I had been working long hours for long years, and was still loving my career. One of the incredible joys—one which made the whole thing possible—was that the only other person in the office full-time was a close girlfriend. While working very hard together, we also helped each other heal from a given case, laughed uproariously, napped together in the interior office, and played on creative tasks during some of our time off.
When we had two weeks left in our current contract (hopeful for a new one), my friend suddenly shared with me that she did not feel able to continue the work. Not just as of the next contract, but effective immediately. I was floored.
Not only would I need to reconsider the entire next contract, and my ability to achieve our results without her in the forefront, but I would need to complete her remaining hours along with my own, which were already easily sixty hours per week. However, it was only for two weeks and there wasn’t really any choice.
I told her I understood (because I did) and assured her there were no hard feelings. While I encouraged her to follow her bliss—to do precisely whatever healthy thing she needed to do even if that meant quitting with two weeks left in the contract—I felt scared, embarrassed, and alone. I was about to have an enormous amount on my plate.
So many of us are afraid to leave a boss or coworker in the lurch. We stay in jobs ill-suited to us, or that no longer meet our needs, for the sake of another. This is considerate of the others, for sure. But is it the right move?
In our corporate culture (and I include the nonprofit world in this), most businesses show little loyalty to even their best workers. One fires workers in their 50s, after decades of giving their all. Another terminates employment as soon as the worker becomes legally eligible for benefits. A third lets workers go for reasons of “costs,” while the CEO continues to rake in multi-millions.
Even so, many of us are loathe to leave a boss who has offered a position, kindness, flexibility, and a decent wage. Good! When the arrangement is truly win-win, loyalty is an excellent quality. Staying put in a solid position allows us to grow in skill, access mentors, develop a strong record of employment, establish increasing benefits, develop relationships, and mature in our interpersonal skills.
However, there comes a day when we have arrived at a natural end point. The wages aren’t increasing, we’ve stopped growing, we crave to develop further and the position doesn’t allow for that, we wish to be home with our children, we’re ready to return to school, or our spirit demands a total life revamp. At this point, many of us stay. There are multiple reasons we might do so:
Fear: What’s on the other side? Without this job, what safety net do I have? Am I good enough to succeed outside of this space?
Survival: How long will it take me to find a new opportunity? Do I have enough saved to tide me over?
Loyalty: My boss has done so much for me…Won’t it seem ungrateful if I leave for a better opportunity? Will he be okay? How will anyone else know what needs doing with each client? My coworkers will have so much on their plates!
The first issue—fear—is one to sort out. Fear can be a friend, reminding us to do a reality check and put in place what we need in order to proceed safely. If fear is overwhelming, therapy can be well worth it. Not only does it help us break free of the immediate issue, but it tends to help us in many peripheral areas as well. In my book, I have various suggestions for finding free or cheap therapy, and for getting as much as possible out of it.
The second issue—survival—can be addressed by preparing financially. My book sets out detailed steps for doing so.
The third—loyalty—is the one I wanted to address in this post. Loyalty is a phenomenal quality. It is important. But it doesn’t mean simply staying put. Loyalty does not mean we stay in a situation that is unhealthy for us, or that otherwise holds us back from becoming the fullest manifestation of who we are. We can leave a job and still be loyal: loyal to our truest, deepest needs, and loyal to our boss or coworker by, for example, speaking kindly of them, honouring reasonable nondisclosure clauses and other confidential matters, and not unreasonably scooping clients away.
Loyalty does not require that we stay.
When we honour our need to move on (while remaining loyal), we are showing ourselves and others respect. We respect ourselves by creating the room we need to grow further, and we respect the other by acknowledging that they have the resources to thrive with or without us, that they are smart and capable and not dependent on us to survive.
When my friend left her position on short notice, I understood that she needed to do this, but I was also very sad and a bit nervous. As it turned out, her decision to leave created a two-week window of opportunity that resulted in a surge of wealth for me. Neither of us could have foreseen that. Had she overridden her need to leave and stayed only “to support” me, I would have missed out on that. Although she felt guilty for leaving me stranded in a sense, she also knew me to be able to handle it, and she believed me when I assured her that I could. THAT’S loyalty.
My friend continued to use the skills we developed together in her newest field, helping others in profoundly important ways, and then moved on to another career entirely. She is deeply happy and successful in her vocation, making an hourly rate at least 3x what I had been able to offer, with full flexibility of hours. I am happy for her, and we remain close friends to this day.
If you need to leave your job, do it. Show grace, help your coworkers and boss prepare for the transition, but then…run, run away! Loyally.