After over a decade in the corporate world, and nine years of loyalty to my organization, I found myself in a high-stress Vice President role, 20 weeks pregnant, and feeling burnt out, overwhelmed, and uninspired. With baby number two on the way, I wondered how I would ever juggle a demanding job and team of twelve, with two little ones to care for at home, and still find time to prioritize my marriage and self-care.
During a job market with massive tech layouts announced every week, I should have felt lucky to have the stability of a full-time job. However, I knew I needed a change for my family and for my mental health. Two days after the turn of the New Year, I found myself turning in my notice, almost as if it were on a whim.
For someone who has always been ambitious and goal-oriented, the thought of leaving my stable job made me panic. I had moments of regret in the days following my resignation. For nine years, I had indebted myself to this organization and watched it grow from a small start-up to a $1.7B corporation, but it was no longer serving me. Professionally, I needed to feel motivated, engaged and inspired, and personally, my family needed a happy, healthy, and present mother.
As I looked for clarity and to connect with others who felt similarly, I was pleasantly surprised to find I was not alone.
According to McKinsey & Lean In’s 2022 Women in the Workplace report, women are leaving leadership positions at companies in record numbers and at a far higher rate than men. The report cites that women leaders prioritize flexibility, a commitment to employee well-being, and diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. Being overworked and under-recognized are the top reasons respondents switched jobs. This is me. I am part of this movement.
Now that I’ve started this new chapter in my life, I’m redefining what my dream job looks like and what success means to me. Here’s what I’ve learned from quitting my job and my journey to find who I am.
In This Article
1. You Are Not Your Career
For someone who had spent over a decade climbing the corporate ladder, and nine years at the same organization, I experienced a painful identity crisis as I exited the workforce.
Psychologists use the term “enmeshment” to describe situations where the boundaries between people become blurred, preventing the development of a stable, independent sense of health. In my case, I had become enmeshed with my career, not another person.
No one ever warned me that feeling so tightly connected to your profession could be dangerous. Instead, I regularly was praised for my career achievements, and to be honest, I was incredibly proud of my accomplishments – so much so that it became my personal identity.
When I exited the workforce, I had to spend time finding myself. I couldn’t even describe myself without including my job, title, or company. What other ways would I describe myself? It sounds elementary, but I was lost. I spent time journaling and in therapy to look beyond my job title and discover who I was. Surprisingly, it improved my confidence, and I felt like my destiny was in my hands.
While valuing your career isn’t necessarily bad, it makes you vulnerable to a painful identity crisis if you exit the workforce, are laid off, or retire. To combat this, it is important for women to focus on redefining success in a way that aligns with their values and goals. This might mean prioritizing family time, pursuing new hobbies or interests, or volunteering in the community. By finding new ways to contribute and feel fulfilled, women can rediscover their sense of worth and purpose – outside of their professional accomplishments and career.
2. The Path to Success is Not Linear
From a young age, I held myself to high standards and dreamed of lofty goals. I envisioned myself steadily climbing the corporate ladder, landing in the C-Suite, wearing the power suit, and commanding the board room. However, I felt drained, overworked, and uninspired once I made it to a leadership position. I realized it may be time to redefine what success looks like, find what I am passionate about, and align my values with my career.
In college, you were always told that gaps in your resume would hurt your career. Nowadays, we’re seeing powerful women redefine success, carve out a more personalized career path, and find multiple pathways to an upward trajectory.
My resignation came at a similar time when New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Arden’s announced her decision to step down. Arden, who gave birth while in office and has a four-year-old daughter, was able to be honest with herself by recognizing when a challenging leadership position no longer served her. “I know what this job takes, and I know that I no longer have enough in the tank to do it justice,” she said of her resignation. After careful consideration, Arden dared to step back from her work at a time that made the most sense for her family.
After taking years off, Speaker Nancy Pelosi took time to raise her five kids and launched her career at 47, where she became one of the most powerful women in Washington. Pelosi was conscious of the parallels between being a homemaker and Speaker of the House noting, “Nothing prepared me for being Speaker of the House more than the values, discipline, diplomacy, interpersonal skills, the logistics, the quartermastering–all that you have to do to raise a family while never taking you eye off the children. “
Pelosi made a point to recruit women to run for Congress, recognizing that key leadership skills such as demanding, delegating, and motivating, began in the four walls of her home.
Like many women, Arden and Pelosi chose to carve a personalized career path, demonstrating that the path to success is not linear and looks different for everyone.
3. It’s OK to Mourn the End of Your Career
I know I am fortunate to have a partner who can financially support our family, and I feel intense gratitude that I can pause my career and stay at home. Even more, I am lucky to have a partner who supports me in all ways, from listening to my struggles to being present with our children, backing my dreams, and sharing my values.
Still, leaving the workforce was not easy for me. I experienced a roller coaster of emotions in the days following my resignation – regret, relief, sadness, gratitude, happiness, fear – you name it. I took time to sit with my feelings and mourn my career. Know that you are not alone if you’re experiencing a wave of emotions. Take time to journal and recognize your feelings to reset and reenergize for your next chapter.
4. Take Time to Lean into New Skills
As soon I was unleashed from the corporate world, my creativity awakened again. Yes, I was fully responsible for a toddler and had a baby on the way. Still, without the responsibilities of my corporate role, I had the energy to lean into my passions and interests. I started writing again. I researched new social media platforms and started building my brand. I read books and learned about marketing trends.
Your time is what you make of it. You’ll likely feel unfulfilled if you sit around and scroll TikTok at nap time. Lean into your passions, hobbies, and interests, and you’ll lead a happy, fulfilled life. Stay connected with your professional network. If you decide to reenter the workforce, you’ll be happy you can speak to these new skills.
Leaving the workforce can be a difficult decision, but it can also provide you with the opportunity to reinvent yourself and redefine success on your own terms. And this phase does necessarily need to be permanent – it could just be a season. Careers have evolved beyond climbing the ladder to the top. Lean into your strengths and align your values with your opportunities, and you’ll reclaim your life and manifest a different sort of dream.
Amanda Venditti is a mother, wife, and freelance writer for health, wellness, and family topics.