting along with your manager, and it’s making you miserable and unproductive. Think about the saying “people don’t leave their company, they leave their manager.” You could feel like they don’t appreciate all the work you do, or they micromanage every decision.
The only way to make yourself happy again is to leave this job behind, and get another one where people respect what you do and value who you are as an employee. If this is the case for you, acknowledgement of what is and isn’t working can certainly be helpful. Your feelings of guilt about leaving your job will hopefully absolve once you’ve self-validated.
Another Common Scenario
You’re not learning anything new at work anymore because all of your tasks have become rote. All of the challenges have been conquered. Your company doesn’t wants to give raises or promotions because “the economy sucks.” Meanwhile, everyone else in your industry is moving up–taking on bigger roles, and earning more money. Not necessarily because those things were out of reach before, but because they kept taking risks and learning new skills that kept their careers moving forward while yours stalled.
As an HR leader, I see this happen quite often. In order to advance professionally, you have to resign and find your promotion in another organization. There should be no guilt in pursuing this option in your career.
Shift your focus to the future rather than what you’re leaving behind
You may be leaving for a better opportunity, like a promotion or more responsibility.
You may be leaving to pursue a new passion, like starting your own business, or going back to school. Maybe you’re leaving because you are not happy at work, and would rather pursue something else in the same field that has better fit with your values. Or, it’s just time for something new after years of doing the same thing day in and day out.
Regardless of your motivator, you were serious enough to pursue leaving your job. Therefore, feeling guilty about leaving a job shouldn’t be why you take a stepback. It’s a healthy transition to shift your focus and intentions to a different space, one that is forward-facing and not dwelling on the past. Whatever your new venture is, a job, a business, a class, or fill-in-the-blank, there’s way more to be excited about than guilt.
Honor and acknowledge, then shift to the new adventure that lies ahead of you.
Talk with your friends and family about what’s going on for you.
Talking to your friends and family about what’s going on with you is a great way to get perspective and insight. Ask them if they have any advice, or just talk about their own experiences leaving jobs in the past—specifically feeling guilty about leaving a job.
Talk with people who care about you and that you trust. Discussing your feelings can help put things into perspective when making such an important decision.
Look at the big picture — and think about why it’s time to move on.
The next time you feel guilty about leaving a job, remind yourself that you are not the first person to do so.
Many people leave their jobs for reasons other than just finding something better or having a bad manager. Maybe they’ve been at the same company for years and want more change in their life. Or maybe they’re unhappy with how things have been going, but don’t know what else is out there, or where they would fit in better. In these cases, taking the time to reflect on why it’s time for change can help give you perspective on what happened and what’s in your locus of control.
FOMO is real, but there are other options
If you’re feeling guilty about leaving a job, it’s likely because of all the things you’ll think you’ll be missing out on. You’ve invested so much time and energy into this company that it feels like a betrayal to walk away from all your hard work–and there’s no doubt that the people who work there will miss you when you go.
But I don’t think I need to remind you that if it’s the people you’ll miss, they can still maintain a place in your life.
Being honest with yourself about why you are feeling guilty can help ease those feelings.
The first step in dealing with feeling guilty about leaving a job is recognizing it. It’s important to understand why you are feeling guilty, because once you do, the feelings will likely go away on their own once you pivot your perspective and thinking.
If they don’t, continue to be patient with yourself and examine your thoughts on a deeper level. Consider working through the emotions with the help of a qualified professional like a therapist, or psychologist.
If you are feeling guilty about leaving a job, it is important to recognize that this is a normal part of life. We all have times when we feel like we should be doing more or better, but we need to remember that no matter how hard we try, there will always be something else we could do better tomorrow. The key is knowing when enough is enough and taking action on what matters most: ourselves and those around us who love us unconditionally.