It’s not easy to admit that the time has come to move on from a job, especially if it’s one that you loved for the greater portion of your time there. It’s even more difficult to know what to do next.
Much like recognizing that a relationship has come to its end, recognizing when your job has run its course can be difficult. It can be fraught with stress, anger, bargaining and what-ifs. If only your boss had let you work on that project! If only the company had changed its strategic direction!
Endings are never easy, and they’re rarely pretty. As much as I recognized it was time for me to move on from my job last spring, the thought of actually acting on my desires was terrifying. Here’s how I approached the problem to finally reach a decision.
Firstly, I looked at my time as a resource and considered the returns on my current investment of my time. This requires believing – truly believing – that your time is valuable, and you have a right to decide what is done with it. (If you believe your time is valuable, you don’t believe things like “I can’t leave my job with the economy the way it is” or “There are thousands of people competing for the same position as me, why bother?”)
What was I getting out of spending most of my waking hours at this job? Did I feel I could be using my time more wisely on another project? Full-time employment is a significant investment of one’s time that should bring significant returns. If you start to feel that you aren’t getting those returns, for whatever reason, it’s time to invest that time somewhere else.
For me, the most difficult piece of my decision was figuring out what I wanted to be doing instead. People tend to fantasize about not doing the thing they’re presently tasked with, but they don’t think enough about what they’d rather be doing. Figuring out something more personally valuable that you could be doing is the first step to moving forward.
In my situation, I had several paths I wanted to explore (coding and entrepreneurship among them), but hadn’t fully committed to, and realized that I needed some time to test and develop those ideas and interests. If I didn’t free up my time first, my next step or project might never reveal itself.
At first, I succumbed to the pressure around me that if I didn’t want to be at my present place of employment, I had to find a job elsewhere before quitting. I think this is a poor assumption, and it’s why many people are stuck in jobs they don’t like but don’t take any steps to change their situation. They don’t know what they want next and they don’t have time to think about it.
I looked around at positions that were similar to my current position, but it didn’t feel like I would be growing if I repeated my job somewhere else. I had learned what I liked and didn’t like about my present job, and I needed to process those learnings before starting a new job. This is not unlike spending a period of time being single in between relationships.
If you have the resources to sustain you, there’s nothing wrong with quitting without having your next step planned. (If you don’t have those resources, make saving a priority until you get there. This was once described to me as “fuck you money”. I saved 1/3 of my income each month – the thought of buying myself freedom to chart my life’s path felt better than anything I could’ve spent it on.)
The most common question when you announce you’re leaving, of course, will be, “What will you be doing next?”. It’s uncomfortable to have to say “Errr….I don’t know”, but don’t mistake their curiosity for judgment or your discomfort for shame. Don’t find something you’re not happy with for the sake of being able to answer.
Finally, ask yourself what the absolute worst thing is that could happen if you left your job without a plan, and what you could do to fix that situation if need be. Chances are, you’ve been mistaking this extreme worst-case scenario for your actual future.
When I first considered leaving my job, my greatest fear was not being able to financially sustain myself. However, when I translated my savings into expenses, I realized I had enough saved up to support myself for awhile, and that that fear was irrational.
I was also afraid to be unemployed because it meant I would no longer know how to answer the ubiquitous cocktail party question, “So what do you do?” But I realized that fearing that question meant I was mixing up my self-worth and identity with my employment status. Employment itself does not create value. Meaningful work creates value. In my case, I was using full-time employment as a shield from figuring out what contributions I really wanted to be making to the world.
I finally faced my deepest fears head-on as an exercise in taking action and becoming tolerant with healthy risks. If I couldn’t take this very small risk at this stage in my life, I would be setting myself up for failure on bigger risks later in life.
The biggest fear you’ll have to face, though, is actually working up the courage to quit. I, or anyone else, can tell you how amazing everything’s going to be once you finally pull the plug, but that actual moment of telling your boss “I’m leaving” is going to be terrifying. No article you read can make it less terrifying. Your heart will pound, your stomach will turn, you will feel fear and doubt, you will second-guess your decision. But either you face those 10 minutes of awkward, difficult conversation, or you face 10 years of silently hating your job.
I could write a book on what happens the day after, but I’ll leave it at this. Once your time has been freed up again, use every day to the fullest. Get out there and meet people, try new things. The perfect opportunity isn’t going to drop into your lap. You make your own luck.