I have been struggling with my job for the last few years. I am generally overworked, exhausted, anxious, and frustrated due to poor leadership, high turnover, difficulty hiring, and systemic issues at my organization. I don’t enjoy my work like I used to, and the continuing pandemic also makes my job more difficult at every turn. Some days it’s hard for me to muster the energy and motivation to work, and I feel sick of it all. Other days, I feel fine and hopeful that things will improve. I feel like my identity is tied to this job. Most of all, I adore my colleagues and have built very strong rapport with them over the years. With all the turnover in our office, I would feel guilty quitting and making things worse for them. I think it’s time for me to leave, but I feel stuck. How can I finally make the leap?
Need a Push
Dear Need a Push,
I suspect many readers can relate to this— thank you for submitting your question! The workplace, and without a doubt the field of international education, has changed a lot in the last couple of years and everyone is feeling the pinch. While travel aspects are opening back up and some parts of our work are improving, many challenges remain, and plenty of new challenges are emerging. I commend you for hanging on this long! While it’s always true that things could improve and there are trade-offs to leaving a position you’ve settled into, it sounds like you know it’s time for you to move on. Let’s see if I can help get you unstuck!
The decision to leave a position can be complex and deeply emotional, especially if you share a strong bond with your colleagues. You may be worried that your next colleagues won’t be as great, or worried about cutting off part of your social network. The guilt you mentioned can be difficult to grapple with, knowing your departure might increase the workload for your colleagues who stay. Additionally, educators can be relationships-focused people and international educators can center their identity on or live their personal values through their professional work in the field. Consider the following to get more clarity and confidence in your decision:
Take a mindful approach to better understand your emotions. While you’re at work, zoom out and take a look at your feelings and frustrations without being wrapped up in them. Take a deep breath and allow yourself to identify your specific feelings. For example, you can think to yourself, “I am experiencing anger.” In the immediate, this will help you get some distance from negative emotions, but your next step is to note how long you’ve been feeling this way, and how disruptive your feelings are to your life. Is it some passing stress during a busy event, or is it a recurring and toxic emotion that you haven’t been able to reduce despite trying over a long period of time? Do you have these feelings even when you’re NOT at work? Once you take stock of the emotional toll of your job, you may recognize the true cost of staying. If the emotional cost to you is higher than the cost of your team having a temporarily higher workload, consider why you’re putting your colleagues ahead of your own well-being. It is hard for so many of us, but important to know that it’s OK to put yourself first! Plus, don’t underestimate your team! They will be fine without you, and may even have more space to shine when you’re not there to help.
You also mentioned your identity is tied up in your job. Take some time to outline your transferable skills, interests, and knowledge outside of your job. List some of the aspects of your work that energize you and then evaluate whether there are other civic or community opportunities that would allow you to continue to take part in this work outside of a professional role. Once you recognize your assets outside of your current role and identify other ways to fulfill your personal values, you will be better positioned to unwind your identity from your job.
There are always good reasons to stay, but there are also many wonderful opportunities out there for you that you won’t be able to experience if you’re stuck in your current position forever. Do some exploring and have conversations with folks who’ve made a professional pivot. Once you’ve found a few options for new employment, your focus can shift from fear of the unknown to excitement! When you’re excited about new possibilities, even without another job lined up, you will begin to see your way out.
P.S. Now that I’ve shared my thoughts, I’m curious what the amazing community of educators reading this post has to say. Chime in, folks! What thoughts do you have? Share your thoughts on the Global Leadership League’s LinkedIn page. Have a question for Sophia yourself, ask here!
Please note: This response is provided for informational purposes only. The information contained herein is not legal advice and should not be used as a substitute for the legal advice or legal opinions of a licensed professional. Contact a personal attorney or licensed professional to obtain appropriate legal advice or professional counseling with respect to any particular issue or problem.