Today was my first day of the last week of my current job. Possibly the last start to a week in my career as a mechanical design engineer. A career that I have had for almost 13 years. In total, I have worked for this company 11 years – including a year-long work term in university and a short break to explore life out west. I thought this final week would bring a feeling of freedom, a sense of ease and lightness. Some kind of relief. Because, for so long, the indecision to stay or go has been such a weight on my shoulders. I haven’t looked forward to going to work for years now. But instead of relief, I am an emotional wreck; on the verge of tears at almost every second. When I really think about it, it is the right decision to leave. But things aren’t all about how you think, are they? And so I know all this anxiety, trepidation and, quite simply, sadness are a process of grieving.
I am grieving.
Even though I am choosing to quit my job and not being let go, I am losing a lot in the process and I’m having a bit of a hard time letting go. I am walking away from a project in which I have played a major role and invested over 2.5 years. I am leaving a company in which I saw myself building a significant long-term career. I am giving up the opportunities to work on the types of projects this company works on – they are second to none in Canada. And I am good at my job, really good. But, the company’s vision, or lack thereof, leaves me uninspired and frustrated. I find myself no longer able to support the company’s narrow-minded, money-centric, goals for the future. Especially when they come at the expense of the mental well-being of their employees. I cannot support a company whose management silences and shuts out members of their staff when trying to voice their ideas, simply because they do not align with their own. And on a personal level, I have been fighting for respect, acknowledgment and support of my skills for far too long – and I am tired.
Part of this decision was coming to terms with the realization that this company is no longer the same one that hired me. I have had to grieve the loss of a place that has felt like home. As I mentioned, it’s where I started my career – even before graduating university. I was so fortunate to have been hired by a boss that believed in exposing any new hire to as many experiences as possible. And, I had some great ones! That year was also when I gained a tremendous mentor. Over time, he became a dear friend and father figure, giving me as much life as career advice. So many of the lessons I learned within the first couple of years at this company have guided me in my career and I still utilize on a daily basis. However, the key components that once made this place feel like home, have all slowly faded over time. It might look the same but I don’t recognize it.
The choice to leave was an extremely difficult one. At times, as an adult, the lines are so blurred between what’s good and bad for you. Or what is overall bad for you is not all bad all of the time. In fact, some parts can be really good! I so enjoy the camaraderie of the team I am currently working with; I get to laugh every day. Recent changes to middle management mean that my two direct supervisors are really great guys that I sincerely respect and believe will work to make great changes within the company.
So, that sometimes makes me wonder if I’m quitting too soon. What if a greater change is just over the horizon? What if, with their help, I’m able to gain that recognition as a senior design lead and the sole female mechanical design engineer in a company of 300+? What if the disastrous decisions on this project trigger a real change in the way the company approaches problems? What if this is the wake-up call to how they should support their employees, instead of pushing them down?
In all of my anxiety, a part is due to the fear that I might regret the timing of this departure. But, I also know that as much as it feels like I’m leaving too soon, I feel that I should have left years ago. I have given every opportunity for my managers and the teams I’m working with to show any small quantities of progress. Yet, nothing has changed. They have said too many times that they do value me, they do hear me and are aiming to improve things, for all their employees. Yet, nothing has changed. Even worse, the changes they believe they’re making are just in line with the old ways – same crap, different tune. Even worse for the few females, it all seems to be making the old boys club stronger and leaves those of us without the ‘qualifications’ to join out in the cold. They have called my bluff too many times; they were banking on the idea that I was never so unhappy that I would leave. Well, now I am.
Why didn’t I leave sooner? Why put up with the lack of respect and the double standard? That’s probably the hardest part for me in all of this. I hate to fail – or feel like I’ve failed. And, I was certainly not raised as a quitter – I aim to succeed at everything I take on. Leaving feels like a failure. Not having a plan for what comes next, to prove that I’m moving up and not down, feels like a failure. It feels like I couldn’t handle it. I wasn’t smart enough. I couldn’t win the fight to improve things. Worse yet, it feels like I’m proving right all those who questioned my abilities as a female in a male-dominated industry. Those are mighty tough critics to silence – when they are all in your own head! But, instead, I hang on to this: I was not given anything. I worked my butt off and I excelled. I did handle it and I did put up all the fight I had to change what wasn’t right. But, sometimes, the fight just isn’t yours to win.
So, no, I am most definitely not failing. I am making a choice – and a rather brave one at that. I am letting go of what is safe and familiar – but now terribly unhealthy – and instead, I am choosing happiness and health… even with how terrified that makes me feel in the short term!
It’s time to let go and get on with the business of choosing what’s next!