How to Quit or Move On Without Feeling Guilty

Frustrated Woman

“Some people think it’s holding on that makes one strong–sometimes it’s letting go.” ~Unknown

When I accepted a position with a small company, I thought I had found everything I wanted: challenging work in my field, flexible hours, a laid-back atmosphere, and a short commute.

My new job seemed to be perfect, but soon I realized it wasn’t.

While I loved the kind of work I did, the “casual” atmosphere ended up being too casual. Hearing racy jokes and mocking comments became part of my workday. The jokes seemed to become more offensive as days went by.

Then the gossip and criticism started.

When I expressed how uncomfortable I felt, others called me “too sensitive.” I promised myself to develop a thicker skin and stick with the job.

As time went by, my body started to show the effects of the negativity in my office. I had trouble sleeping and felt nauseous every morning on my way to work. I watched the clock several times a day, wishing for the day to speed up so I could finally go home.

That’s when I decided to quit.

You might be toying with the idea of leaving a job, a project, or a relationship. You might have already left. When you quit something that is not serving you, you take a healthy step toward joy and fulfillment

But that’s not the end of the story. Quitting can produce a fair amount of guilt. Why? Because our society teaches us to “never give up.” If we’re “quitters,” we are supposed to feel bad about ourselves.

How to do what is right for you without experiencing guilt or shame?

Ask yourself if you’ve exhausted all resources.

Did you express your feelings about the negative situation? Did you take a good look at the role you played in what happened?

After months of tolerating a toxic work environment and trying to change the situation, nothing changed. I realized the only action I could control was my own, and I left. I felt at peace because I knew I had done everything I could to make the job work.

Take some time alone to contemplate your situation and what you have done to improve it. You’ll know whether you’ve run out of resources.

Determine why you are quitting.

It’s easy to give up because of fear of the unknown, because someone said you should quit, or because what you want to pursue is “too difficult.”

If you leave your marriage because it’s “too difficult” to work things out with your spouse, or you stop writing because your mother said you’ll be another starving author, you might not only be making a decision you’ll regret, but you’ll be more likely to be plagued by guilt.

Two of my top values are health and respect. It was clear to me that my work environment had violated both, so I felt free to quit.

Push aside fear, negative self-talk, and outside influences. Are you in an environment, project, or relationship that violates your values? If so, you know you can leave without guilt.

Avoid explaining yourself.

I tried to explain to those around me why I was leaving my seemingly perfect job, and I quickly learned I had made a mistake. Telling your friends and relatives why you quit opens the door to argument and criticism.

There will always be someone who will tell you that you’re crazy for quitting, or that he or she knows someone who did what you did and ended up bankrupt or socially ostracized.

You know why you quit. That’s enough.

Don’t overanalyze the negative experience.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of overanalyzing, playing possible scenarios in your head, and wondering if you really did everything you could to avoid quitting.

I spent nights lying awake, wondering whether I should have been more vocal about my discontent, or whether I really was “too sensitive.” The result? More time feeling negative emotions. I still came to the conclusion that quitting was for the best.

Overanalyzing will take up valuable time you could be using to plan the next step in your career or personal life.

Focus on what’s next.

Place your attention on what you want to create. A fulfilling and well-paid career? A relationship based on love and respect? An exciting new venture? Paint a detailed mental picture of what you want to achieve, and take action to make it happen.

My experience taught me what I didn’t want in a job environment and motivated me to explore other career options, including the small business I eventually founded.

When you’re working toward something you clearly know is right for you, there’s no room for guilt.

Frustrated woman image via Shutterstock

About Cloris Kylie Stock

Cloris Kylie, Marketing MBA, helps entrepreneurs to attract the right clients so that they skyrocket their impact and revenue! A sought-after speaker, trainer, and author, Cloris has been featured on various television and radio shows, including the #1 podcast for entrepreneurs, “Entrepreneur On Fire.” Cloris’s articles have been published on websites with millions of followers. Visit her website here

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  • cgsolano

    I am on this *exact* same position today… I’ve done everything I can in MY power to change a situation at work that I am not happy with –specifically, my role. I’ve done everything and nothing seems to change it. So, it all seems like I will have to take the route of leaving –the ultimate decision under my control. People tell me I work in a good company, and that everything is temporary… Well, I can always find another good company, but I will never get back the time that I spent being miserable there.

  • Cloris Kylie

    Thank you for your comment. Yes, it’s not worth it to be miserable in any job or life situation. Once you start paying attention to new opportunities, you’ll connect with new people and will be guided to a much better work environment. Best of luck. Connect with me through my website or social media!

  • Kinnisha

    Thank you so much. This is exactly what I need. I’ve been at a job I don’t like, one that’s been full of negativity and politics and underhandedness. I tried explaining it to more than one person, and you are absolutely right – I knew it in my heart that I needed to leave, but everyone else has had me second-guessing my decision so many times this past month. Your article really helps put things in perspective, especially with regard to the guilt I feel now and again.

  • Kate

    Thank you very much. I learned the hard way when I had to “quit” a friend over a year ago. I felt very very guilty for doing it despite knowing it was the best decision. I fell into the trap of over-analyzing what happened which made me fall into a cyxle of getting angry at her all over again. Finally I just realized I can’t do it anymore and was wasting too much time thinking about it and have moved forward to make better friends.

  • lexy99

    Thanks for this, Im in this position at the moment. Not quitting yet unti i have another job but im already feeling guilty about it, especially when i know that others aren’t happy either and i’d feel bad leaving them in the lurch. I just keep reminding myself that employers generally dont care about their employees as long as they show up on time and do their job properly. If the situation was reversed and an employee wasnt working out, they’d be dropped before they’d known what had happened

  • Nicki P

    I left a very well paying job about 8 months ago. It was the best thing I could do for my health and my well being. However, I spent months afterward battling guilt and panicking about my decision. I knew many members of my family and also friends thought I was crazy (I realize now that my guilt and panicking stemmed from me worrying about what everyone would think of me). Many of them started sending me job notices and trying to give me job searching advice so that I wouldn’t end up hungry or homeless! But, my leaving had been in the works for a while. I did some planning and gave myself a year to figure out my next move. I’m still within the year and barely shaking off the guilt and the panicking and allowing myself to live my life for me. Quitting my job was the best decision I ever made. Taking a chance to find my dream job or calling has been exciting and confusing but well worth my decision. This article has really reinforced my decision! Good luck to all that have decided to take the plunge – it is worth it!

  • michelle

    I have the perfect part-time job for a mother of two. I work in the home of my employer, in a private bedroom converted into my office. I bring my lunch, heat it up in the kitchen, and leave at will to go home to walk my dog. When my children were small and sick, I would tuck them in bed in the guest room down the hall. We set my schedule around my kids school schedule, and my employer travels for 2 mths over the winter holiday. For those two months, I work remotely from home, and don’t have to worry about the two week break when my children are free from school. This was and is ideal.

    But I am bored out of my mind, I have to force myself not to look at the clock constantly, our project is join on its 5 yr of development, with no end in sight. Over these past 8 yrs, I have developed a friendly relationship with my employer and his spouse, who also works from home. When they travel, I water the plants. When I need to take a week off due to a family situation, it is never an issue.

    My friends say I’m an idiot for quitting. The flexibility works completely, the job is stressless, the perks plentiful etc. But as I leave walking to my car, I want to poke my eyes out from frustration. I’ve stayed this long because it works, and now as my aging parents are beginning to have medical problems, I fear my next employer will not be so accommodating with my schedule.

    What to do?

  • cgsolano

    You will never know until you try it out. Taking a leap of faith might be scary, but sometimes it is the only choice. Good luck!

  • michelle

    You are right, and for all I know, I could find an even better gig:) thanks for the advice.

  • cgsolano

    It is unreal that co-workers tell me that I should put up with it because I get paid every 2 weeks. I don’t think I need to put up with an unfulfilling job just because “I get paid to do it”.

  • Pooja Tulasi

    I just loved this post.. Ended up reading this when I was thinking if I did the right thing by quitting my job last year….I feel better now..

  • Cloris Kylie

    Lexy, you need to do what is best for you. However, I would try to let go of the idea that employers don’t care about their employees, because that belief will be in the back of your mind and will negatively affect your perception of the job and of the company. I would just say that where you are isn’t what’s good for you and leave knowing that your next position will be amazing! Hope you connect with me via my website or social media. Best to you.

  • Cloris Kylie

    Thank you for sharing this, Kate. It can be so difficult to let go of toxic relationships…As time goes by, you’ll think about what happened less and less often. Congratulations on making the decision. Stay in touch!

  • Cloris Kylie

    I’m so happy to hear the article helped, Kinnisha. I think it’s best to not share decisions like this with other people, because then you’ll have to justify yourself and deal with people’s judgment of the situation. I’m glad you made the career move. Stay in touch through social media or my site!

  • Cloris Kylie

    Pooja, I’m very glad to hear the article helped! You were guided to it. I wish you all the best, and stay in touch!

  • Cloris Kylie

    Michelle, the fact that you’re questioning what to do and reading this article shows you might be ready for a move. Stay positive and expect to find an exciting new job with great flexibility. Take your time and you will find it! Thank you for your sharing your story…

  • Cloris Kylie

    James, thank you for the comment. It’s best not to justify. Once you justify, you go into defense mode instead of action mode. Do what’s best for you! Stay in touch!

  • Cloris Kylie

    Thank you for sharing your story, Nicki! I can sense energy and empowerment coming from your words. Great! Stay in touch, and all the best to you!

  • Cloris Kylie

    Correct! I wouldn’t mention anything else to the coworkers…Just do what you know is right for you.

  • When your misery becomes unbearable to the point that you simply cannot find it in yourself to work there one more day, your path will change. Instantly. And instead of asking what you should do, you will be telling people what you did.

  • Talya Price

    I am thinking of quitting my day job. I have no passion for it. I am glad I read this article now. I think I it is a sign that I need to follow my heart and stop feeling guilty for doing so.

  • Yuva

    Thank you for the article and “You know why you quit. That’s enough..” I like this.

  • exhausted

    I’m in a similar position, people around me telling me that I’m lucky enough to get a design job but I really hate it. I go to work late every single day, I don’t want to sleep at night because I know that when I wake up, I’ll have to go back to work. I hate it.

  • Dats

    I joined new organization getting nice pay. But role too much different what they explained . Also I.e problems of negative culture in company, 5-6 people leave immediately after joining.
    I am looking for stability but feeling situation is different. Guide me anyone ,what should look forward money/role satisfaction?

  • Marge Simpson

    I’m in tears as I’m writing to you. In fact, i was in tears as I read this entry. How did you know? How did you know that for the last 72hours between crying and sleeping i’ve been struggling w/the exact same issues and emotions you lay out in this entry? After a decade w/the same employer in a toxic, emotionally and mentally detrimental environment where i’d done everything i could to change or improve things only to repeatedly be told I was the toxin and that everything I’d brought up was just a figment of my overly sensitive female imagination and mental instability–i left or better yet, i escaped but, unfortunately, not before attempting to end my life because I couldn’t see another way out. But I garnered up the courage and left and i’ve been wrestling with feelings of guilt and failure ever since. Then i stumble upon your blog entry and for the first time in a years i feel a sense of relief and hope–not to mention shock. Your entry read if you’d caught a glimpse of my life over the last 11 years and the last 72 hours and it sparked something in me. YES, i analyzed why I was leaving. YES I exhausted my options and YES, NOW I resolve to stop analyzing the negative experience and worrying about explaining my decision to others and focus on what’s next. Focus on healing. Focus on gaining a healthier perspective and focus on getting and staying with a job on my terms. Thank you.

  • I feel like I’ve had to explain myself a lot in my process of changing careers. I’m quitting the teaching profession and people always have huge opinions on it. It doesn’t matter why anymore, I’m just doing it.

    I know I’m late to this post, but thanks for sharing!

  • guestC

    i was a soldier and i quit recently… i felt so much guilt and i view myself as coward… i think i’m losing my mind..

  • Snowflake of the Month

    Nope. I would bet instead you are simply becoming a shaman. Feels the same.

    Read The Way of The Peaceful Warrior by Dan Millman. Also read the writings of samurai warrior Miyamoto Musashi.

    The most courageous soldier is the one who never lifts a weapon, ever, yet defeats his enemies easily. The key is that the worst enemies always lurk within.

  • Snowflake of the Month

    Sir, are you prepared to gird up, armor up, deploy, and engage in battle against THESE foes?

  • Guest

    Great article! I left a company couple of years ago and at that time, I felt confused and disappointed because that was the career I wanted to pursue. However, fast forward, now, I realize that it was one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life. If I didn’t leave that company, I wouldn’t have been able to grasp better job opportunities that came along my career path. I think the job environment (people and corporate culture) can really make or break an employee’s experience. Jobs are like friends. Sometimes, you have to find through trial and error if it works.

  • Aaron

    Oh god thank you so much for posting this. The thing that hit me the most, what I’m actually going to take away from this article and use is first, you don’t owe anyone an explanation, which I’ve been sticking to unless it’s my friends, who are extremely supportive. Second, I am so with you right here, these are my two top values too and really if you’re not being respected and your health is suffering then to be honest, that’s the most important: “Two of my top values are health and respect. It was clear to me that my work environment had violated both, so I felt free to quit.”

  • lexy99

    Well Ive posted before but im in this situation again, except this time if/when i leave, there will be NO staff left. My job isnt very technical or very crucial (i think) but if i leave it means others will need to do my job instead and therefore wont be able to do their own. Also its a part time role and at 25 im finding myself in need of more to do with my time.

    If i decide to go back to my old job I’ll be able to move up the ladder and make a career of it, whereas here, there are no career prospects. I know which decision makes sense for me and i cant stay to make someone elses life easier but i am dreading the moment I hand my notice in and put everyone else in it.

  • Jennifer

    I’ve had so much anxiety about resigning from my position – but I just don’t feel as though this is a position I can continue. This article has been incredibly helpful in settling my nerves and giving me the confidence to stand my ground and stay strong with my decision. I do not have to wait for things to get better, when I can make active changes for things to get better.

  • Jessica

    Wow. This is pretty much just what I needed to read right now. I only work at this particular job part-time, and I find myself dreading it all week long. I’ve always been a really confident person, but since working here, I’ve found that my confidence has plummeted. The people just make me feel so horrible about myself. They gossip and criticise each other all the time. They are much closer with each other than I am with them (as I am still fairly new); so if they talk that way about their long-time colleagues, I don’t even want to begin to imagine what they say about me behind my back. The job was something new, and different from what I normally do and I actually really enjoy doing it. It’s hard to stay positive about your job though if your co-workers are having such a huge impact on your mental health. This post really got me when you said your job was violating your health and respect. It totally clicked right then that it was violating those things for me too. It’s brought my anxiety back pretty badly, which in turn also has an effect on my physical health; and I’m definitely not getting the equal work place respect that I think I deserve.

  • YP

    Thank you very much for sharing this. It’s been quite some time that I have been having this feeling of guilt of quitting my current job (considering the fact that my superior will be going for maternity leave soon). I’ve done all that I can, but it’s been quite frequent that I experience the “breakdown” moments, mentally and physically exhausted, and even thought that could it be because I am not competent enough. Well, I guess it is time for me to think of my own health and well-being instead of caring for others all the time. It seems like no one seems to care even I have voiced out on what I am experiencing.

  • Jessica Guevara

    Well today I quit officially. I sorta fee guilty because tbh I feel like I let certain stuff get to me. I do realize that the manager and I wont ever get along. She is blindsided by another person whom since I begun has envied me and she was put as the same level as me quickly. In other words she is an asskisser. She throws off many ignorant comments and brings food to everyone to be on her side i have never been that person. I started feeling isolated and just in a bad mood. Plus whatever complaint I had didnt matter and wasn’t valid but hers was. W.E though its just a retail job nothing special, thanks for this makes me feel were not alone.

  • Mr Potato Head

    I’m in this position right now. I’ve been in a job for a year and a half now that has left me spinning my wheels and feeling helpless. I’m putting in my notice soon. I know others will disapprove and I know it will be scary, but I know that I need to do this for me, not them.

    I’m starting to have some clarity about my life goals, however lofty or unrealistic they may sound. I know I need to spend time pursuing these goals while I am young and only financially responsible for myself.

    Life is too short to spend time being miserable. Sometimes you have to take control and say No to something that is harmful for your body and soul. I know everything will work out, I just need to keep looking forward and not dwell so much on the past.

    Thanks for the very insightful article.

  • Mambo Jambo

    Thank you for this article. I needed this today.

    I’m working out a plan and that I hope it will all goes as planned because I’ve decided to quit for good after that. People always tell me never quit until you find another job.But to heck with that…. I’m not staying another day in the job where my time, heart and soul have been ‘stolen’ by management in toxic environment.

    It will not change for the better, so why should I stay and hang on, for the sake that it might be difficult out there due to poor recession? I rather take those chances than letting myself die slowly inside. If I’m gonna live the next 5 yrs my life as if it were the last, I rather be somewhere else living my life without regrets.

  • Catharine Sanders

    I am in this situation. But I have a young family to support. Quitting is not as easy though it takes every effort to stay on. I wish I had family/extended family to fall back on or other support but I do not.

  • Becca2016

    This is exactly what I am experiencing at this moment!!!!

  • Miguel Neves

    Today i dreamed of something.

    I was going to a medical appointment. When i came to the counter to check in with the secretary, this older man who was sitting in a corner in a wooden chair looked at me with disdain and said: “Well well…how long have you been with company X?. You guys think you can just show up here and not have to wait like everybody else because of your company health plan, and just go ahead in front”.

    I woke up from my dream with the realization that i was feeling guilty for wanting, for some years now, to leave my job in one of the best companies in my country, with conditions and perks that no other companies have, while at the same time feeling guilty about being surround by friends who can’t seem to find the same luck i had and living in a country that is economically struggling, specially for young adults.

    What guilt’s me the most are maybe the motives for wanting to quit:

    a) The company had a major structural reform and i ended up working in a toxic work environment surrounded by intrigue, gossip and people who are just shallow and with whom i don’t identify at all. These past couple of years I’ve been trying to develop a thick skin against that and I feel I’ve become a different person, more bitter, angry, revolted, defensive…and i feel guilty of quitting a good job for not being strong enough to put up with other people’s bullshit even though i feel I’ve been doing a pretty good job….but at what cost? my sanity? That makes me instantly sad. Also, knowing that if i quit i probably will never get a good as a job like the one i have now is also holding me back.

    b) I’m 32. I’m reaching a point in my life where i either make it or brake it. i’m not sure i wanna have kids or not but i want that to be an option. Self-realization is probably one of the most important things to me and feel like there’s so much i wanna do before i settle down.
    I’ve been dreaming of travelling and photographing for a few months around the world. It’s something i wanna do before i make my life a bit more stable, and that’s something very important to me. Yet i feel guilty because i think that is such a privileged thing to do…
    I was very fortunate growing up: two loving parents, food on the table, a good house, good vacations and quitting my job because i want to take some time off to travel makes me feel like guilty for all of those people who can’t even get a proper job around me, or don’t have the privilege of just quitting and going to see the world.

    Thanks for your comprehension. It feels good to finally put into words what I’ve been felling for so long.