Embrace the Power of Leaving Your Job on Your Own Terms
I love reading career motivation articles on leadership, authenticity and other hot topics. But one topic that doesn’t get much attention, is the importance and power of leaving on your own terms. I’m talking about knowing when to quit a job or client who is no longer in alignment with who you are as a professional or a person.
Quitting a job can be hard. Really hard. In addition to the steady paycheque, there are the health benefits, pension plan and stability that can be hard to leave behind.
And then there is the nagging self doubt that maybe you aren’t qualified for anything better. Maybe the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t know. Or maybe, it’s just you – everyone else seems happy – maybe you just have too high of expectation and need to suck it up.
Or maybe it really is time for you to leave.
But how do you know, truly know, when it’s time to hand in your resignation or tell a client you need to end your business relationship?
When the work brings you more stress than joy. It’s that simple.
Now before you roll your eyes, and think, we can’t all work as circus clowns, think back to a time when you really enjoyed coming to work (in this role or a previous job). What is it about the work that brought you joy? Was it the team of people you were working alongside? Did you feel challenged and inspired by the project? Were you being stretched outside of your comfort zone but growing (in a positive way) in the process?
Now think about what’s changed? What emotions come to mind when you think about your current job? How does your body feel when you think about going to work? Looking back at what made you happy, what is making you unhappy? Are you able to change any of the factors (be honest) or is everything out of your control?
Many of us tend to stay in jobs long beyond their expiry date. While there once was a time being with an organization for 20 years was the expectation, it’s no longer the case, or reality.
We are now in a gig economy, where it’s acceptable, and becoming the norm, to look at jobs as gigs instead of a long-term marriage (which you may outgrow after five years but feel obligated to stay).
What’s important is you take control of your career instead of letting it take control of you. Take time for self reflection on what brings you joy or ignites your passion, so you don’t miss the warning signs when it’s time to leave.
Know your expiration date
Each of us have a different comfort level with how long we want to stay in a job. Even if you want to work for an organization for the long-term, do you want to stay in the same job for 20 years or do you want to work in a variety of roles?
It’s important to know your own expiry date. This means how long you can stay in a role before you feel stagnate or want to stretch your wings elsewhere.
Working in public relations, I was told early in my career that the best PR professionals never stay in a job for more than five years. The reason, is it’s hard to be fresh and creative when you’re writing your 10th annual report or coming up with a new way to promote a reoccurring event. It can be too tempting to dust off last year’s news release instead of looking taking a new approach.
For me, I have a two to four year expiration date. When I take a job or client, I do so knowing I will give it my all, while committing to review the role in two years to see if it’s still bringing me joy and sparking (or extinguishing) my creativity. No I don’t vocalize this plan, but it has served me well – allowing me to identify and analyze red flags as they emerge instead of blindly running over them.
Tap into friends
This is where having honest friends and family can help you have a fulfilling career. Talk to them about your passions, vision for your future and what excites you about the work you do. Letting them know why you love what you do, will help them flag when you’ve gone off track.
Ask your support team to call you out when they see the joy extinguishing in your eyes. Or when the stress starts to take a toll on your physical and mental health. When we are in the frame it’s hard to see the bigger picture.
Early in my career, I was killing myself for a job. I thought 14 hours days were normal, as I worked non-stop overseeing the media relations and marketing for a large event. I was not the least bit self aware of how the job had impacted all aspects of my life as it was all consuming.
That is until a friend who lived three hours away popped by for a visit. She took one look at me and knew I needed a serious intervention. I had lost way too much weight and had that stressed out look. She wasted no time in telling me I was not the person she knew. Where was the joy? Laughter? Excited conversation about my life – both professionally and personally? What had happened to the friend she knew?
After some wine, and more straight talk, I knew she was right. I immediately booked two weeks off (which I had never done before). I used the two weeks to get out of the city so I couldn’t be pulled back into work. I read books, visited my family, and slept.
When I returned to work I did so with a new perspective. I set boundaries, scaled back my hours, and, most importantly, asked for help. With my stress coloured glasses removed, I could see the job for what it really was – and decided it was time for a change. The change ended up being a different role in the same organization, but it was enough to reignite my passion and led to my first post-secondary teaching gig.
Create a plan
My final piece of advice (for now) is to create an exit plan – ideally no longer than three to six months. Start looking at how you can transition out of this role or quit your job. What is it that you need to do?
Start by taking some time off so you can recharge your batteries. Then find that friend or family member who will give you the straight talk, not someone who has been in the same job for 25 years. Tell them what you love, what inspires you and what is dragging you down in this job.
Now decide what your ideal job is – not by looking in the help wanted ads, but by creating it for yourself. Get clear on what would excite you, fulfill you, challenge you. This may prevent you from apply for a cookie cutter job, instead of making the leap you truly need.
At the end of the day, it’s your career and your life. It’s much more enjoyable if you’re in the driver’s seat versus the passenger’s seat (or running alongside the car trying to keep up).
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