The first time I quit my job, I remember seeing an interesting look in a colleague’s eyes. It was perhaps admiration tinged with a bit of envy — watching a friend leave for a presumably better place, while you struggled with thoughts of leaving you hadn’t acted on.
Over the following 12 years, I’ve frequently pondered about job farewells. I’ve thought about that look I remember, watching colleagues leave themselves, and my own feelings whenever I realized it was time to go. Since then, I’ve said goodbye another two times — all three departures to take on new adventures in different fields.
When do you know you should quit your job? Nobody believes in lifetime employment anymore, and most millennials only average <3 years per role — so it’s worth thinking about. I threw a similar question to Twitter recently, and was blown away by the responses.
I’ve never had so many interesting responses to a tweet — even in tweets that were shared thousands of times. It’s apparent how we all feel strongly about our jobs, especially the jobs we leave. But even for jobs we stay in, I’ll bet most of us have at some point thought of saying “Fuck it” and leaving.
Yes, this is partly bad bosses and toxic work environments. But I also know people with good bosses and great jobs who think about quitting. I’ve been in that position myself. Is it always shitty companies pushing people away?
No, I’ll argue the desire to quit your job is actually normal. But why?
More importantly — what do you do about it?
Everybody Wants Freedom
There’s this template of how society expects your life to be. I think you’ll recognize it:
- Go to school and take exams
- Go to university and try to graduate
- Get a good, stable job
- Get married and have kids
- Retire and guide your kids to repeat the cycle
It’s a “safe,” structured way of doing things. Your parents probably want it for you because it supposedly protects you from risk.
But there’s a flip side to structure. Sir Isaac Newton wrote that every action leads to an equal and opposite reaction. And the opposite reaction to structure is the desire for freedom.
How many times have we questioned why we need to wake up early every Monday and be at our laptops by 9 a.m.? (Repeat for 40 years till you retire or die.) Why can’t work be flexible — people can log on whenever they want, as long as the job gets done?
It’s not that structured plans are bad. But living according to someone else’s plan — rules we don’t 100% agree with — makes us wanna break free. The more we don’t agree with, the greater our desire to leave.
Because deep in our hearts, we all wanna be our own person.
Dealing With Feeling Trapped
So now you’re in this weird, tense situation where you feel trapped by someone else’s plan, but still need to follow the rules or go broke. Welcome to adulthood.
This leads to all kinds of interesting reactions. You know your long-lost cousin desperately tryna recruit you for his shady MLM? I bet you he doesn’t like selling diamond memberships to the “business model of the future” either. He does it because he wants to earn enough “passive income” to quit a job he hates.
That’s one way of approaching the problem.
Another is distracting yourself with personal projects in the evenings and weekends. Sacrifice during the 45 hour-workweek so you can enjoy the other times.
But the most interesting way is facing this question head on and trying to answer it: “What do I really want for my career?”
Otherwise you risk waking up one day, realize you’re already 49, and wonder WTF did you do with your youth?
What do you really want? Just thinking about it isn’t enough. To really find out, you’ll have to explore.
Choose Your Own Career Adventure
A good start is asking advice from people who have more experience than you, from a wide variety of fields. Like if you’re thinking of starting your own business, try speaking to a few entrepreneurs. In my case, I only started seriously job-hunting when an ex-mentor asked me: “Know what you’ll be like in five years? Look at someone who’s spent five years in this company.”
Another thing that’s probably not done enough is speaking directly to your boss. If you’re uncertain about your job, try have an honest conversation with the person who influences your daily work the most. What can you and the company do to improve things for all of you?
Companies usually don’t want you to leave, because it costs so much more to find a replacement. So the good ones will try work something out to keep you happy — but you’ll need to take the first step.
Speaking with headhunters and going for outside interviews is another option. Don’t feel bad — understanding what the market is willing to offer you is not betrayal.
The important thing here isn’t exactly what decision you make. Don’t listen to fake experts who claim there’s only ONE PATH to success and happiness. (Fake guru: “Learn the secret to 5-orgasm sex, retire by 40 with $3 million and 2 houses, and be free: BUY my course HERE.”)
No, the important thing here is to continue exploring. Everyone has a different path, so whether you stay, move departments, or really quit — the real win is figuring out your own career: what works for you.
You’re only truly free when you make your own decisions.
Realistic Happy Endings
This article has a happy ending. But it’s a realistic one.
Through my own exploration, I’ve been blessed enough to find work that’s meaningful for me. Over the past five years (in four different roles in two companies), I’ve been able to do work I believe in and makes me proud. I’ve been able to work on challenging goals with good bosses and colleagues, while making a comfortable living.
This isn’t to say my work is 100% happy times. There’s also been frustration, disappointment and failure. And doing badly at things you care about makes you feel like shit. But as Friedrich Nietzsche taught us:
He who has a why… can bear almost any how.
It’s not just me though. There are countless others who’ve found meaning in their careers too. I’m saying this because I want to encourage you: if you’re feeling trapped, don’t give up. There is work out there which will be a nice blend of what you’re good at, what the world needs, and pays you. There is work where you’ll find your Ikigai.
Just understand it’s not gonna be a perfect blend. You might take years of exploring before you find it. And there will be trade-offs to make — maybe you’ll have to work harder, earn less, or have an astronomically-steep learning curve.
But it can be good enough.
The Desire for Good
Don’t let that desire to quit your job go to waste. Don’t ignore it or block it out.
It’s your mind trying to tell you something. It’s your body asking you to make a change. It is the difference between struggling with Monday Blues for the next 35 years, and struggling with challenges that inspire you.
So face those difficult questions. Deal with the pain of confronting your inner desires. It won’t be an easy journey, but you’ll find something precious along the way; something that perhaps only those who dare take responsibility and create their own path know:
A life of no regrets.
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Pic from Pexels: Andrea Piacquadio