I Quit My Job During A Pandemic
In the second last week of August, I quit my job in the middle of a pandemic.
Quitting my job was neither a frivolous nor spontaneous decision. I’m aware that being able to voluntarily become jobless while Singapore is going through her worst recession since independence stems from an enormous position of privilege.
In the time leading up to my decision, the feelings of shame and guilt from wanting to quit a perfectly ‘good job’ during a pandemic overwhelmed me. It didn’t help my case that retrenchment rates are at the highest they’ve been in a decade. On top of that, I had no backup plan or next job lined up.
However, quitting my job during the COVID-19 crisis was ultimately the best thing I could have done for myself in 2020.
Why I resisted quitting my job
In April, I found myself out of work for the first time in 3 years. Thankfully, after a handful of interviews, I secured a digital advertising job during the Phase 1 period. I went into the job thinking “I’m going to smash this!” But really, I was the one who got wrecked instead.
Over the next few weeks, I lost my appetite, interest in hobbies and ability to sleep at an appropriate hour. It didn’t help that the blurring of work-life boundaries exacerbated my burnout and I found myself breaking down every other day.
In hindsight, the physical signs of stress should have been good enough a reason to quit. But my mama didn’t raise a quitter. So for every time I Googled “How do you know it’s time to quit your job”, I added an excuse not to.
The longer my list grew, the more unhappy I became. But the straw that broke the camel’s back was when I realised the only way I could motivate myself to work was to tuck my stuffed toys into bed every morning.
Effectively, I had created a narrative that I had to work hard so ‘my children’ could lay in bed all day and have a good life. Realising how crazy I sounded led to the third breakdown that week. So I put on my big girl pants, took the day off, and went crying to mummy.
What I learnt from talking to my mum
After vacillating between staying at and quitting my job for two hours, my mum put her foot down. She pointed out the main thing that was making me cling onto employment was the guilt of quitting a perfectly well-paying job while many others were being retrenched.
It was true. I was so much luckier than most and there was ‘nothing wrong’ with my job. So why couldn’t I just be happy and grateful? That’s when my mum said,
“When I was in my twenties, I would quit before the probation period was over if I didn’t like a job. That’s how I jumped from kindergarten teacher to legal secretary. There are so many types of jobs, just go and try.
Quitting is part and parcel of working life. You don’t have to feel bad if you quit. You’re only in the early stages of your career. You’re putting too much pressure on yourself.”
Hearing this from someone who’s worked for 35 years slaps differently. I found the courage to tender the next day.
Choose a job that suits your lifestyle, not the other way round
Like most millennials, I’ve been provided opportunities that my parents could only hope to have. Landing a ‘good’, well-paying job was the aim many of our parents wished for their children and we’ve mostly internalised this expectation.
On top of this familial pressure, Singaporean pragmatism demands we continue in jobs we may be unhappy in for the paycheque, or at least until we have another offer lined up. It’s ingrained in our social DNA to make the practical choice.
That’s why on paper, I thought it made sense to apply for digital marketing and advertising jobs after a 3-year stint producing content for new media. That’s why I felt the pressure not to quit when I had no Plan B after. I didn’t want to feel like I’d failed.
But over the next 2 weeks, I found myself repeating the conversation I had with my mum with several friends.
Some left their previous companies to take a break when they realised their job made them deeply unhappy. Others resigned to embark on a new career path. For all of them, the COVID-19 pandemic served as a catalyst to take stock of their lives and steer themselves towards the direction they want to be heading.
Collectively, these conversations made me realise the reason why I was so miserable in my previous job. I had chosen to work in an industry with values that are counterintuitive to mine.
I’m someone who wants to shop less, avoid social media and not be at the mercy of phone notifications. I want a slow life. The digital advertising industry is fast-paced and requires those who work in it to be ‘always on’. While there are people who seek out such a workplace environment, I realised too late that I wasn’t one of them.
Still, I’m grateful for all the opportunities I was given. I did want to experience what agency life was like and gave it my best shot. Regrettably, it was through this episode that I learnt the saying “Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should” applies to both my career and boys.
Quitting My Job During The COVID-19 Pandemic Was A Tough But Necessary Decision
With all that’s happened in the past 10 months, it’s easy to write 2020 off as a lost year.
Unlike the previous 2003 SARS epidemic, the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted us for longer and on a larger scale. Having to stay indoors during the Circuit Breaker and Phase 1 periods changed the way Singaporeans structure their lives. In turn, it seems to have affected the things we value.
On social media, the stories that resonated with us were the ones where community, family and love triumph over the financial and physical difficulties we’ve collectively experienced. Offline and online conversations began steering towards prioritising our mental health. Somewhere along the line, material success no longer seemed like the be-all and end-all of life.
While I gained financial security in the midst of a global recession, the price I paid was hefty. That’s why currently I’m making up for it by prioritising my mental and physical health. For now, I’m going to take a break.
I count myself enormously lucky to have previously held relatively good-paying jobs, which allowed me to be in a financially comfortable position when I quit my job in the midst of a pandemic. Neither do I have elderly parents or young children to support, nor medical bills or housing loans to pay off.
It’s with these considerations in mind that I’ve decided to heed my body’s calls to take a breather. Life is about listening and responding. With everyone forced to slow down in 2020, this opportunity to rest cannot be more apt.
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