Employment: Is it time to quit your dream job?

black woman standing

Photo credit, Getty Images

  • Author, Sophia Epstein
  • Role, BBC Worklife

After spending years building a career in a field they love, some workers wonder if it’s time to jump ship.

As far back as she can remember, Vanessa Carpentier, 33, has always wanted to work with animals. “When I was a kid playing family with my friends, I always wanted to be the house dog,” she says.

Vanessa Carpentier, who lives in Montreal, Canada, did not have the grades to study veterinary medicine at university. But she was not discouraged and decided to train as a veterinary technician. “It was perfect,” she said. And when she got her first job in this field, she said to herself: “I won in life: “I won in life.

But Ms. Carpentier quickly realized that her dream job was not as dreamy as it seemed. She’s come up against toxic co-workers, abusive pet owners, paltry pay and extremely long work hours. She changed clinics and specialties to try to alleviate the problems. But when one problem was solved, another appeared.

“We started at seven in the morning and sometimes finished at midnight, and I had to be back at seven the next day,” says Ms. Carpentier. For years, she didn’t know when she would be home from work, so she put the rest of her life – including her plans to start a family – on hold.

Finally, 13 years after having started practicing the job of her dreams, Ms. Carpentier resigned. “I put everything I had into my work with these animals and realized that I had forgotten about myself,” she says. Today, she works as a fraud agent in a bank. “I work remotely and I’ve never had so much time for myself.

But starting afresh in a new line of business was not easy. Ms. Carpentier not only left behind the animals she loves and this part of her identity, but also the work she did and the reputation she built over the years. “Before, I was at the peak of my career. When I spoke, people listened to me, they trusted me,” she explains. “In my new job, I’m just a number. However, says Ms. Carpentier, “I don’t want to go back”.

This story is that of many people who are passionate about their work. Many of them have taken years to build meaningful careers in a field they are passionate about, working long hours and facing difficult conditions. But in many cases, these dream jobs have become untenable, whether for reasons of toxicity, economic instability or complete weariness. Some workers then ask themselves a big question: is it time to leave the sector they love?

Photo credit, Courtesy of Vanessa Carpentier

image caption,

Vanessa Carpentier, 33, left the veterinary field after burnout and long hours at work.

Difficult conditions and existential worries

Following a career based on passion can be exhilarating – after all, the old adage says “if you love what you do, you’ll never work in your life”. Yet while pursuing a dream career can be fulfilling, experts say this path can also have major downsides.

One of the reasons that many passion jobs are unsustainable is that dedicated workers are often undervalued and overworked, while willing to put up with poorer working conditions because of their love for the job. . “If a person is so attached to their job and sees it as an essential part of their identity, it is more difficult to come to terms with the daily toxicity of their workplace,” says Erin Cech, associate professor of sociology at the University of Michigan (USA).

Erin Cech explains that passionate workers are not only more likely to put in more hours and work, but they may also be “willing to ignore many potential downsides to their jobs.” “It could be things like pay, benefits and stability, but also unfair practices within the company, a supervisor or co-workers who are difficult to work with.

Cech says it can also lead to the exploitation of passion, when these highly committed workers aren’t fairly compensated for their extra efforts (which often happens – so much so that young South Koreans have invented the term “passion pay” to describe how employers use passion as an excuse to pay less).

If you leave that job or the organization disappears, you suddenly risk losing an essential part of who you think you are, and that can be devastating – Erin Cech

Such conditions, coupled with job security issues in some sectors, are causing some workers to consider quitting their passionate work for another career. While it’s always difficult to quit a job, Cech says quitting one of those positions can be especially stressful when workers’ identities are closely tied to the job they love. Leaving can have existential consequences.

“If you quit that job or the organization disappears, you suddenly risk losing an essential part of who you think you are, and that can be devastating,” she explains. It can be especially trying when workers internalize the idea that “finding your passion” is the definition of success.

“When I used to tell people what my job was, I was so proud,” says Ms. Carpentier. “When I opened my eyes to the toxicity of my work, I had a hard time. Although exhausted, Ms. Carpentier only considered quitting when her boss suggested she take a leave of absence. said, ‘Let’s take a break because I don’t want to lose you’, and then I decided to quit completely,” she says. Today, Ms. Carpentier no longer talks about her current job, because it is no longer part of her identity. “I shut down my computer and that’s it.

Is it time to quit?

In these difficult conditions, it can be difficult to determine if it is really time to leave an exciting job. After all, putting years of work into a career, only to finally abandon it, can be terribly painful – and, as Cech puts it, hit workers hard.

Photo credit, Courtesy of Maggie Perkins

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Maggie Perkins, 30, always wanted to be a teacher, but she decided to quit.

The first step may be to carefully examine the work environment and determine if it is viable. Ms. Cech suggests that workers actively monitor the overtime they spend on their job and see if their paycheck is adequately compensating them or if they are in a situation of exploitation of their passion. She also suggests thinking about rest and wondering if it’s enough. “If, due to explicit or implicit expectations, you’re not able to recover from the work you’re doing, that’s a big red flag,” Cech says.

Having an idea of ​​where you might land next can also be a crucial step in decision making. It’s what helped 30-year-old Atlanta, Georgia-based Maggie Perkins quit teaching, the job she loved and wanted to do from a young age. Deeply exhausted, Maggie Perkins was at her wit’s end and so made sure to have a clear exit strategy in place.

“My plan was to go to work at another school for a year, but show up there, do my job and make sure the kids are safe, without putting all my passion into it,” she says. “Unless I find a better job in the summer, I’ll leave.” Ms. Perkins ended up getting that job at Costco, a chain of warehouses; it started in September.

For workers who decide to leave these positions, Mr. Cech believes it is important to seek meaning in their lives outside of work, especially since leaving an exciting job can cause a person to struggle with his sense of identity.

For Ms. Perkins, that’s what lessened the shock of leaving her exciting line of work. She stays in touch with the field of education she loves, providing students with tutoring and digital support services, instead of working in the classrooms full-time. “I never stopped loving teaching,” she says. “I just realized that the environment was so unhealthy that I had to get away from it.

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