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  • Writer's pictureStefano Calvetti

Traitor Syndrome: Overcoming the Sense of Betrayal When Leaving Your Job

Updated: Jul 27, 2023

Have you ever felt like a "traitor" when you considered leaving your job voluntarily? It's natural to perceive a sense of loyalty to your employer, and some could feel they are betraying the trust that was given when they started that job. If you have experienced it, you too are or have been affected by the traitor syndrome!

The text "don't quit", with the letters Do e It in white and the remaining characters in black. Have you ever felt like a "traitor" when you considered leaving your current job voluntarily? It's natural to feel a sense of loyalty to your employer, and some could feel they are betraying the trust that was given when they started that job.

I still remember the feeling of uncertainty that gripped me when I first realized I would soon be leaving the Navy. For over three decades, I had dedicated my life to serving my country, and the thought of walking away from that commitment made me feel like a traitor. In 30+ years I have learned a lot and had great experiences. The Navy has given me the possibility to become a strong and accomplished professional and has invested in my growth since the first day I joined. They put trust in me and gave me opportunities to live unique adventures.

That is why I felt uncertain when I understood it was time to start a new career path.

How did I overcome this feeling and how can you do the same?

First, take a moment to reflect on the deep-seated reasons that first compelled you to consider leaving your current job. Is it because your career is not going well as you thought? Bad work-life balance? Or simply lacking motivation? Maybe feeling stuck? Remember your goals and remind yourself that making a change is a positive step towards achieving them. For example, I felt demotivated and wanted to improve my work-life balance. Being in the office for 12-14 hours per day and being ready to work on weekends too was not my game, anymore.

Secondly, when you're feeling conflicted about leaving your job, it's easy to focus on the negative aspects of your current situation. However, it's important to keep your personal and career goals in mind. Focus on what you want to achieve with the new career. It doesn’t have to be a big goal like “saving the world”. It can be about money, it can be about commuting time, it can be the need for a new challenge… Write it down and set your course in that direction! I found my path in coaching. It’s a vocation that comes from many years in leading positions when I have honed the art of encouraging people to be their best selves.

Thirdly, talk to people who had a similar experience. Talk to them about the emotions, the inner conflicts, and the fears you are having. Then, hear their stories, and let them tell you about their feelings. Every story is different, but you will notice a lot of commonalities in the internal struggle. I have talked to a few colleagues who followed the same path and I felt relieved when I heard they had the same inner conflicts that I have.

You can also consider having an open and honest conversation with your employer. Express your gratitude for the opportunities you've had and explain your reasons for wanting to move on. Your employer may be understanding and supportive, and this can help alleviate any guilt you may be feeling. Plus, maintaining positive relationships with your former employer can be beneficial for your new journey in the long run. When I told my then-boss I wanted to quit, we talked for a couple of hours and he also wanted me to talk to other people I previously worked with, too. His intent was to have me change my mind. I took the opportunity to be grateful to those who taught me a lot. All of them have been encouraging and helpful in overcoming the sense of betrayal.

The last thing I want to suggest to you is the most important, to me: practice self-compassion. Be kind to yourself and acknowledge that it's okay to prioritize your own needs and goals. It's natural to feel conflicted when making a big decision, but remember that you're doing what's best for you. For me, self-compassion came in the form of understanding that I have received a lot, but I have also given a lot. I have given my time, my skills, my passion, and my knowledge. Plenty of times, I have given priority to the Navy instead of myself. I found peace in the thought that we (the Navy and I) were even.

Bottom line: if the decision to leave a job makes you feel like you're betraying your employer, remember that your career journey is unique, and you have the power to make choices that align with your goals and values.

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