“If you dread going to work every day, if you feel physically or mentally unsafe at work, if you spend more time thinking about your boss than your work, if stress from work permeates the rest of your life, if your self-esteem has plummeted, it’s time to go… You must give yourself permission to make a career change — to let go of hope that things will get better, and to overcome the fear of quitting.” –Mary Abbajay for Harvard Business Review
Woah. So you’ve got a deal breaker on your hands? Just to be sure, you did all the preliminary work first, right?
- You determined your primary job function?
- You determined exactly what isn’t working?
- You got perspective?
- You identified what type of problem(s) you had and tried to solve it or work with it?
So you did all the above and concluded all/any of the following..?
- The benefits of this job are outweighed by the challenges and I cannot work with or solve the challenges I’m experiencing (which I know because I have tried).
- The main benefits of this job do not align with my chosen primary functions for working.
- If I continue working as I am, it will be “fine,” and, I believe more is possible.
Alright. Well, you’ve done the important groundwork that will help you prevent being in a similar situation in the next job! Congratulations! Now it’s time for a whole new endeavor… quitting and transitioning.
Why People Quit
People quit for a variety of reasons. Few sources disagree on the specific order, which is probably due to measuring different populations during times of high economic variability. That being said, a few of the most common reasons are compensation, relationships with the boss or coworkers, and a lack of growth opportunities.
Quitting Your Job and Transitioning
Quitting your job can be a scary process. There are all sorts of fears that we may allow to prevent us from pursuing what we actually want. Let’s take the mystery out of the process.
*Note: The following guide is intended for career-type jobs. It is most relevant to jobs we’ve invested a lot of time, energy, and heart into. It may not be entirely applicable to work that functions as a side-gig, work you’re doing in an exploratory phase, or work you’re doing to get fundamental needs met. (Think working at a restaurant while you get through school or walking dogs to make extra cash). However, if you are in a position like these and want to quit, the guide can provide some helpful pointers anyway!
Quitting and transitioning, when done super effectively, are all mixed together. The process isn’t usually as simple as “Quit, then get a new job.” There are several parts that may be happening concurrently when you choose to put yourself in the best position possible:
The point of this page, “Quit and Transition,” details 6 practical steps of quitting your current job and transitioning to a new one:
Quitting to Pursue Passion
In this article from the New York Times, Richard Klein left his job as a Hebrew teacher to become a Bollywood actor in India. His life in California had all the trappings of modern satisfaction, but he wanted to pursue a passion. He moved to Mumbai and broke into the industry. He believes that being in India gives him the opportunity to express his full potential. He offers this advice, “Dream a big dream, then figure out what all the little incremental steps are to get there, and hit those steps one by one. There are always obstacles. Loved ones can be an obstacle, money can be an obstacle. It’s not easy. There’s lots of sacrifice involved, but you can dream a big dream and make it come true.”
Quitting to Avoid Burnout
This article from The Guardian features several people who quit their jobs primarily due to burn out. Spencer Carter was an operations manager at a global company who was stressed by how much responsibility he had and the endless pressures at work. He confesses, “I was drinking heavily. I could feel my relationship falling apart. My behaviour became erratic. And you can’t turn off. You take a holiday, but you don’t switch off.” He struggled to decide to quit because his career paid so well, but eventually decided to take a severance package and get back into a youthful passion of his: archaeology. He has now become a specialist and believes that changing his career may have saved his life.
When Quitting Didn’t Go As Planned
This feature from CareerShifters.com shares the challenges facing a man named Rob who wrote to the site seeking advice. He explains that his job is secure and he’s competent at it, but it’s boring and stressful. While he wants more creative and meaningful work, Rob is afraid to quit and transition careers because he did so in the past and it didn’t work out. He spent a lot of money and time becoming an interior architect and discovered it wasn’t as creative as he hoped it would be, and began working in IT to hold him over.
It’s possible that Rob didn’t do enough groundwork to understand what the job he was transitioning to would actually be like. Read up on how to prevent this for yourself in transitioning step 4: Researching and learning as much as possible about your options.
Mentally Preparing for the Change
To mentally prepare for changing your job, it’s important to address your fears and familiarize yourself with the way a transition can feel.
While you can take a deep dive into the fears that are holding you back from pursuing your purpose overall here, a common layer of the fear to quit can show up as, “I failed.” If this is you, you easily interpret the need to leave your job as not having done enough or not having made better decisions (either while there or the choice to be there to begin with). Maybe you feel like you failed at choosing the ‘right’ thing to pursue, or you feel you failed at overcoming your personal challenges in order to make this particular job work. Maybe you think you invested too much time and it’s so late that quitting feels like resigning yourself to a second-rate version of your dream, or that you wish you’d have figured all this out earlier and found the thing you love.
Even if this doesn’t sound like you but you still have some reservations around quitting, you don’t have to despair eternally. Reframing our concerns around change or the process of change can empower you to move forward with grace and confidence. Consider that careers are not linear and changes and failure are part of the growth process.
From This Is A Book, by Demetri Martin
An interesting life will have many twists and turns and a changing and morphing career can be an adventure that takes you places you never imagined you’d end up. Giving yourself permission to change your mind and walk down new paths invites growth.
And failure itself is a key ingredient in growth! It enables us to learn and develop. And don’t be too quick to interpret the word “failure” super negatively- we’re using it here to indicate any experience within the range of, “this didn’t work out quite how I wanted” to “I monumentally messed this up.” Any experience along this spectrum has the potential to teach you something valuable. This article showcases an endearing vignette of the author’s father who is committed to water-skiing. His dad would water-ski every summer and teach those he brought on the trips. His main offering to his students was, “If you don’t fall you’re not trying.”
“Failure is success in progress.” – Albert Einstein
Once you’ve decided you’re ready for growth you can take the plunge into your next adventure. While going in blind could be exciting, having some semblance of what to expect can buttress our resilience and chances for success. The Modern Elder Academy (an organization dedicated to midlife transitions co-founded by Chip Conley) does a wonderful job of illustrating the nature of transition in their piece, “The Anatomy of Transition” (which you can download for free from their website).
They explain that there are three phases to transitions: the ending, the messy middle, and the beginning.
The Ending: Transitions begin with the ending of something. The ending is a jumble of changes, denial, and emotions.
The Messy Middle: The space inbetween what was and what will be, the messy middle is a period of moving from a world you knew how to navigate to one in which the rules of operation may be foreign to you. Then you harness curiosity to discover something that will pull you into your new self.
The Beginning: When you re-establish yourself, take action, and continue learning.
They also emphasize the difference between a change and a transition. Change is a circumstantial event, external event like changing your job, moving, or starting a new relationship. Transition, on the other hand, is a psychological and spiritual process of consciously changing your perspective or behavior. Transition involves intentional growth.
Financially Preparing for the Change
Depending on your approach to career transition, you may need to save a few bucks. Roughly three-six months of living expenses. This cushion gives you time and peace of mind to invest in yourself, take time to learn about your options, and experiment more broadly.
If this doesn’t feel feasible, you could also begin the researching and experimenting process while you are at your current job. It could be something done on the side or you could request to reduce your hours to invest more time in your new pursuit. You could even take an intermediary job that has a flexible schedule and decent pay that enables you to direct your energy elsewhere.
In each scenario it is probably still advisable to pad your savings at least a bit. A bit of padding can help you feel safer to take risks that will help you learn and can soften the landing if your initial plans don’t work out.
Check out our resources section on Money to find financial advice (and learn about your relationship with money in that section!)
Reflecting On and Choosing What You Want
Knowing what you want to do is key to success here. Since we’re talking about your job, the first move is to decide what function you want your job to serve in your life (which, if you’re reading this section, you should’ve done already…). Knowing the function of your job will determine what you look for.
And, it is still wonderful to maximize joy and fulfillment at work even if they aren’t your first priority! Remember that a sense of purpose at work is the most effective way to feel satisfied with your job! Doing the exercises in the Clarify section of Purpose will aid you in uncovering what is holding you back, what you enjoy, what you’re good at, what you’re interested in, and the kind of impact you want to make.
Additionally, author Annie Duke advises audiences to come up with what she calls “kill criteria” before they start a new job in her book, “Quit: The Power of Knowing When to Walk Away.” It’s like setting up an automatic trigger for yourself in the next job, so you can connect to what’s important to you without getting lost in the weeds by being immersed in the job itself.
“Don’t trust yourself to do it in the moment. Ask yourself: what are the signals I could see in the future that would tell me that it’s time to quit? If I’m entering a marathon, I could make a commitment in advance that if the medical tent at any time advises me that I need to quit, I need to walk away. An example from a job would be: If you’re unhappy, ask yourself, “How long am I okay being unhappy like this?” Maybe you give it three more months. Then think about: What are the signals that would tell me that things are good? What are the things that would tell me that I’m still unhappy?” – Annie Duke for The New York Times, 2022
To complement your insight on what you DO want, making “kill criteria” to help you navigate what you don’t want will support you in your pursuit of greater satisfaction.
*Note: Beware of career aptitude tests or any book/system that admonishes you to “do what you are” (see also: “Sparked”). While they can be helpful in providing some insight, career aptitude tests also have the potential to pigeon-hole you and limit what you think is possible. If you’re excited to explore them there is a list here; and, be cautious to take your results with a grain of salt. Combining these tests with thorough introspection (as well as growth and develop mindsets) will be more useful than taking the tests alone.
Researching and Learning as Much as Possible About Your Options
Education and experimentation is key to stepping into a new job. Jumping into a totally new position without doing the legwork can leave us feeling disillusioned and disappointed when we start the daily grind and it’s not what we imagined it would be. Save yourself the trouble and learn as much as you can before you take the leap. Here are some suggestions on how to approach the learning process:
- Shadow the position or volunteer in the industry to get a better understanding of the details.
- Take a side gig or temp assignment doing the job or assisting someone with the job you want.
- Research your options online and read a bunch of books on what you’re interested in.
- Do a hardcore informational interview with someone who has the job you want. Ask them specifically about the uglier sides of the work to enable a better assessment of the challenges you’d be willing to work with.
- Get a job working for someone doing what you love before you try to do the actual thing.
- Take a class about the job you’re interested in. Online or in person.
Informing Your Boss and Giving Notice
Telling the folks you’re headed out is often the event we associate most with quitting when it may qualify as one of the smaller steps in the process. Sure, it might take courage and gumption and therefore appear as the largest hurdle– and, it is only one part of a larger process.
This article from the Wall Street Journal offers shrewd advice on how to give notice at your job if you’re looking for more guidance. They encourage you to leave on good terms (for the sake of your long-term career), resign in-person, and avoid airing your grievances as you exit.
Don’t forget the power of people and community in your transition process. Maintaining positive relationships with your current co-workers and building a network of new relationships will support your journey.
Before you jump ship (ideally way before) make a thorough list of all the people and places you could possibly work for if your initial plan doesn’t work out. Then reach out to these people and form relationships. While you don’t have to be best friends, you can ask them how their work is going (or simply their lives), offer them an idea you had that could benefit them, or send them something that makes you think of them. You can also tell them about your future ambitions and perhaps they will get on board to support you somehow.
Try This: Make a Transition Plan
Being intentional about our exit plan can set us up for greater success and more ease. If you’ve decided it’s time to move on from your current gig, this guide will help you plan out all the steps to make that happen in the smoothest and most informed way possible by walking you through the five steps of job transitioning.
In Closing: Prioritize Purpose for a Satisfying Job
Hopefully it was clear from these passages on job satisfaction that your job doesn’t have to be your purpose for you to be satisfied with it. That being said, prioritizing purpose will make a huge difference in your job satisfaction. Understanding what is meaningful to you and the type of impact you are inclined towards in your life will elucidate pathways at work that can be both fulfilling AND pay the bills. Continuing on through the purpose section to excavate what’s holding you back from purpose (the Hindrances), clarify your values, interests, and desires, and learn how to take action towards these things will help you on your ideal job journey, too!
Closing and Summary
Dang. Who knew re-imagining our careers could be such an epic journey? Hopefully you’ve come through these pages with a more refined sense of what you want from your job, how purpose plays into it, and the next steps you want to take.
A brief review of the main points from the “Should You Quit?” pages:
- Up and quitting our jobs without deeply understanding what isn’t working or without trying to address the issue(s) can lead us to repeat similar patterns at future jobs. Sometimes quitting isn’t the answer to our problems at all.
- Dissatisfaction at work is influenced by personal and cultural variables. Culturally we may have high expectations of the functions our jobs serve in our lives, have so many options it makes it hard to be happy with what we do choose, and we often tie our identity up with our work to the point of detriment.
- To assess what isn’t working we can gauge our job satisfaction along a spectrum of variables on the Job Satisfaction Wheel.
- The most important step to take in designing a satisfying job is to decide what function it serves in your life. Is the job primarily for compensation? Is it for meaning? Are there a few functions at the top?
- Once the function is defined you can address the sources of dissatisfaction by rounding out the particulars of what isn’t working, then determining if the problem is solvable, workable, or a dealbreaker.
- Once you’ve tried to solve or work with an issue and are 100% confident it is a dealbreaker it is time to quit and transition.
- Setting yourself up for a graceful transition can take quite a bit of work and energy, and it is entirely worth it! It involves research and experimentation, financial preparation, mental/emotional preparation, and courage.