Let me guess: it used to be good. That job, that relationship, that volunteer position … whatever it was, it started out fine. But over time, things changed. Or maybe you did. Either way, you’ve got a secret: wanting to leave.

You don’t want to admit it. You’re steadfast, you’re patient, and you do not bail at the first sign of trouble. You stand by your people. These are beautiful qualities.

But sometimes, old loyalties can blind you. Instead of seeing that things need to change, you rationalize, “It’s not really that bad.” However, you’re increasingly uncomfortable, exhausted, or both.

So when is it wise to say, “Enough”? When your deepest truth is that you want to.

wanting to leave is enough

When You’re Wanting to Leave

This is simple, perhaps, but it’s not easy. After all, you still have to deal with the voices in your head.

First, there’s the inner judge telling you that wanting out means that you’re irredeemably bad. If you’re wanting to leave a job, there’s also the fearful voice of scarcity saying, “Don’t quit; you’ll end up a bag lady!”

In times past, I let those voices run the show. As a result, I’d jam myself into jobs that didn’t fit who I am and how I’m made.

For example, I spent two years as a program director at an amazing special needs non-profit called L’Arche. It was a good job, and I was grateful for it. In fact, when I stepped into the new role, I’d already spent two life-changing years as a live-in caregiver with L’Arche.

However, my new role titled heavily toward administrative work, not caregiving. There were moments of warmth and connection, but there were many more tedious hours of data sheets and documentation.

Back then, I thought that if I could just try harder, I’d morph into a person who enjoys attending back-to-back meetings and learning about Medicaid regulations. (Such people exist, and they are wonderful … I’m just not one of them.)

So I filled out mind-numbing Social Security forms, and my friends with disabilities got the benefits they needed. In humble ways, I made a difference.

Still, I couldn’t shake the sense that life was draining out of me with every long commute. Fatigue and frequent illnesses were constant companions. I was always tired, but I’d squeeze in time to write and work on my blog because that was the work that filled me up.

In my secret heart, I wanted to take a chance on writing for a living. Whenever I thought about it, though, a shame spiral ensued: But don’t you love these people? Aren’t you grateful for this job?!

It’s Okay to Be Done

In the midst of this inner conflict, I visited my friend Brooke. We drove to a winery and sat outside, soaking up the end-of-summer sunlight and the last of our time together.

That day, I told her the truth. I said that the thought of another year as program director made my stomach drop and my shoulders tense. I said that I wanted to be a writer. Yet I wondered if I was just being too picky, or too weak. What if I just tried harder … ?

Brooke listened, then said, gently, “Honey, it’s okay to be done.”

Those words freed me as a key turning in a lock frees a prisoner. Once I heard them, the familiar bars of false guilt and fear couldn’t hold me.

As we clinked glasses and toasted, “To being done,” I felt my life expanding, moving out toward the horizon. I was ready to wave goodbye to what was and hello to what would be.

Wave goodbye; wanting to leave

Letting Go

For months before that visit, I’d been asking myself, “How can I want to leave L’Arche when I love my friends so much?” I couldn’t come up with a good answer.

But as Brooke and I raised our glasses, it occurred to me that this was not a useful question. At the end of the day, I did want to leave, and I did love my friends. It was a both/and situation, and it didn’t fit into an either/or slot.

I’d been asking myself how I could feel both love and the desire to leave, as though those two states were mutually exclusive. (Spoiler alert: they aren’t.)

In her brilliant essay, “The Truth that Lives There,” Cheryl Strayed writes:

“Leaving because you want to doesn’t mean you pack your bags the moment there’s strife or struggle or uncertainty. It means that if you yearn to be free of a particular relationship and you feel that yearning lodged within you more firmly than any of the other competing and contrary yearnings are lodged, your desire to leave is not only valid, but probably the right thing to do. Even if someone you love is hurt by that.”

So many of us stall out on making positive changes because we’re waiting for a time when we won’t have competing and contrary yearnings. In my experience, this is totally unrealistic. There’s an ambivalence inherent in any significant transition.

On the day I clicked glasses with Brooke, doubts still swarmed around me like the bees in the deck’s flowerbeds. But I also felt eager, right down to the soles of my feet.

Your Truest Truth

Why is wanting to leave enough? Because what you want and need matters.

If you’re unhappy, your discontent is not something to ignore or stuff down in shame. Rather, it’s something to face head-on and work to change. And sometimes, changing means leaving.

Not everyone will understand this, and that’s okay. You don’t need a group consensus. You just need to trust your truest truth.

Some people will cheer you on – maybe more than you think! – and some will beg you to stay. But at the end of the day, your choices belong to you. You’re the only one who can live your life.

Dare to make it good.


Wanting to leave in some way? Join the conversation in the comments!

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  1. Tara September 8, 2015 at 3:40 PM - Reply

    Beautiful, beautiful post, Caroline. I’ve shared it on FB and I’m bookmarking too. And congrats on the Huff Post pieces! So happy for you!

    • Caroline McGraw September 8, 2015 at 5:28 PM - Reply

      Thank you so much, Tara! This post took a LOT of editing and rewriting, but hearing that it spoke to you makes it all worthwhile. 🙂

  2. Dorothy copps September 8, 2015 at 3:42 PM - Reply

    Wow! good ro hear the specifics on this decision! I knew it probably wasn’t a good fit for you, but writing is such a hard profession to enter.

    BUT now you are soaring. Yea and God bless you!

    • Caroline McGraw September 8, 2015 at 5:32 PM - Reply

      Dorothy, you’re the best. Thank you for this. I’m so thankful to have been a part of L’Arche DC in every capacity, even the ones that weren’t perfect fits. 😉 Sending lots of love to you and Tom. <3

  3. Cassie September 8, 2015 at 9:45 PM - Reply

    I have been following your blog for awhile now, ever since I was alerted to its existence at a denomination-wide conference on disability resources. I have never commented on anything… just been a faithful reader… until today.
    I comment today because I can’t stop the tears from flowing. I am just now, at this time, less than a week from formally resigning from an incredible opportunity. For six years I have assisted in directing and then moving on to director of a leadership training and career awareness program for teenagers with disabilities. I love it… and still do. But transportation issues, administrative concerns, and sheer fatigue from stress have led me to the decision to resign. I want to go… and yet, I don’t either. I have been torn for almost six months now, and it took finally writing my resignation letter and hitting “send” to finally put the decision in stone. I only pray I have made the right decision– the decision that God would have me make for my good. Thank you for the encouragement you provided in your post. I consider it God speaking through you to confirm that I am in the right place at the right time. God bless you!

    • Caroline McGraw September 9, 2015 at 9:20 PM - Reply

      Cassie, I am so happy for (and proud of) you!! It takes such courage to let go of something you love, to step out in faith. And to know that this post offered encouragement to you in this transition time means the world to me. Thank you for commenting and especially for reading (since the Faith Inclusion Network conference in 2013, perhaps)?

      Anyway, congratulations again – I know it’s not easy to say goodbye, but I bet you have something else wonderful on the horizon. And the friends and connections you’ve made in the past six years will always be with you. (hugs)

      • Cassie September 9, 2015 at 9:36 PM - Reply

        Thank you so much for commenting back. Your response made me smile.
        I actually learned about your blog at the 2013 RCA & CRC Disability Concerns conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The Reformed and Christian Reformed church denominations have a disability concerns ministry, and each year, we get together at this conference to share resources and collaborate on ideas for church disability ministry. One of the speakers/ presenters quoted from some of your writing, and it drew me to sign up to read your blog.

        I don’t have anything specific on my horizon… no real reason to be leaving my role as director of the camp, but there are avenues I want to explore. I would like to see what life is like without the stress of meetings, deadlines, and phone calls/ emails. I would like to get back to writing and working more on my music. My team and I are in the process of revamping my website, and that is exciting. So I’m sure God will open the door to something down the road. I just knew I needed to leave in order to embrace something new.
        Thanks again for your support and for your encouraging words!

        • Caroline McGraw September 10, 2015 at 5:45 PM - Reply

          You’re most welcome! And what a cool story – I had no idea that AWCC was mentioned at that conference, but I’m glad it was so that you could find us!

          And I totally get what you mean – it’s wise to prepare for a transition in ways that make sense for you (i.e. revamping your website), but it’s also important to get some rest and be open to the unexpected.

          When I transitioned out of my role at L’Arche, I had this blog and one steady, paid freelance gig at Autism After 16, but beyond that, I had no idea what would happen. I just trusted that if I was willing to work and put myself out there, opportunities would appear. And they always have. There were times (especially at the beginning!) when things were tight, but we’ve always had enough.

          When your new website is ready, be sure to leave a comment so that I/we can check it out. 🙂

  4. Laurie September 9, 2015 at 2:42 AM - Reply

    Caroline, I am a relative newcomer to your blog, and have benefitted from everything I’ve read, but today, whew, today you really helped me. I have been ‘done’ with my job for almost a year, and just admitted it to myself a couple of months ago. I have loved this job, but the reasons I’ve stayed are no longer valid. I have pushed down the feelings of needing to move on by using the lines: “I should be happy, it’s a good job, all my friends are here, blah, blah, blah.”

    You have helped me realize that my needs are important, but only if I MAKE them important, and DO something about it. All this stuffing has done nothing, and I’m no further ahead than I was a year ago, and no happier. I don’t think it’s burnout, I am just DONE. And it’s OK.

    Thank you!

    • Caroline McGraw September 9, 2015 at 9:25 PM - Reply

      Laurie, that’s amazing to hear – thank you!! I’m glad that I could pass along the “It’s okay to be done” message, and that you’re being honest with yourself about where you’re at. Whatever comes next, I’ll be cheering you on. 🙂

  5. Katie Jacobson September 10, 2015 at 4:05 AM - Reply

    I adore your blog. This article just hit me square in the heart today. I’ve been battling to find happiness in my work. This line got me…

    “If you’re unhappy, your discontent is not something to ignore or stuff down in shame. Rather, it’s something to face head-on and work to change. And sometimes, changing means leaving.”

    I’m a stuffer! I just make do and get through and at almost 32 years old…I just know that is not the key to a happy life. Sure there are always times when we are going to have to grin and bear it, but your whole life shouldn’t be misery. My pain and unhappiness at work is starting to affect my friendships and my relationship with my partner. I don’t want that kind of life.

    Thank you for helping me realize the small steps I need to quit stuffing it down and actually make changes to increase my joy and happiness. Tomorrow is a new day and I can be happy!

    • Caroline McGraw September 10, 2015 at 5:52 PM - Reply

      Katie, thank you!! I’m always amazed and humbled when people say, “This post was meant for me!” Those words feel miraculous, every time.

      And as a fellow ‘stuffer’ I hear you, loud and clear. I once heard that we must write that which we wish to come upon, so often I’m writing the post I wish I could have to read, you know?

      Anyway, it is so brave of you to acknowledge how you’re feeling, and to effect change. Can’t wait to hear more about your next steps, whenever you’re ready to share. In the meantime, sending strength your way.

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