Quitting a job is a big decision. During the past twenty years, I have quit six jobs. The reasons varied, and included (in no particular order):
- Being seriously underpaid given the amount of grant funding I secured for the organization
- A truly awful boss
- No longer connecting with the organization’s mission
- A change in management
- Being passed over for a promotion, effectively cutting off any chance of upward movement
- No longer feeling challenged by the work.
Almost without exception, the first time the desire to quit surfaced it was a very loud, make-this-happen-now emotion, accompanied by dreams of charging into the director’s office and slamming my resignation on his or her desk before storming out a la Julia Sugarbaker from Designing Women.
I never acted on these desires, instead taking the find-a-new-job, give-two-weeks-notice, no-burned-bridges approach to departing a position. Why? When I was younger and/or living paycheck to paycheck, fear of not having an income kept me from quitting before I had something else lined up.
Now that I am older and have enough in savings to carry the bills for a few months, I have a different reason for not acting out my daydreams: I think it is a really bad approach to managing my career. Now, it isn’t fear that keeps me from acting but perspective.
Sometimes, Work Sucks
I took a supervisor training a few years ago and one of the facilitators said something that I thought was absolutely profound: “You can have a job about which you love everything, or you can have the job you have now.” I think this statement stuck with me for several reasons.
You can have a job about which you love everything, or you can have the job you have now.
First, it takes the possibility that everything about a current position is going to be roses and sunshine off the table. Hopefully, there is more good than bad but if you go to work expecting every task to be meaningful then disappointment and frustration will inevitably follow.
Dealing with a co-worker that doesn’t carry his weight but has a knack for being in the right place to get plum assignments will always suck. Spending days preparing a report that either doesn’t get read or someone else gets credit for will always suck. And filling out time sheets and travel vouchers will most certainly always suck.
The trick is to not make everything suck more than it has to. How? In my experience, the solution is to figure out an approach to both the good and the mind-numbing tasks that works for you.
For the better tasks, do a kick-ass job and make yourself the go-to person for that work. For the rest, create a system that will get you through. Perhaps—and I am not admitting to ever having done this—you reward yourself for 45 minutes of focused effort on the task with 15 minutes of looking at cute cat memes.
What have I found to never work? Relying on others to fix things for me. There is no one in my workplace as invested in my career as I am. Hopefully, they aren’t out to undermine or sabotage me, and are genuinely happy for me when I succeed, but the truth is that I am the one who needs to figure out how to make it work.
This leads me to the second aspect of the above advice that I found profound: the responsibility for finding that perfect job about which I love everything is on me.
While employers have a vested interest in ensuring their employees are engaged and talent is recognized and developed, the reality is that funding was allocated to the specific position you occupy because there were certain tasks the employer needed completed. That you have mastered these tasks doesn’t change the fact that those tasks need to be accomplished and the salary you are being paid was allocated to pay for someone to do those tasks.
You may be able to go to your boss and, because you are now able to get your tasks done in less time, ask for additional tasks, or arrange for cross-training for another job, but in either case you will still need to do those original tasks (for some good examples of finding opportunities to grow within a position, see Jenny Blake’s Pivot).
Getting upset about it, or feeling insulted because the tasks aren’t reassigned to someone else, is about as useful as howling at the moon.
I Want to be in the Driver’s Seat When It Comes to My Career
An even more important reason for not impulsively leaving a job is that it’s really hard to be moving toward something when you are fleeing something else. Continuing to work in a position you no longer want to be in while you search for a new job may be about as much fun as a root canal but it does gives you options.
For example, you don’t have to take the first thing that comes along because you still have a paycheck (and health insurance). When you do find the right thing, you may be able to leverage your current position to negotiate with your new employer regarding everything from salary to a start date (I don’t know about you, but it seems that the only time I take more than a week off is when I am switching employers).
Current employment also increases your attractiveness to future employers. In a recent survey, 4 out of 5 (80%) human resource professionals reported a belief that job seekers who are currently employed but open to switching jobs “become the most effective employees.” Have you ever known someone who, within months of finally getting a job after a long period of unemployment, suddenly gets multiple offers? I sure have. I am not saying it is fair but it is a thing.
Let Your Brain Have Some Say
If your work environment is truly that toxic, and you feel that even waiting a few months to find something new is a few months too long, then don’t let my advice keep you there longer than you have to be there. Sometimes, your gut has information your brain doesn’t (which is why my brain has a healthy respect for my gut).
But do let your brain weigh in on the situation. It may have insight into how changing your perspective can make something tolerable for a few more months while you find your next gig. Many times, I have found just knowing that the end is near made a difference in my ability to stay on (a light at the end of a tunnel and all that).
What Factors Have You Considered In Quitting a Job?
I would love to hear your thoughts on how you made a job work—at least for a little while. Let me know in the comment section.
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