Deciding when it's time to quit your job can provoke anxiety in anyone. If you are like a number of people I have talked to over the past few years, you might have already been agonizing over this very question for a very long time while dragging yourself to work every single day, increasingly wishing you could be anywhere else.
There are many reasons you might be considering leaving your job. Here are some of the most common I hear from career changers:
- You feel bored and underchallenged
- You are doing work that is ill suited for your skills, interests or aptitude. You might for example be doing detailed work even though you are a big-picture thinker, or you might be stuck performing routine tasks when you crave creativity
- You want to live somewhere else - a different city or maybe even a different country
- You don't see a way to be promoted or increase your salary or gain more skills
- Your current work environment is not a good fit for you. You love sunlight but there is none at your workplace, you are highly affected by noise and you spend your day in a busy open-space office, you thought you'd love working remotely, but find it lonely...
- The relationships you have with your boss and/or colleagues are not the kind of relationships you seek. They are not "toxic" and everyone is cool, but you might be someone who loves to bring his whole self to work only to be in an office where most people avoid discussing non-office related topics, or you might prize your privacy while most on your team love to hang out together after work, etc.
- Your work life balance is non-existent. You crave time for yourself or your family and friends - soon you will hit burn out!
- You are underpaid. The stress of making ends meet is starting to seriously outweigh the passion that made you pursue this job or career in the first place. Sometimes you even feel resentful.
- The people dynamics at work are downright toxic and your psychological and/or physical health are starting to suffer because of it: you are experiencing anxiety for the first time ever in a professional setting, or you find yourself crying unexpectedly during your commute, or your chronic pain is getting worse and worse...
- Your work environment is literally toxic - large US corporations are notoriously bad when it comes to safeguarding the health and safety of their employees.
- The work you do is not aligned with your values. There is a spectrum here, from not feeling excited about the company's mission, all the way to thinking you are working on something unethical or bad for society. You don't feel good about what you do, you might even feel ashamed of your job, dreading to be asked the infamous, "what do you do" question.
On top of that, quitting your job can feel terrifying. Here are some fears people often mention during our work together:
- Fear of losing health coverage
- Fear of unemployment
- Fear of landing in another equally bad position (or worse)
- Fear that there are no good teams/companies/jobs out there
- Fear of losing the perks/benefits/flexibility you already have - you still remember working under much worse conditions in the past!
- A secret fear that deep down you are at fault: if you only knew how to handle yourself better, if you could be more positive, ... it really scares you to think that maybe you are the problem, not the job!
Sometimes there is also a different reason you don't feel like you can leave...do you want to work for yourself instead of having a job, but feel too scared to be a business owner? That fear migtht keep you stuck between the job you have now and taking the leap, not motivated enough to look for another position, but too scared to leave, effectively keeping you in "employment limbo".
So how do you know when to "feel the fear and do it anyway" vs. when to heed your fear's warning to slow down and take some time before calling it quits? How do you know when it's the right time to leave?
If you feel stuck and wondering whether it's time to quit your job, life can be miserable at work. What once was a passing negative thought can become incessant inner negative talk, any less than pleasant interaction at work can fuel your resentment, and your self esteem can take a dive.
So, what can you do? And when is it the right time to quit your job?
Beware of anyone who gives you an easy, black and white answer. Pundits love to say there is just ONE answer and that they have it! What you need is not someone's cookie-cutter approach, but a way to find your own answer to the question of when it is time to quit your job, along with some steps on how to go about it. Here's what I suggest, based on the many, many stories I have heard from career changers who were once stuck in a job, career or business that did not work for them.
1. (Re)connect with your Self
Develop a practice to tune into your mind and body such as meditation, mindfulness, yoga, walking in nature, etc. You need to have a daily practice (it can be as little as 5 min to start) to center yourself and unplug from your fear and negativity, even if just for a few moments. Too much fear is never helpful in thinking clearly.
2. Don't believe everything you think
Be clear what is real and what is in your head. For example: needing to be able to pay for health insurance is real, having to pay rent is real. The thought that there are "no good jobs" out there...not real. You need only one job that is good enough for you. Separate fact from belief.
3. Acknowledge your trauma
Sometimes you need to work on much deeper pain before you can move forward. If you have suffered from child abuse, have experienced traumatic events, etc, consider working with a therapist. You don't need to heal 100% to quit your job, but having that kind of support and addressing deep seated hurt will help you take the next step. Sometimes my clients work with a therapist at the same time as they work with me, and their tranformation gets super charged.
4. Start sooner rather than later
Don't wait until you feel really bad before looking for a new job. The earlier you start networking and looking for a new position, the easier it will be for you to leave when you choose to. Finding a new job can take a few weeks or over a year, so don't wait! It's always better to be offered a job too soon and to say No than to feel rushed and anxious because you really want to leave, but have no choice other than to stay or be unemployed.
If you desire to be a business owner or freelancer and feel stuck between staying put or going broke, break the stalemate by building a side hustle. If that is not possible for you (for contract, health or family reasons), you can also look for a job that will give you a lot more freedom - these positions do exist. Or you can explore finding a part time freelance gig to get the minumum amount of money you need in order to quit your job without feeling too scared. And then you can work on increasing your income by doing what you love.
5. Get in action
Approach any real concern in a practical manner: if health coverage is what you need, research your options before quitting or commit not to quit your current job until you have a new job with the health care benefits you need. Get in action: research, ask for advice, dig into companies and positions. Fear loves inaction: your stuckness is like a superfood to your fear! Often taking any action, even just looking for alternative options, can relieve you of the paralyzing dread you feel.
6. Honor your Self
Commit to only saying Yes to a job that is a good fit for you. Starting your search early will put you in the driver's seat - and give you more time and confidence to find the right position. Remind yourself of how lucky you are to be able to look for a job while you have a job.
7. Get the help you need
If all of the above feels daunting, consider working with a coach to overcome limiting beliefs and gain effective tools and processes to take action. I practice deep, transformational coaching and also provide my clients with action-oriented tools that work in the real world.
If you like what you have read so far, but have no idea what you want to do, I invite you to schedule a call. I focus on working with career changers who do not know what they want to do next. It's a deep process that addresses both the inner game of finding what you love to do and the practical tools needed to pursue what you want. 2-3 times per year I also host a Group Program to Change Careers - you can join the waiting list to be the first to know when the next group is announced.
When is it time to quit your job?
I rarely talk to people who regret leaving their job or wish they had stayed longer. Most employees wait way too long before leaving. If you are lucky, staying longer than needed will "only" result in a few extra months of boredom and negativity, but if you are in a toxic workplace, the longer you wait, the bigger the risk that your mental health will be affected. PTSD-like symptoms are now starting to be openly acknowledged as a real consequence of being in an abusive or triggering work environment long enough. And the WHO recently listed burn out as an official occupational phenomenon.
You need to take your needs and your wellbeing seriously. It is way easier to find a new job or start a new business when you are feeling well or at least not too bad, rather than after months or years of feeling undervalued and/or being mistreated at work.
The best time to quit your job might be after you get a new job, when your side hustle is strong enough to support your basic needs, after you build a business, or even when nothing is yet ready, but you know that staying at your current position will hurt you more than quitting without a safety net.
You have to develop the skill to know for yourself when it's time to quit your job. I work with all my clients on this, I never tell a career changer what they should do, or when. One of the most important skills to develop in life is to learn how to trust yourself. What will it take you to trust your Self enough to know when it's time to quit your job?