Many people live in the fear of losing their job and not being able to find another one. The recent dismal unemployment numbers show that this fear is not unfounded. What if you don’t lose your job but leave by choice? This is the unemployed group that no one talks about. What happens when you find yourself in a soul-crushing job situation or one where your morals are being tested?
Many of us have found ourselves in this situation, where you ask yourself, in a nod to the Clash song, “Should I stay or should I go?” Becoming unemployed by choice is a growing group of dissatisfied, disillusioned, and morally challenged workers. The range is from just being in the wrong job to being somewhere where you feel you are ethically compromising who you are.
When I became unemployed the first time after being steadily employed for 18 years, I was dumbfounded. It took me a long time to realize I was grieving a whole change of lifestyle and coming to terms was not easy. When I heard about other people leaving their jobs to take a sabbatical or to find new direction without having another job lined up, I had no sympathy and no connection to why someone would do that. It seemed selfish and frivolous. No one quits in a bad economy, do they?
Yet here I am, two years later, doing just that. I had changed my career and wanted to change the world by working in nonprofit. How could working in charity be a bad thing? What I didn’t realize was that I had idealized how this job would go, without taking a real hard look at a bad work culture and poorly managed organization that had changed dramatically from when I had just worked there as a volunteer. I had become a volunteer at a place with a real connection to the cause, a founder who was fully involved, and an incentive to really make volunteers and donors feel appreciated. When I took a step inside as a staff member, the reality was quite different. The founder was gone and had denounced the organization, volunteers and donors were left hanging and under-appreciated, and the staff members seemed really hostile, stressed, and unable to make the connection any longer. The organization was so completely mismanaged, that even the mission statement had been changed several times in less than a year.
I, of course, thought I could be the catalyst to lead the change to bring it back to being the organization that lured me in as a volunteer. But, it’s hard to swim upstream. Once things snowball in a certain direction, there is only so much you can do when the rest of the culture is fine with negativity as the default setting. I had to soul-search and think long and hard about how being somewhere like this was changing my outlook. I went from idealist to pessimist. What was the next step?
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