Leaving My Dream Job Was Better Than Finding It

Knowing When to Quit

Queenstown, New Zealand

I quit my job in 2015.  Then, I quit another one in 2016.  Actions I previously perceived as unreliable or unsuccessful, have proved the most liberating and life-changing.

Growing up in an uneducated and broken home, I was the first generation in my family to attend college.  The work was hard, I held multiple menial jobs, I took longer than most, but I graduated.  Setting my sights on medical school, it took several more years of missing out, studying constantly, and $200,000 in debt to finish medical school, intern year, residency, and fellowship.  With luck, I landed a job at a prominent university.

A dream job, it was the career I chased through years of preparation.  Landing way beyond where my formative self could have imagined, and with my modest upbringing, I felt like an imposter on this prestigious team. Working beside my mentors with gratitude and reverence, I found myself climbing the academic ladder, winning teaching awards, nominated for leadership courses, developing my own area of expertise, and successful by all definitions.

I was also exhausted, unhealthy, and unsatisfied.  I gained weight, I lost sleep, I struggled with anxiety, and my personal relationships suffered.  Fueled by accolades and endless opportunities, I ran full sprint for seven years.  Surrounded by the like-minded, I paid hours each week to keep up and crank out projects in addition to my clinical work.  Career success nurtured my ego but led to an erroneous self-worth. Feeling valued by the label of my employer, I attributed my accomplishments to the vast resources of the academic environment.  With golden handcuffs and self-doubt, the decision to leave did not come easily.

Then I jumped.  Quickly, my fear morphed into relief.  The competition was off and the sprinting could stop.  I was liberated.  The more time passed, the more I recognized my accomplishments stemmed from my intelligence, work ethic, and hard-earned skillset.  I have had two jobs since leaving, but realized more quickly when the first was not the right fit.  When unemployed, I still found work within my areas of interest.  Now I consult, volunteer, teach, and lead international projects.  The fear of unemployment has given way to creating my own opportunities.  The imposter was legitimate after all.

Ironically, leaving a highly respected job has given me more confidence than being hired.  Professional development yielded to self-development, yet I have never put out better work than now.  Improved life balance allows greater capacity for creativity, curiosity, and indulging a greater sense of purpose.  A more humane schedule allows for reading, music lessons, exercise, writing, and travel.

Reassuring to know I can always return to the platform from which I jumped, it is now more enticing to explore the options that lie ahead.  I am healthy and happy.  I am fit and well rested.  I am closer to my family and friends yet more productive.  Most importantly, I own my success.  For all the positive changes, I think jumping was the hardest part.

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