quit job negative reactions how to deal

How to Deal with Negative Reactions to Quitting a Job or Career for Something Less Prestigious

Thinking About Changing Careers for Something Less Prestigious? Two Common Reactions & What to Do.

In a recent post, I wrote about working a part-time job at a boutique fitness studio (a fancy code word for a gym that charges a ton of money for one exercise class) after leaving the law. I left my Biglaw job with some savings but without a set plan as to what I was going to do next. I just knew it wasn’t working at a law firm.

After a few months of unemployment during which I decided I was going to try my hand at writing for a new career, I also decided to try something totally different to supplement my savings with some income: working at a gym.  It’s been about a year since I started working at the gym and I’m still there and, most importantly, I’m still really enjoying it!

As I briefly mentioned in that post, when I took the gym job, I was concerned about what others would think of me for working for minimum wage at the same place I used to pay tons of money to go to when I was making a six-figure salary.

Here I was, again, preoccupied with what others were going to think of me. Because of this, I didn’t really tell anyone what I was doing. Slowly, I started to mention it to friends, including friends that were former co-workers. I assume by now that I’ve either told everyone I know or everyone just sort of knows that working at the gym is what I do a few days a week.

Turns out, me working at the gym wasn’t a big deal and my closest friends didn’t care. But, not all the reactions I got were positive. The reactions I got from those in my general circle but with whom I’m not super close were actually quite mixed.

Unlike the initial reactions I got when I left my firm (which I wrote all about here and which were overwhelmingly positive), I got some negative responses. The two biggest negative reactions I repeatedly get when people in my old world find out about my new world are: (1) shock and surprise (not in a good way) and (2) “concern” that I’m not using my brain anymore.

Shock & Surprise: You Quit Your Biglaw Job and Now You Work Where?

Ok, this reaction is one that basically everyone has. It’s not the reaction itself but rather for how long the initial shock and surprise lingers that indicates to me whether the reaction is positive or negative. If the person immediately shifts to saying something like “cool, that sounds fun!” or “that’s different, what’s it like?” then I feel positive vibes.

It’s when the shock and surprise don’t go away that it feels a bit negative. They ask if I’m being serious. They make me tell them multiple times that I am, in fact, working where I said I was. They’ll likely ask me again when I see them next. “You still working at that gym?” they’ll say with a concerned look on their face. Yes, yes I am! Next question?

“Concern” That I’m No Longer “Using My Brain” Now That I’ve Left Biglaw

The second reaction is one of deep, deep “concern.” People who knew me in my past legal life desperately need to know “how am I challenging myself intellectually?” How am I possibly using my brain still? Aren’t I bored?

To this, my response is simple: when did we decide that the only way someone can use his or her brain is at a corporate job?


Before I talk about all the ways I’m intellectually engaged that don’t involve working at a job at all, I’d like to point out that I do, in fact, use my brain at my job. It’s a shame that many people assume that jobs that don’t necessarily require college degrees, like working at a gym or bartending, don’t require a person to use his or her brain to work at those jobs.

When I’m working at the gym, I’m constantly on my toes, trying to juggle a ton of things at once and managing occasionally difficult customers. Are the stakes super high? No, but it’s important that I do my best and doing my best involves firing on all cylinders and problem solving, just like you would do in any job.

A Side Note: Some Proof that I’m Still Using My Brain.

Not that it matters, but if you are wondering for yourself how you would be using that brain of yours after leaving a traditional job, I wanted to give some examples of things that I do now to fill up my time that I consider mentally challenging. Most of these I didn’t have time to do when I was filling my brain up only with law stuff, so it’s been super fun to get back to doing things that truly interest me!

  • Reading whatever I want, whether it is a biography, a historical fiction novel or a non-fiction self-development or business book, whenever I want;
  • “Travel hacking” – researching points, miles, credit cards and strategies to come up with plans on how to maximize my spending and earning to get free future travel;
  • Learning how to run a blog and business, which includes:
    • SEO, marketing, and a little bit of basic coding to keep this site up and running;
    • More creative things, like using Canva and photoshop for images and Pinterest and Twitter for marketing and communication;
  • Educating myself on the democratic presidential candidates and their plans;
  • Reading books in Spanish to spruce up my vocabulary; and
  • Writing! In addition to this blog, writing freelance articles on finance and travel.

Lots of these things that I do to keep my mind engaged mirror things I used to love to do in school – reading, writing and discussing what I learned afterward. I’m also finding it easier to concentrate and do “deep work” like I used to do in school because I’m focusing on things I really want to be learning about.

I hope this gives anyone who is hesitating about leaving a job some reassurance that there are SO MANY things (including other jobs) out there that keep you challenged and engaged that aren’t your current job.

What Can You Do If You’re Worried About What Others Are Going to Think About Your Career Change If It’s a “Downgrade”?

My point of this post was to show you that you will, undoubtedly, get some negative reactions to your career shift. I also wanted to show that you shouldn’t doubt yourself and let those possible negative reactions prevent you from doing what you want to do. There’s nothing you can do to stop other people’s reactions to something you choose to do.

If you’re contemplating making a change and you’re worried about what others are going to think, the best thing is not to worry about those opinions and do it anyway!  Unfortunately, that’s easier said than done. We are all, to some extent, conditioned to care what others think about us.

So, what can you do? Prepare yourself for some negative reactions like the ones I repeatedly get and trust that it will get easier to deal with the negativity as time goes on. You’ll be less and less bothered by them (to the point, hopefully, where you truly don’t care at all!).

Don’t let what others might say about your decision prevent from leaving something you’re unhappy at. Trust me, you’ll find other ways to both occupy your time and your mind and make money, too.

Have you run across any of these reactions in your own life?  How did they make you feel?  Have you let the opinions of others stop you from taking the next step in the past?

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  1. Steveark says:

    I have not gotten any of that negative feedback but mainly because I tell people I consult for large corporations, so it doesn’t sound like I gave up or failed at my career. If anything, my other retired friends sound envious when they ask me how I set my business up. Both the consulting and my nonprofit volunteering are high profile and get me quoted in the news enough that my public persona hasn’t changed much. I kind of enjoy people not knowing what I really do but assuming it must be important. Of course as a registered lobbyist I’ve always been good at spinning things. On the other hand my retired boss likes selling high dollar mens apparel at a department store and he could care less what people think, he’s more like you. I’m definitely too vain for my own good.

    • admin says:

      Sounds like you have a ton on your plate, even though you say you are “retired”! It’s inspiring and yet another example of all of the many things out there that we can do, whether it’s consulting and volunteering like you or working at a department store like your boss. No matter what, as long as it makes you happy and fulfilled, I say go for it!

  2. Lauren says:

    Thanks for this, Marissa! I just left my law firm and quickly learned that it was important to me to have a thoughtful response to others’ concern that my brain would waste away if I wasn’t in private practice. I love the list of things you’re doing to challenge yourself that you didn’t have time to do while a lawyer! It’s inspired me to write down my list 🙂

    • admin says:

      Hi, Lauren! Thanks for sharing your experience. It was smart of you to have that response at the ready – I had trouble articulating it for a while which I think made things worse when people would inquire about what I was up to. I’m glad the post resonated with you and inspired you to write your own list. I bet it’s long 🙂

  3. Regarding using your brain, I’d say I was wasting a lot of my intellectual potential sitting at a desk for 40 hours after I’d finished the billable work in 8. Professional office jobs get a lot of respect without questioning what the person is actually doing in that office. Many of my former coworkers had to sit still until the clock hit 40 hours so we’d keep our jobs and benefits.

    • admin says:

      Hi Kim! Thanks for offering your perspective. Your engineering work wold sounds very different from the legal world, where we are not expected to be at our desk for a specific amount of hours – if you are not actively billing to a client matter at a law firm, the time you spend at your desk essentially does not count, so it does not make much sense to sit there for 40 hours if you are only getting credit for 8. It’s interesting how different industries function and track the productivity of their employees.

  4. LOVE this! I had to take some time off during law school and was terrified of what people would say or think. I also had a roommate who pretty much ran the rumor mill so word got around pretty quickly. Once I got back though, people eventually got over it. Pushing away “what will people think!?” isn’t always easy, but doing what is right for you should always come first.

    • admin says:

      It’s one of the hardest things to do! Especially because people do sometimes comment (like in your case) and seem to care – what has helped me is to realize that, when that happens, it’s not because they really “care” about you, but rather because they are nosy or somehow bored with their own lives. I’m glad you were brave enough to take the time off that you needed.

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