Career corner: When to call it quits

A horde of people in red ties holding briefcases. A person in a yellow spotlight walks away from a lone briefcase and tie.
Graphic by Annie Wu

You’re constantly frustrated and stressed about work. Your coworkers are irritating, and you can’t wait to get some space. You disagree with the decisions being made by your higher-ups, and you are so exasperated you could cry. 

It might be time to throw in the towel.

Clubs and work may be obligations, but that does not mean that you should dread going to meetings or a shift. As college students or professionals, we juggle a number of commitments and should be asking ourselves if what we do is truly worth the time and energy it requires of us.

We often pick activities or work that are meaningful to us, whether it’s social justice activism, playing a sport or student journalism. Sometimes we care about our work so much that we may not want to walk away even if we should. 

There’s always the question of waiting things out, that maybe they’ll get better next semester or next year, but sometimes your mental and emotional health isn’t worth the risk. Harassment, discrimination and resentment toward work-related issues or supervisors who do not value your effort can all be key signs that it’s time to take a break. 

But how do you know for sure?

My supervisor from this summer told me that everyone should draw a line based on their closely held values, and that once one’s workplace environment is so contrary to what they value or need most, it’s time to leave.

For example, if you work for the government, at what point are you willing to support the greater good of your cause by working for leadership actively hostile toward your core beliefs? 

Toxicity can be as present on campus as in a workplace; school clubs and classrooms are not immune to the unpleasant environments built from high stakes and passion for a cause. They can even be worse.

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In toxic situations, it’s easy to let anger build. It may feel like the most cathartic exit would be going out with a bang, yelling and calling out the injustices you sustained — but it’s not the professional approach.

If you’re feeling overcome and burned out, first try to assess what specifically is upsetting you and whether or not those things can be fixed by talking to your supervisor or by changing your work habits. You may also want to think about filing an official complaint if there’s been harassment or other inappropriate behavior. 

If the situation isn’t something you can change, start thinking about what you can do to leave or change your commitment without leaving loose ends. Though you may not be in the mood to be doing others any favors, think at the very least about how you want to be remembered. Try to get to a reasonable stopping point in your work, whether it is the end of an assignment or payment cycle, before bowing out.

If you can, leave feedback when you leave. Avoid slandering your coworkers or boss because that information isn’t as anonymous as most would hope. Try to be rational, but honest, and if you have ideas for solutions, toss those in the mix, too. 

When you care about something, it can be hard to walk away. But at the end of the day, if you’re unhappy, it might be time to step back and try something new. 

Got career-related questions? Submit them to olivia.truesdale@tsl.news or anonymously at bit.ly/CareerCornerTSL.

Olivia Truesdale SC ’21 is TSL’s career columnist. She’s a career consultant at Scripps Career Planning & Resources and currently studying abroad in Seoul, South Korea. She encourages you to check out the resources available at your campus career center.

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