Your job is suffocating you.
You’ve put everything into it. You’ve worked your heart out. You’ve invested years of your life in this.
And you’re dying inside.
You wonder what else might be out there for you… but you’re afraid of leaving.
Maybe if you stick with it just a bit longer, things will get better. Something will change. The hard work you’ve put in will pay off.
Or maybe you’re avoiding facing the truth.
Maybe your company is the way it is. Maybe it’s not going to change.
And you’re going to have to find a way to rescue yourself.
This week’s guest Chelle Shapiro is a career development coach who found her calling after breaking free from a toxic workplace.
She shares her own intensely personal story of her struggle to get the clarity and courage to walk away.
You’ll learn why it’s so important to set boundaries at work from the very beginning, a clear sign that it’s time to say goodbye, and how to work through the fear of letting people down.
You’ll also learn what Chelle advises her own clients who are thinking of leaving their job. Don’t put in your notice without doing this first!
What You’ll Learn
Why stay scared and stay in something that’s not good for you? Lean into that fear, and you can turn that fear into excitement.”
Chelle Shapiro was so excited to start her new job.
She was hired as a graphic designer, but she wanted to learn every aspect of the company so she could contribute.
“I’m a lifelong learner. I always want to be stepping up my game and learning new things and challenging myself,” she says.
So she asked for more tasks, even though they were outside her job description.
In the back of her mind was the desire to prove herself and show her new company that she could do so much more than what she was hired for.
The company had hit a gold mine in Chelle. She was high-functioning, high-achieving, and capable of wearing multiple hats within the organization.
She could do not only her work but the work of other people, which meant that the company didn’t have to hire or train new people when staff members left.
Chelle took on more and more responsibility…
Until finally she began to break down.
Management noticed. They saw she was struggling. Chelle even got up the courage to ask for help.
But they’d relied on her for so long that they assumed she’d make it work, like she always did.
They told her that it would get better.
Finally, Chelle had to face the facts.
She’d committed 13 years of her life to a company that didn’t have her back.
How to Know It’s Time to Leave a Toxic Job
We’re taught that it’s our job as employees to go above and beyond for our company.
But what is our company’s responsibility to us?
Is it just to cut a paycheck—and nothing else?
When you give your loyalty to your employer, you expect some degree of loyalty back.
“Why would you go into a job and think that they’re not going to do anything for you?” Chelle asks. “Why would you knowingly go into a job and think that there was no room for growth or opportunity?”
Today, Chelle wonders if she shot herself in the foot by asking for so much extra work early on.
“I proved that I could be really valuable,” she says. “I thought … they’ll recognize my value at some point. They’ll reward me at some point. I will be able to grow with the company instead of just growing the company.”
That’s not what happened, though.
Her wakeup call came when she asked for help. She was overextended. She needed some work taken off her plate, or time off, or some breathing space.
The response she received wasn’t encouraging. “Don’t I take care of you? Don’t I already look out for you? Haven’t I done enough for you?”
It was as if she was “asking for too much: to ask for help, to ask to be taken care of or to be able to take care of myself.”
Ultimately, Chelle had to leave to save herself.
“I had to cut the cord for my own life, for my own sanity, for my own well-being,” she says.
“As a people-pleaser, that was really hard to come to terms with: letting other people down.”
Fear of Letting Others Down
These days, Chelle is a career development coach who helps her clients uphold boundaries, ask for what they want, and never settle.
That’s not always easy for women who, like Chelle, are people-pleasers and high achievers.
“As women, especially, we don’t want to feel like we’re giving up or failing or quitting something preemptively, when we could stick it out and it could get better,” she says. “Or maybe we think that we can be the ones to make it better.”
Over the years she was with her company, she’d worked hard to improve the work environment, not just for herself, but for everybody else. But she kept getting met with resistance and blame.
She was the go-to person for anyone who needed help or assistance, but she wasn’t given the authority to set up systems to improve workflow or enforce the rules already in place.
No wonder she reached her breaking point.
What she needed wasn’t to give more. What she needed were boundaries.
How to Spot a Toxic Workplace
It’s hard to recognize how toxic your workplace is while you’re still in it.
“Hindsight is 20-20,” Chelle says. “When you can recognize the gaslighting early on, you can recognize those manipulative situations. You can remove yourself from it and put boundaries in place.”
But Chelle wasn’t able to do that herself for a long time.
“There were so many red flags, and I was conditioned for 13 years … to ignore them, because everybody else told me that they were okay,” she says.
“If nobody else is speaking up,” she wondered, “then am I going crazy thinking that there’s a problem where there isn’t?”
Today, she encourages her clients to know what they stand for early on.
Know what you will and won’t put up with for yourself. The sooner you can get clear on your boundaries and your values … the easier it’ll be for you to be able to tell [that] ‘No, the situation is not right, and I will not stand for it.'”
Taking the Leap into the Unknown
When Chelle left her toxic job, she had nothing new lined up.
It was the first time in her life that she was without a plan.
She had always been a planner. Someone who had “all the answers at any given moment—and all the solutions for all the things that could go wrong that most people don’t even know about yet.”
It was liberating yet scary to be free to discover what life had in store for her, and she leaned into it.
In the process Chelle discovered something surprising about herself.
She wasn’t actually a planner after all.
She liked going with the flow and seeing what unfolded next.
She was free to try things to see how they felt, to find out what she actually liked and didn’t like.
That freedom helped guide her into her next career move:
Helping women get the courage to ask for what they deserve.
Chelle’s Career Advice to You
Especially if you’re not sure what you want to do, figure out what you like, figure out what you don’t, and then adjust accordingly.”
If you’re stuck in a job you dislike, Chelle urges you to slow down.
“I say this as somebody that goes a mile a minute when I’m doing something,” she adds. “I hit the ground running.”
But running into your next career move will not help you.
Slow down and take a long, hard think about what aspects of your current job you like and dislike.
That will give you a starting point to know what you want more of and what you want less of in your next role.
Don’t confuse what you like with what you’re good at.
If you’re good at something but dislike doing it, it won’t make you happy.
Don’t be afraid to pivot, either.
“You do not need to stay in your first career. You do not need to stay stuck doing something that you do not love,” Chelle says.
“You can very easily shift gears and start over—and start over again and again and again, until you find something that you absolutely love, that you are meant to do.”
If you’re ready to find out what your passion is but you could use some help, Chelle offers one-on-one career coaching.
She also tells the full story of her job from hell—and how she broke free and found herself—in her book Loving Yourself Isn’t Selfish: How to Stop Internalizing Emotions & Persevere Against All Odds. Grab your copy here.
Chelle is a career coach who works closely with college students/recent graduates, early professionals, and career-switchers on networking smarter and connecting with confidence. Connect with Chelle on LinkedIn.