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Why I Quit a Dream Job (And Chose a Demotion)

At age 31, I landed the dream job.

At age 32, I was a burnt out mess.

Photo courtesy of author.

That’s the cliff notes version of this story. You could probably save yourself six minutes and not read on any further, but stay with me, will you?

I work in marketing communications, and upon moving to Los Angeles last May, I was hired to be a communications director at a local company. A company that I not only respected, but also had a personal connection with. The job offer felt too good to be true, and as a communications professional, the title of communication director had always seemed like THE THING to work toward, to achieve. It wasn’t exactly what i felt like I was born to do by any means, but I’d been trying like heck to get there — the next milestone in my career field — and was thrilled to have made it. The term “dream job” is subjective, but overall it just made sense, I thought; the logical next step in my career trajectory.

I was out of town for a wedding when the recruiter called to tell me the job was mine if I wanted it. I said yes and a few obligatory jump shot photos later (because social media needed to know I was excited, didn’t it?), I was sharing with the world what felt like a professional victory.

And then on a sunny May day, I started what felt like the culmination of all I’d been working toward thus far in my professional career. I wore my favorite green heels and my biggest, most confident smile, and waltzed in ready to grow and feel challenged and just, you know, be an overall badass boss. I was ambitious and excited. I was going to work hard! I was going to help crush that glass ceiling for women everywhere!

But, you read the title of this article. You know what’s coming.

Fast forward one year later, and, as it turned out, the job was entirely more stressful and busy than I had ever anticipated. The dream job wasn’t, necassarily, my dream job. Not that I had hoped to just sit at a desk with my legs up, scrolling Instagram and sipping lattes — I didn’t. But it was far more demanding than even someone who had previously thrived off of stressful situations and multitasking could have ever imagined. Sure the role was not stressful like curing a disease or exploring outer space for a living, but difficult in its own right. After all, I was someone who, in job interviews, routinely announced that I got bored if I didn’t have a lot to manage at once, and seamlessly handled stress through exercise and list-making.

And we won’t even get into the commute, which was short by LA standards but I swear gave me a new grey hair every few weeks.

Regardless of how high-achieving, type A of a gal I am or ever was, I was struggling to stay afloat. Sure, I was getting all of my work done, and on the outside, I looked like life was flawless. In fact, I was doing well enough that my boss gifted me an additional department to oversee on top of my existing responsibilities, and told me a promotion was forthcoming. But in reality, that success felt like a curse.

The more I took on, the more gold stars on my professional report card, the worse I felt. I was sure that at any moment, the floor was going to fall out from underneath me, and I’d end up in a tailspin.

By July (one year and two months since I’d started at the company, if you’re keeping track), I was so burnt out that not only did I want to leave my job as soon as humanly possible, but I — someone with an Atlas-carrying-the-world-on-his-shoulders type of sense of responsibility — contemplated quitting with zero notice. I wondered if I could afford my rent if I worked at a coffee shop, or went full-time as a yoga instructor. (Spoiler alert — not feasible from where I was sitting.) I loved my coworkers like an extended family, but it wasn’t enough.

I had developed full-blown anxiety, complete with panic attacks — experiences I’d never, ever had before in my life. And it’s not like my life had been easy breezy up til then — not even close (hello, I’m human) — but handling stress had never been an issue before.

I started seeing a therapist, who officially diagnosed my anxiety and flat out told me I should probably get a new job. (Shout out to that lady, because after two sessions, I felt like a brand new person.)

Even still, it took me a while to really admit I needed a change and buckle down on the new job hunt. Right down to the moment where I had a job offer from another company, I doubted myself. I thought maybe if I could just hang in there a little bit longer, it would get better. That maybe I was being a baby, and that soon, everything would click into place and I’d feel adjusted. That maybe, just maybe, the anxiety pounding in my chest for hours every Sunday evening like trapped butterflies would, eventually, subside. Because how could I throw in the towel, not even two years in? I tried to shove down the feelings of inadequacy, because that’s really what it boiled down to in my head — that I just couldn’t hack it. That I wasn’t good enough, and couldn’t handle a role that so many others in the world were probably killin’ it at in other companies. That everyone is super busy, or has a worse commute, so what right do I have to complain?

But that’s all bull$hi%, folks.

The comparison game and the never-ending excuses will get ya, but you have to ignore them. Jus because this job wasn’t right for me in this season of my life doesn’t mean that I’m suddenly a failure. Just because Sally on social media has the same job (or number of kids, or…insert anything in life, really) and it looks so glamorous and easy and she doesn’t seem to be struggling is absolutely no reflection of how you or I’m doing in life, or what direction your personal career path should take.

It just means exactly that — right now, this wasn’t the right choice for me.

So, long story short, I quit.

Finally.

I voluntarily accepted a new role elsewhere that was a few steps lower on the corporate ladder, and said goodbye to the fancy director title.

Putting in my notice didn’t happen without a lot of tears, and taking a self-imposed demotion certainly wasn’t the cool or necessarily comfortable option, but I knew it was the right decision in the long-term. When I thought about what I wanted and needed in my life at this point in time, staying on a career conveyor belt just because it felt expected or obvious no longer made sense to me anymore. Instead, I wanted a breather. Time to work on strengthening my mental health, and more time with my family.

The things that are right for us as individuals, that help us be our best selves, are not always easy, and they’re certainly not always popular. But busy isn’t a status symbol, and a job title doesn’t define you. Choose the path that makes the most sense to you, regardless of what you think society expects from you.