The last straw
It broke the camel's back.
“People don’t leave bad jobs; they leave bad managers” is an oft-quoted sentiment. Perhaps that was true a few decades ago when company loyalty held more weight and employees who job-hopped were seen as problematic. In those days, perhaps it was only a terrible, abusive manager who would finally push someone past the breaking point.
These days, a lot more people are a lot less tolerant. People are driven to look elsewhere by poor work-life balance, outdated work culture, incompetent leadership, or a company that fails to innovate. While terrible companies have always been terrible, remote work has certainly thrown the doors wide open for people to look for roles outside of their geographic location. They have more options.
A few months ago, I saw a post: “You don’t quit a job because of one thing. You quit because of the last thing.” (I wish I’d taken a screenshot because I would give the person credit). That sentiment feels much more appropriate for today’s world than the “leave bad managers” quip of the past.
You don’t look back
Once you get a sense that your job isn’t treating you well, it’s hard to go back. I’ve known very few people with employers that do a 180 if there are problems (with the exception of maybe a terrible manager who is finally fired and replaced with someone decent).
I had a friend who was frustrated with her job. Started applying. Was drained by the application process (terrible at so many companies), so thought she might be able to “make it work” with her current job. But things kept getting worse and worse until finally she put more energy into applying and was able to get out.
Once you’ve started down that path, it’s unlikely you’ll change course. Maybe you get the sense that things could be better elsewhere. Maybe you know that you’re being treated unfairly. I’m a big believer in gut instinct. Your gut likely isn’t wrong.
Even if you haven’t reached the decision to leave (yet), if it’s crossed your mind, you can start preparing. You can dust off your resume. Line up your references and recommendations. Start to envision something better for yourself, such as making a list of your “must haves” for your next employer. Maybe even start casually looking for a new job. Stash away money in a “fuck you” fund in case things get so bad that you can’t take it anymore.
The moment you decide
Eventually, you’ll reach a breaking point. You quit because of the last thing.
The last thing is when you move from casually looking to plotting your exit. Or quit on the spot, if that’s an option.
With a job I left in late 2021, I never reached a “last thing.” I was still in “casually applying” mode and happened to land upon an offer. Sometimes life works out that way.
But the job before that, I distinctly remember my “last thing.”
I had been thinking about leaving for months. Could I hold out until the CEO retired and hope things would improve, still three years away? Should I wait until my youngest child was in kindergarten, still two years away? Could I wait until we had some more money in savings, knowing I was likely headed for a career pivot and would be taking a pay cut?
But my “last thing” happened on December 15, 2020.
My grandma was in the last days of her life, and I knew she would pass away soon. Without knowing exactly when it would happen, I moved through the days as best I could.
I was working on a print ad campaign for the company. The CEO had previously given approval to specific copy — after I’d convinced him that we needed to shorten the copy substantially in order to capture someone’s three-second glance at a print ad. Someone on my team created the ad and I sent it to the CEO for approval.
He came back and asked for revisions, to increase the copy back to the “too long” length. For no reason other than his own preference.
My teammate was furious that she’d done the work, exactly to spec, and now was being asked to re-do it on his whim. I thought that it would be prudent to wait until our executive management team the following week, when I could explain to the CEO on a call why the changes were a bad idea.
He exploded. He wanted it done, right then, that day, so he could approve it and move on from the project.
I called my boss and said, “I’m done. With him, with everything.”
I think my boss could sense my tone. She also knew that I was awaiting news about my grandma. She told me that she would take care of the CEO.
I shut off my computer and was done working for the day. And knew that I was done working for the company altogether. It was my last thing. It was the “last thing” in a string of things from a CEO who was running the company into the ground and didn’t care about anyone’s opinions except his own. I knew I wouldn’t survive until he retired, or my daughter went off to kindergarten, or we had enough money saved up. I was done.
I got a call later that day that my grandma had passed away.
She and I both made decisions to move on that day.
When it happens, you’ll know
It’s unlikely that you’ll know what that “last thing” will be.
And maybe you won’t put in notice immediately. I didn’t put in notice until a month later — I wanted to get through the holidays and try to see if I could scrounge up a job over the next few weeks.
But I knew I was done. I knew I would do everything in my power to exit the situation. That it was beyond fixing.
You’ll be pushed over the edge and move from “probably leaving” to “definitely leaving.”
And I hope you find a truly wonderful place to land. You deserve so much better than what you’re currently experiencing.
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