Should You Quit Your Job?

frustrated woman

The conversation started with another complaint: “I thought about crashing my car into the median today so I could go to the hospital instead of work.”  It was about the hundredth time I had bemoaned my job to my friends. This time they responded, “Seriously, you’ve been miserable forever.  Why are you still there?” and their question changed my life. 

I could not come up with a legitimate response as to why I had spent over a year with a company that left me unfulfilled, unsupported, and consuming unhealthy amounts of wine every night.

Obviously, my practical side had come up with a few reasons to stay. The economy was on the brink of a record-breaking nosedive. I didn’t have another job lined up. I was not independently wealthy nor did I have a stockpile of savings  I believed that responsible people didn’t just quit their jobs without another option waiting.

But, the next day, I did just that and it was one of the best career moves I have ever made.  In the words of Michelle Smoller, a young professional woman who did the same, “I just felt like there was something more out there for me. And I was right.”

Is my unconventional decision a good idea for others? Only you can know for sure, but before you write your resignation letter, consider these crucial factors.

Do it for the Right Reasons
Most people have had unpleasant jobs, so don’t give up just because you’re unhappy. Quitting should be an exception, not the rule, in your career; gaps on your resume are a red flag to employers. First try meeting with a career coach, talking to Human Resources, or transferring to another position at your company.

But there are situations in which quitting is the best move: for one, a hostile or toxic environment that is destroying your personal or professional life.  For me, my self-esteem was taking a monster blow on a daily basis, and my misery at work was causing strained relationships with my friends and fiancé.

Further, I was working so much that I had no time to look for other jobs. Some say that it’s easier to find a job when you have one, but I believe the opposite is true.  “Every second at my job was time that I wasn’t exploring other job options,” says Smoller. “People feel like it’s better to have any job than to have nothing.  But sometimes nothing is what you need in order to move ahead.”

Quitting may also be the right decision if your job is inhibiting you from pursuing your dreams, such as starting a new career path or founding a business.  Former management consultant, Nicole Chan, who left her job to pursue photography, says her turning point was envisioning her career five to 10 years into the future.  “It was definitely not the life I wanted to lead,” she says.  “I believe that people should follow their passions.”

Know Your Prospects
Before you quit, research your job prospects. I had met with recruiters and spotted many potential openings, so I felt confident.  But if there are thousands in your field who have been unemployed for six months or more, you may want to reconsider leaving right now.

If you’re planning to pursue a new field or start a business, don’t leave if you haven’t done your due diligence, cautions Smoller: “You can’t quit your job as a lawyer to become a writer without having written at all. Try to work on it while you’re still employed.” Chan agrees with testing the waters. “My side photography business was going pretty steadily, and I decided it was time to see how {my own} venture would go,” she says. “For me, it was a much less risky decision than it would be for someone else.”

Have a Sans-Paycheck Survival Strategy
Today, it’s not unusual for people to be out of a job for a year or more, so you must be aware of exactly how long you can live without a salary.  Remember that you may not be eligible for unemployment if you quit a job, and that your employer-sponsored health and dental benefits will expire. Be prepared to make major cuts, particularly in eating out, shopping, and travel.  Chan notes that while her old job was taxing, now she’s stressed on a different level. “I often think, ‘What am I going to do?’ I want to be able to buy things and not scrutinize every dollar. I freak out all the time.”

I had my financial bases covered: I was living with my fiancé, and we determined that I could be added to his health benefits and that we could live on his salary alone by cutting out all unnecessary dining out and shopping. Chan had two years of savings to live on, and was able to join her mother’s health care plan.

Make a Game Plan
If you’re burnt out, it’s OK to give yourself a little time to relax and reconnect with friends and family after quitting.  But it’s easy to sink into perpetual vacation mode, so buckle down quickly! Make a list of people who could help you and call them.  Set up informational interviews.  Commit to completing at least one action item—like applying to one job or contacting one potential client—every day.

You also need a plan for when your savings runs out. Can you freelance? Babysit? Wait tables? I took a writing class, and made plans to pursue freelance opportunities if I didn’t find a job within two months.  “If photography doesn’t work in two years, I’m going back to get my MBA,” says Chan, “I need a Plan B.”

Don’t Burn Your Bridges
As good as it would feel to reenact The Devil Wears Prada scene in which Anne Hathaway’s character chucks her phone with her boss still on the line, it’s a small world and you should try to leave on good terms. Address your reason for leaving professionally. Try starting the conversation with, “I’m leaving to pursue opportunities that I can’t pursue while working full time.”  Be sure to thank your boss for the opportunities you’ve received and to help transition your responsibilities.

My story of leaving a bad job ends well.  Two weeks after I resigned, I had two job interviews.  Two months later, after enjoying some much-needed time off, I had a new job that I am still happy with today.  For Smoller, Chan, and me, leaving a bad situation was the best way to improve our careers and pursue our dreams.  “It was so liberating,” says Smoller.  “We’re the only ones who can improve our own state of well being and make a change in our lives.”

The author, Adrian Granzella Larssen, is a contributing writer for Pretty Young Professional and a marketing communications expert and freelance writer and editor.  Adrian can be followed on Twitter @adriangranzella

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