I don’t want to leave this job in a coffin

This post was inspired by a great post over at Money Smart Life called Life’s Too Short for a Crappy Job; I left a comment there, but I felt like I should repost and expand what I talked about there.  I’ve been a victim of the keep-your-job-at-any-cost mentality.  This is what happened to me.

I vividly remember about 12 years ago working at a consulting firm I hated. The hours were ridiculous.  During the busiest part of the year 80-90 per week was standard.  I broke the magic 100 one time; I’ll save you the math and point out that’s 14 hours a day, 7 days a week.  In at 8 or 9 am, out at 11 pm or so..  The pay was pathetic (on an hourly basis less than minimum wage, since I didn’t get overtime).  I worked so much that my girlfriend at the time dumped me after one too many cancelled dates.  And worst of all, my hatred for the job and exhaustion started to cause me to make mistakes, which made me work even longer hours to fix them.  But worse problems loomed.

In the story at Money Smart Life, a few of the people sticking out their terrible jobs develop tooth-grinding conditions that require dental care and maybe even surgery.  And here’s what killed me about that:  someone develops a teeth-grinding condition and doesn’t realize their job is killing them?  They complain about their job, they suffer terrible illnesses, and don’t DO something about it?  Like quit, right away?

I thought “that’s ridiculous” and then I remembered that close to the end of my awful consulting job I developed an ulcer and threw up blood a few times…. and didn’t quit. I was throwing up before and after work and thought it was just because I was stressed.  Think about that and wonder why I’m not crazy.   Or why I am.

What finally made me quit was this: I was getting ready to go to work one morning.  I had a cold and was feeling a bit woozy, but it was a big meeting.  As I put on my tie, I fell down on the floor and passed out for a few minutes.  When I got up, I STILL went to work (not the hospital).  I waited until after the meeting to go to my doctor, who informed me that I didn’t have a cold – I had pneumonia AND bronchitis.  And that I would probably be dead in six months if I didn’t address my health.

Really – he said that.  Dead in six months. He wasn’t kidding.  He said it in a very doctor-ish tone, so I knew he was serious.

It took that to make me quit. And I was single and didn’t have a mortgage or car payments or anything that really tied me to that job, other than the idea that this was MY JOB (in all caps).  I had destiny, and the Protestant work ethic, and I would NOT QUIT (again, in all caps).  There was no reason I couldn’t quit, though, except that I was career driven.  I’m not in that line of work anymore, by the way.  What a waste.

I look back on it and wish I could go back and punch myself in the head and tell myself “life’s too short for a crappy job.” Completely true.  Well worth remembering here, close to the start of a new year.  If you’re having health problems because you hate your job that much – don’t kid yourself.  It’s not you… it’s the job.  Quit.

Photo is Some rights reserved by longhorndave

10 Replies to “I don’t want to leave this job in a coffin”

  1. Hmmm…. I stopped working a few minutes and this article popped up on Facebook. I am feeling a bit flushed right now. Maybe I should check my blood pressure which was 168/106 the day before yesterday before I have even less than six months. Maybe I don’t need to make that Dr appointment that I have been intending to schedule, but an appointment with a career counselor.

  2. I work with some people who use their health problems as badges of honor. It blows my mind that people would actually brag about their ulcers, high blood pressure, lack of sleep, poor diet, and/or anti-anxiety medications, but they do. I guess they think they’re too important to worry about trivial things like their health. I’m sure they see me as a slacker because I prioritize my health and mental well-being, but I used to be like them ten years ago and learned that no job is worth that kind of sacrifice.

  3. I can’t imagine letting myself get that far. I quit my job at the beginning of December when I felt like I was being overworked on salary, and I was only working 50-60 hours a week.

  4. Powerful story, and a good message. I suffer from the same “no quit” mentality, but luckily my job isn’t as stressful and crappy as yours was. Good for you for getting out of that situation.

  5. I used to work at a place where several people were developing Sleep Apnea. My boss would act as though everyone was just getting that these days, while it seemed obvious to me that the over-worked culture was leading to low exercise and bad diets. (things that generally cause Sleep Apnea)

  6. Steve,

    I have worked for a couple of these soul-sucking corportions in the past and I generally avoid them now. I have never hit 100 hours, but my last company treated everyone like dirt. I wrote about it in a post called the Courage to Quit.

    Money comes and goes in your life, but time and health can’t be replaced.

  7. I’m the opposite of the “keep your job at any cost” personality: I’ll quit a job at the drop of a hat. As a result, I’ve had over 120 different jobs. I couldn’t care less, though: I’ve NEVER regretted quitting any job I’ve ever had. They make more jobs all the time. It’s easy to quit. It’s also not as hard as the media would have you believe to find a way to make a few bucks (although you’ll probably have to replace one crappy job with another that’s slightly less crappy – but you can eat). If it’s killing you or making you throw up blood – you needed to quit after day one. Quitting is sometimes necessary for survival – and doesn’t make you a hero for putting up with crap; just somewhat dumb. Been there.

  8. I can’t believe I just stumbled upon bripblap.com. I abruptly quit my job last Tuesday, 12/21/10. I have worked in the legal field for the past 26 years (certified in civil trial litigation) and have taken 4 one-week vacations during those 26 years. Only one of which was a family vacation during spring break of my son’s senior year in high school. Two of the vacations were taken with a girlfriend during my carefree single days, and the fourth and final paid week off from work was taken after receiving a call at the office that my believed to be healthy 64 year-old mother had been taken to the hospital complaining of an upset stomach and she was not expected to live through the night (I didn’t make it from Texas to California in time).

    Here I sit now a conflicted wreck. Determined not to continue on this road of “SUCCESS”, but knowing nothing of where I should go and what I should do.

    1. @Sherri: Thanks for stumbling on brip blap, then! Hope you stay!

      I understand how difficult it is to give up on what most people define as success – a high-paying job, the status and respect you get from “being” in a position like an attorney. But if you’ve taken so little vacation over the past 26 years, you need to love your job. It’s not enough for others (friends, family, your bank) to love your job – you need to make the sacrifice of your own personal time worth it for the sake of a career you find deeply meaningful.

      At the same time, this is easier said than done. I’ve struggled with COMPLETELY leaving my primary field of accounting, because it DOES make a lot of money – even working a few months can pay our expenses for a few months of downtime. I guess the ideal situation is either to reduce your time in your field (civil trial litigation) to an acceptable (to you) level and then reduce your living expenses to a sustainable point, or to find a different field to work in. And that’s an intensely personal decision, because only you know how much that exchange of personal time for time spent at work is worth it because you love (or don’t) your work.

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