How Quitting My Job Saved My Career

Below is a photo of me last September with my first niece, an hour or so after she was born. Today is her first birthday and I’ve been reflecting on my past year in this field as a Marriage Family Therapist Intern.

“My niece was born around 10:15 am and I left work early that day to meet her. It was a really strange day for me because at the precise moment she was entering the world, I was co-facilitating a group therapy session. I worked with a highly traumatized population and this particular day was ROUGH. Every day was hard and filled with trauma, but this day got to me more than others. I spent a two hour group listening to raw details of a recent traumatic event. It was awful and heartbreaking – I could not get out of the building quickly enough that day. I remember on my drive to the hospital thinking:

“This is so weird; I’m in the middle of a major life event, and at the same time I spend my day bearing witness to other people’s traumas. How do I do both?”

Upon arriving, I walked into the hospital to see my happy family, and I felt ALONE.

Working in mental health is so strange, to be honest. As therapists we spend our days listening to sad stories, and if we work around trauma exclusively, the heaviness is intensified. It is challenging at times to take part in “real-life” when you work around so much loss, abuse, victimization, and heartbreak. It is especially challenging when you do not take care of yourself or talk about your struggles.

I entered the maternity ward, put on a smile, and held my sweet niece. All I could think to myself was where does it go wrong? How does a fresh from her mother’s womb baby girl experience such a challenging life? I could feel my heart slowly breaking as I held her – breaking for my clients, breaking for how cruel the world can be, and breaking for myself because I could not be present for this ONCE IN A LIFETIME moment. It was then that I realized that I was NOT okay.

It was if everything in me was screaming SLOW DOWN, but I was too afraid of what I might hear if I listened or hit the stop button.

My work, however, was negatively impacting me in a way that I could not keep up with or recover from. Vicarious trauma is a very REAL thing and I was struggling to the point of numbness and isolation.

It was a slow decision but within eight weeks I quit my job without another one lined up. I gave up excellent training, salary, and benefits, and did not see another client for SIX MONTHS. It killed me to be so “behind”,  yet I also desperately needed the break. I started personal therapy again, cuddled with my baby niece frequently, and slowly came back to myself. At several points I contemplated quitting this field entirely– this was a journey and still is for me.”

Some lessons learned along the way:

  • It is not helpful to compare my walk as a therapist (or as a human in general) to another’s 
    • I require more time to re-charge and recover than maybe others do and there is NOTHING wrong that. It just IS. I now accept that reality rather than fight it or make negative meaning out of it. (i.e. “I’m so sensitive and dramatic for feeling this way.”)
  • I don’t always have to do the hardest thing
    • There was a temptation in the past to want to be the “best therapist”, even if it meant sacrificing my mental health. This is something I need to be mindful of if I want balance in my life, as perfectionism usually leads to overworking.
  • You cannot put a price tag on your mental health
    •  The salary, benefits, and accomplishments mean very little if my quality of life is too poor to enjoy the fruits of my labor.
  • Rest is not selfish
    • When I am rested, I actually am more productive, patient, and effective in my work.

Today reminded me of how I have grown through a challenging season of my life. When I started this work I never pictured my path would unfold this way. But, here I am, figuring it out, embracing the reality that when I am healthy I can be my best self, both as a therapist and person. I know many of you can probably relate to burn-out; I encourage you all to take care of yourselves. This is something I heard about a million times in graduate school without much context. Now I get it and hope that all my fellow therapists and humans can do the hard work of taking care of YOU. Indeed self-care might look very different for you than it did for me – not everyone is in a position to quit their job. Nonetheless, you can’t pour from an empty cup, it just doesn’t work.

(Blog written by Staff Clinician Jordan Frailey, MFT Intern #88655)

7 thoughts on “How Quitting My Job Saved My Career”

  1. Stuart Kaplowitz, Mft says:

    Wow! Super impressive piece

  2. Taylor says:

    Love it 🙂

  3. George Moura says:

    Jordan, this is an excellent writing piece. It is a most valuable lesson for anyone that reads it. Great Job.

  4. George Moura says:

    Jordan, this is an excellent written piece. It is something that everyone can and should use. I wish I would have figured this out a long time ago. Great Job!!!

  5. Prisma Martinez says:

    Reading your words helped normalize how ive been feeling for the past 2 years. Ive changed settings within the MHS world 3 times and it still feels like I cant breathe sometimes. Trauma is my everyday! Thank you for sharing the human side of you and allowing us to feel empowered.

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