Quitting for Mental Well-Being: Two Stories of the Great Resignation
Since the start of the pandemic, the world has been on a quitting spree. Millions, from lawyers to designers, doctors to white-collar workers, have left their jobs over the past two years to pursue a new career, find a better boss or go freelance.
Reasons behind those decisions are many, and mental health is among the most prominent. Ruby, a writer from the US, and Anastasia, a manager turned web-designer from Russia, share their stories.
The never-ending loop of infinite tenseness
By 2021, I had been working as a family services specialist at the Early Learning Resource Center in my hometown, Reading, PA. As a social services worker, I interacted with people within the community that made up the city. I loved my job. Not only did I have solid employment, but I was also giving back to a community that had been struggling since before I was born and even more so since Covid-19 hit.
At 27, I was one of the youngest workers in the office of roughly 10-15 people, and I built a great relationship with many of my coworkers. The camaraderie was strong, but with it being a small office and a workload that was meant for twice the amount of workers that were there, tension began to pull at everyone.
I was also freelance writing part-time. This took a hit because of my debilitating day job and the numerous freelance budget cuts made at publications at the height of the pandemic, which meant minimal work.
Having the constant worry of contracting Covid due to being forced to physically return to the office, in addition to constant stress at my day job, took a heavy toll on my mental and emotional well-being. Everything felt heavy and cyclical, as if I was in a never-ending loop that held infinite tenseness.
Taking the leap
In July, the office was at its busiest, and there was a severe lack of support from management, so my coworkers and I had to fend for ourselves most of the time.
Waves of people in need would have to rush around, whether it be to answer questions, provide resources for food or housing, refer them to the local county assistance office to apply for government assistance programs or comfort a parent.
I had recently had an inspiring conversation with a Latinx/e creative. While I was in the middle of transcribing the interview the weekend after, thoughts floated to the forefront of my mind:
I could dedicate more time to opportunities like this.
I could do more of this. I want to do more of this.
What is holding me back?
I felt obligated to hold onto that job because it was steady. But this interview shed light on what could be if I were to take the leap and pursue writing full-time.
Quitting my day job was not an easy decision. But I didn’t want to be stagnant in life. That was what society says people should be doing for decades and then retire.
What I’ve Learned and Still Learning
I took the leap and felt an immediate weight lifted off my body and mind that was an initial sign that I had made the right decision.
I’m still figuring out aspects of being a freelance writer full-time, such as routine and the battle against imposter syndrome. As a latina that has lived on the margins and dealt with the stress of not knowing whether or not I’ll be able to pay rent, I’ve been sitting with the fact that I’m in a privileged position to be able to do this. It’s an absolute learning curve, but this significant life and work shift can be seen as an uncommon, rebellious act in the lens of society and how people residing in the states move through their lives.
The pandemic has highlighted how limited our time is in this existence: it’s okay to question how things are in society when it comes to the traditional definition of work. It’s okay to question if a 9-to-5 or any other kind of traditional employment is something that fits within your values and goals. That doubt, much like the doubt I’ve experienced this last month, will absolutely creep in, but it’s critical to remember that there is more.
The act of putting yourself and your mental well-being first is significant and should be the norm in any context.
Ruby Mora is a writer, poet, and essayist whose work explores the topics of race, identity, social issues, culture, literature, and more, all with a Latinx lens and intersectional feminist approach. Her work has been published in Teen Vogue, Bitch Media, Wear Your Voice, Electric Literature, The Mujerista, and elsewhere.
Redefining values and finding the courage for a change
I started working at a shoe retailer company when I was 23, right after graduating from university, in 1997. There were 12 people working in the office at that. I was in charge of moving goods from foreign warehouses to Russian warehouses, customs clearance, and working with transport companies. I reported to the general director, and our regular dialogue around 8PM was:
Me: Can I go home?
General director: Don’t you have more work to do?
We worked from early morning till late hours, on weekends and holidays. Sales and revenue were growing so quickly that we didn’t have time to provide new stores with equipment. The range of products was expanding, the management decided to add accessories and clothing to the footwear. Shoes, in those years, were mainly produced in Europe, particularly in Italy, and we started looking for suppliers there.
I offered to help with this new venture. Soon I participated in ordering sessions, two years later I became head of the direction and started managing teams. All in all, I created 35 seasonal clothing collections.
The atmosphere in the company changed a lot over time. From friendly, almost family-like relations in the beginning of the company’s existence, when we celebrated our birthdays together, equal relations with each team member it went to an almost complete loss of communication between departments, power struggles, intrigues and backstage games in recent years.
The hierarchy that was almost non-existent in the early stages, when we felt like we were all part of one team, where everyone cared about everything and everyone was ready to help — turned into a clumsy, bureaucratic creation without precisely defined roles and strategies
A difficult decision
The thoughts about quitting had come up before, especially when the office moved to the other end of the city and the commute to work became two hours long one way.
Still, I worked in the new office for about ten years. And all those years the commute was a nightmare. At first I went by car through traffic. Behind the wheel I studied my choral parts, listened to audiobooks, took pictures of the road (it was my personal therapeutic project “110 there and back”). Then I switched to the subway and trains, but it didn’t get much easier.
That made the transition to quarantine even more shocking after 10 years on the road. All of a sudden I had these four additional hours free. And work, when I looked at it from the outside, seemed even more meaningless than before. Same things, same events, all over again, I remember seeing the pictures of the seasonal commercials all mixed up in my head.
I discussed my decision to quit regularly and with everyone. I was thinking that if I got a severance package, I would be more than happy to leave for another life. But writing a resignation letter and leaving after more than 20 years without any compensation was strange, to say the least, and the management was in no hurry to let me go. Somebody had to do the work.
In June 2020 my desire to leave finally coincided with some motives of the management, still unknown to me, and I was offered to leave my position with decent compensation, to which I agreed with great pleasure. I sincerely thanked the owner for everything we had gone through together over the years. We parted on very good terms. So good, in fact, that in the summer of 2021 I was offered to go back to my post to replace the girl who had emigrated to replace me in my fighting position. I declined. I don’t regret it.
A fresh start
For the first few months I couldn’t get over my happiness. And now, when I think about it, I am extremely happy that everything turned out the way it did.
I am very happy at home, with my loved ones. I appreciate every day spent with my mother, who recently turned 84, every word she says, just her physical presence, her voice, the family breakfasts, lunches and holiday dinners, all the wine and conversation. I enjoy the company of my daughter. Thanks to the fact that I didn’t work last summer and was able to support her and help her prepare her art portfolio, she successfully passed her exams and got into film college to study animation.
While I worked I had no time to communicate with her. I saw her for 10 minutes in the morning and 10 minutes in the evening. I do not remember how she grew up, I did not see how she began to walk and talk, I regret very much the lost time.
Genealogy is a natural hobby for me. I am a historian-archivist by training, from a family of teachers and scholars. In search of identity I began to dig into family papers and found hidden noble origins, participation in the Crimean War and the War of 1812, medals for bravery, participation in the revolutions, political emigration, children that were shot. I want to write at least an article and participate in a conference with a story about one of my relatives. I think it should be interesting.
I got into web design. I took two big courses, made several custom websites, earned my tuition money back, and now I’m in the process of organizing my portfolio to look for more permanent sources of income.
I am grateful to the pandemic for the opportunities that opened up before me and the changes in my life that came about because of it. For redefining values and having the courage to change my life in the face of a possible unexpected end.
Right now I feel similar to how I was in my student years, when all opportunities were open before me, I just had to choose and get on with it. There’s just one difference: instead of youthful ardor and careless enthusiasm I now have life experience, knowledge about myself, my desires and the confidence that if I set a goal and work towards it, I will achieve the desired result.