Finding the Courage to Leave

Why Escaping A Toxic Work Environment Is The Hardest and Best Thing You Can Do

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“Mommy, why do you look so angry?”

Cheryl described to me how her 6-year-old daughter stared up at her with a look of genuine concern. She had been talking to herself, playing back the terrible meeting she had with the CEO earlier that day. In her head, she was saying all the things she wished she had said, rather than being in the moment with her child.

Her daughter saw the truth—Cheryl was angry. She was frustrated, tired, and mentally, emotionally and physically drained. Internally, she felt beaten down, depressed and disconnected from her family. The external result was that she was short-tempered, curt and basically at her wit’s end.

It was clear to me that Cheryl had endured a toxic situation far too long. For her, it wasn’t until she saw how her mental and physical anguish was impacting her family that she knew she had to do something. She swallowed her pride and sought consultation.

Realizing There’s a Problem

Cheryl could quickly identify the problem. It was her boss. She described him as a narcissistic executive without empathy or regard for other people.

He ruled by intimidation. He beat her down. But by the next day, he would completely reverse his position, telling her how great of a job she was doing. No matter what, she constantly got blindsided and berated. Cheryl was constantly expected to perform and, of course, wanted to do well. She felt that she needed to please those she reported to. But no matter how successful her efforts were, they never seemed good enough.

Whenever something went wrong, she’d ask the questions many women default to: “What did I do to make this happen?” “What could I have done to change the outcome?” “What can I do better?” The incessant fear of doing something wrong seemed to be her motivation, not the reward of doing her job right.

The constant stress, fear, and tests of her self-esteem changed who she was. She described coming home every day completely fatigued, out of balance. The persistent anxiety impacted her health, her family, and her relationships. She felt like she was failing as a mom, wife, leader, and friend while her mission was to please everyone and be great at everything.

Mustering the Courage to Leave

As we took a look at what motivated Cheryl to stay in that job for longer than she should have, what emerged was her fear of failure. To her, quitting was failure. She didn’t want to lose momentum in a career she had worked so hard for. But really, she was withering instead of growing.

I helped Cheryl realize that she couldn’t change the situation. It wasn’t that she had failed to meet his expectations or had the shortcomings her boss had lashed out at her with. In short, nothing had to do with her!

We concluded that the only way she could get back to being herself and focus on what really mattered was to leave the job. Failing herself and her family was a thousand times worse than disappointing her boss.

Regaining Control

Putting in her notice was a complete relief – there was finally an end date. But even after she was gone, she still didn’t feel completely relaxed and back to her old self.

It took some time to ‘detox’ and realize how much the experience impacted her self-esteem and confidence. I reminded her that rebuilding her self-esteem wasn’t going to be immediate. It also had an effect on her desire to immediately go back to work. She knew she needed to regain control of her life and taking the necessary time off to heal was critical.

During this time, she said the hardest part was getting rid of this fear of failure. I had to reassure her in her decision. It wasn’t the end of her career, but rather a new beginning.

Cheryl gives most credit for her mental and emotional recovery to the strong people she had around her — a “village,” as she called it. They supported her and helped her break through.

A few months after we first spoke, Cheryl took up another opportunity that offered her autonomy and an accommodating schedule. In the new role, she had flexibility, control, and balance. She could get work done and be the mom she wanted to be for her family.

“Finally, I feel back on track,” she told me.

Finding Peace with the Decision

Finding the strength to leave a toxic job is one of the toughest and most rewarding things a person may have to do. Cheryl came out stronger in the end and has accelerated her career more than she could have hoped for.

My advice to readers is to check in with yourself before you hit rock bottom. Leave before it gets that bad. You don’t have to be stuck. Your career doesn’t hinge on one job or one company or one promotion.

To be successful, you need to be the best version of yourself. If your work environment is causing you to be the opposite, then you will never thrive. Keep searching and find what suits you. Be selfish. Invest in yourself so you can be a better person to those around you.

Your courage will take you farther than the need to please your boss will. There’s something better for you out there, and there’s a network of people here who will support you. Go now, and only look back to remind yourself of how far you’ve come, and how strong you really are.

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