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How quitting changed our lives for the better

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Being too comfortable in a career or relationship can lead to feelings of being both trapped and unhappy, and all too often we tell ourselves to just 'stick with' something, as quitting is quite often viewed as 'failing'. However, as discussed in this week's issue of Stylist, sometimes it is OK to quit - and we've spoken to two women who completely transformed their lives by simply having the courage to quit something that made them unhappy. Read their inspiring stories below...

"I quit my job and found a vocation"

Silk & Sawdust founder Claudia Orrell, 35, lives in Norwich

‘After a decade working my way up the publishing ladder I had all the trappings of a successful career. I earnt a great salary, spent a lot of money on clothes and holidays and all my friends and family loved seeing me in this glamorous job. But the novelty had begun to wear off; the sense of achievement I got from doing well or from being to be able to afford that new dress just didn’t compare to the idea of having the time to make something real of my life.

Then, in 2006, voluntary redundancy came up; in that moment I realised I could do something about it. Even thinking about it make me panic, the work colleagues I told thought I was crazy and my parents kept questioning if I’d really thought it through. But I took a blind leap of faith that something else would come up and told my manager I wanted to leave.'

The novelty had begun to wear off, the sense of achievement I got from doing well or from being to be able to afford that new dress just didn’t compare to the idea of having the time to make something real of my life.

'As I served out my notice I had nights awake worrying if I was making the right decision. I had no idea what to do next and the prospect of not having a regular salary was terrifying. To calm the panic I wrote down ideas – I could live in another country, become a writer or start a dressmaking business. The day I left, closing the door on the career I’d built up was hard. But I just threw myself into planning my next move. I spent hours on the internet, making a schedule and an excel spreadsheet; I was strict with myself and careful with my finances, living on my redundancy money and savings. For months I tried to keep myself busy so I wouldn’t realise I was unemployed. Then, through the mixture of relief and panic, I remembered VSO, something I’d thought about doing for years. I applied for a two year placement in Bangkok.

I was so excited, but when I arrived, seven months after I’d quit, I felt so alone and vulnerable. The enormity of quitting my job finally hit me and I had a crisis of confidence, a delayed grief for the life I’d left behind. I realised the big company had become a security blanket, it was completely bound up with my identity. Everything in my life had been built around what’s familiar, and in Thailand I was stripped bare and starting from scratch. For a while it was terrifying, I even started to lose my hair. But as I learnt more and started to cope, I discovered how to be myself amongst the people I was with and take pleasure from simple things. It was a life-changing experience that I’ve never regretted. It inspired me to start my own business when I got home, designing clothes made in Thailand. For the first time, I feel like I’m not squeezing myself into other people’s boxes and I can lead my life. Finally, I’ve found my vocation.’

'I walked away from my partner after 13 years'

Actress Sally Corbett, 40, felt stifled by her long-term relationship and ended up starting a new life on the other side of the world. She now lives in London with her partner Roli.

'Three years ago I was in a relationship that, to the outside world, looked fantastic. We were great friends, shared lots of interests and had supported each other through very difficult times, including my mother dying.

Then we started to drift apart. I became increasingly frustrated by his lack of adventure. I wanted to travel and have new experiences, and he was happy with his job, his friends, his life. He started doing his thing and I’d do mine; soon we were just passing each other in the corridor each day. In my heart I knew it wasn’t working, my stomach churned as I realised I just couldn’t go on living this way anymore. But despite my unhappiness, I couldn’t bring myself to leave.

There was definitely pressure from society to stay, powerful messages that you should get into and then stick in a relationship. Because people want to see you settled, and when you have been together for several years there are definitely assumptions that this is it. And you like that part of a relationship too; it’s good to say ‘we are the good couple, this is what we stand for, everything is alright.’ A long term relationship can be like a shield against the outside world, it protects you.'

I ended up curled up on the bathroom floor sobbing. That was the turning point; I just walked out – no discussion, no hesitation.

'Then one day, after we’d been together 13 years, we were watching a programme about intimacy in relationships and he brought up the fact that ours was by now non-existent. I ended up curled up on the bathroom floor sobbing. That was the turning point; I just walked out – no discussion, no hesitation.

I was petrified and confused as I packed my bags and loaded up my car, I didn’t even know where I was going. Stopping the car a few minutes later I sat on the side of the road and cried. I had nowhere to go. In the end I called a girl I used to work with me and moved in with her while I worked out my next move. It was hard being without Mark, we’d supported each other in so many ways, especially in the early days, and I missed him terribly after we’d shared so much. But I got myself through it by writing my plans and feelings in my journal, and I realised that what I really felt was relieved that I wasn’t a failing girlfriend anymore.

It was a difficult time. I’m adopted, and I’d just lost another part of my identity as someone’s partner. Gradually, I realised I felt liberated; I could be more authentic and honest. Eight months later I met Roli, when he was visiting Melbourne. We fell in love and I moved to the UK to be with him last year. If I hadn’t taken the step of quitting my relationship, I wouldn’t have rediscovered my sense of self. It gave me the confidence to make this fresh start.’

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