Why I Quit My Job During The Pandemic

Sometimes only big, bold decisions will move us forward.

Why I Quit My Job During The Pandemic
Photo by Michael Shannon on Unsplash

Taking a risk is never easy. But what if the daily grind is making us unhappy and leaves us feeling unfulfilled? Sometimes it is necessary to take a leap into the unknown to come unstuck and open the door for new possibilities.

When I handed in my notice in the middle of the lockdown, I know it surprised many of my family and friends. They weren’t unsupportive, but I know they questioned the timing and rationality of my decision. There were moments when I thought I must be insane to leave right now. After all, I had a secure job as a teacher with a guaranteed salary, even in a lockdown. Why would I leave in the middle of these uncertain times?

The answer was simple: at times you can only succeed by taking a risk.

The First Catalyst

When the UK entered the lockdown in March, I had only recently returned to working four days a week following months of cancer treatments. A year earlier, I was diagnosed with womb cancer and needed a radical hysterectomy, chemo and radiotherapy to treat the cancer.

Despite the anxiety and side-effects from the treatments, I was happy during my seven months off work. Why?

Because for the first time in years, I had time to work on my dream, which is to become a full-time writer.

When the treatments ended, I was beyond grateful to be cancer-free, but also anxious about returning to work. I was in a good place with my writing, having almost finished rewriting my first book.

What would happen to my dream when I returned to work? Would I be able to juggle the day job and the writing?

I couldn’t. At first, during the phased return, it wasn’t so bad. I still had enough time and energy to write on days I wasn’t working. But the phased return couldn’t last forever, and soon I was writing less and less until days would elapse without me writing a single word.

I knew something had to change…

The Lockdown

Then the infection rates took a steep rise in the UK and the Government announced we were entering lockdown. The schools were closing for all but key workers’ children.

My school wasn’t one of the organised ones ready for online teaching as soon as the school gates closed. Those who could, were on a rota to teach the key workers’ children. Being in the vulnerable group, I had to shelter so couldn’t do it. Instead, I prepared study packs to send home and communicated with children and parents via email.

I know for many the lockdown was anxious and worrying time, but for me it was a time when many things became clear. Of course, I worried, too, about family and friends and missed seeing them all. But beyond worry, I felt happy. I had time to write again. And because I rediscovered my writing happiness, I knew what I had to do.

Taking A Calculated Risk

I knew from discussions with my head teacher that the school could not guarantee that a part-time role for me when the new academic year began. And I knew that I could kiss my dream of writing goodbye if I returned to full time teaching.

Before my diagnosis, I was working close to sixty hours a week and I am not alone in that in the teaching profession. Teachers do the most (unpaid) overtime out of any profession in the UK. There would be no chance of dedicating time and energy to writing, even less chance of writing well and often, if I went back to that lifestyle.

So, I handed in my notice. I am now working as a supply teacher and though the pay is not as good and I am painfully aware that I will not earn any money should schools close again; I am happier because I haven’t sacrificed my dream.

Knowing that my income depends on schools remaining open, also puts a certain, necessary pressure on me. I have to work hard on my writing and be productive to make this work.

The Take Away

It is vital to take risks in life. Yes, risks are scary because they represent the unknown. We can never know in advance how things will turn out.

Was I nervous about my decision to quit in the middle of such uncertain times? Yes, absolutely. Do I still have moments when I wonder if I will make the ends meet? You bet I do.

Am I happier now that I have taken the risk? Yes, 100 percent. Do I regret my decision to quit my job? Not for a single moment.

The last answer is why I know I have made the right decision. Not once have I looked back and thought ‘I shouldn’t have’.

The fear of failure is often the main reason people do not take risks. The solution is to change your thinking from failure to something learnt. If your first attempt is not a success, learn from it, get better and eventually you will succeed.

Taking a risk can put a financial strain on you and your family. I am lucky because I have been able to go part time and still pay the rent (as long as schools stay open) but I have to cut down many things I used to enjoy. Short term financial sacrifices are worth it for the long-term gains and happiness.

We all know those people who complain about their jobs all the time? I always wanted to give them a kick up the backside. To tell them to stop moaning and do something about it.

My cancer diagnosis and the time it gave to me reflect on my life made me realise that I was one of those people. I was stuck and unhappy working as a teacher full-time, but too comfortable (and scared, too) to take a risk. I was the one who needed a good kick, and cancer did that. It spurred me into action with some help from COVID-19.

If you are feeling stuck, isn’t it time you did something about it? If in doubt, focus on how much you have to gain rather than what you got to lose.

Reija Sillanpaa
Reija Sillanpaa
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Reija Sillanpaa

Writer, reader, blogger, charity fundraiser. Find me on: https://cyclingforcancer.co.uk/

10% of what I earn on Vocal goes to Royal Marsden Cancer Charity.

See all posts by Reija Sillanpaa