Career Resilience 9: Should I quit?
We’ve all had that feeling, like we can’t handle this anymore, and we begin to think of jumping ship. Perversely, that’s precisely the point NOT to jump anywhere. Remember the old adage ‘Act in haste, repent at leisure’. Instead, that’s the time we should step back and consider what’s really going on. Ask ourselves truthfully “Should I quit?” Sometimes the answer will turn out to be an emphatic “Yes”, sometimes a definite “No” and most other times a qualified “Well, Maybe. Let’s see if we can make this work?” Here are a few pointers on how to decide the answer to “Should I quit?”
- What do I expect? Most frustration or disappointment stems from expectations. What we want drives what we expect and when that doesn’t turn out, we become dissatisfied with our situation. But if our expectations are out of whack with the situation, then we’ll never be satisfied. In that case, before we ask “Should I quit?” let’s ask ourselves “What do I expect?” It may be that our workplace is perfectly OK, it’s delivering a reasonable position but it just doesn’t satisfy us. Is that their problem or ours? Let’s step back and consider what we expect from our job, what’s reasonable for the firm to offer and what’s reasonable from our bosses and colleagues. Are our expectations reasonable? Then, even if we continue to consider “Should I quit?” at least we can be clear about our expectations of any new position.
- Do the research: If we’re not sure about our situation or expectations, we can always do some ‘market’ research. What do our colleagues feel about the job and the firm; what do other firms in our industry offer; what do other industries offer? If we’re in hospitality, is it reasonable to be asked to work weekends? If we’re an ambitious junior executive, is it reasonable to be travelling away from home for extended periods? Is our workload exceptional compared to others? Let’s do the research and take stock of our position. Then we can answer the “Should I quit?” question on the basis of facts and evidence.
Turn it around: We are what we create. We are the commanders of our own destiny. Making things good, bad or indifferent usually starts with ourselves. Are we making the best of a situation, or are we actually making it worse? Instead of asking “Should I quit?” we can substitute it with “What could I do to make things better?” There’re lots of fresh avenues to explore before “Should I quit?” Here are a few thoughts we might consider:
- Is the process broken? Can I see a remedy? Can I make it different?
- Why so much workload? Can I prioritise? Does all of this stuff really need doing? Does it need doing today? Does it need me to do it? Is the process broken?
- Does the boss know what s/he’s doing? Are they open to a discussion? Do I have some practical alternatives to offer?
- Does that co-worker realise just how unhelpful their behaviour is? Can I open a dialogue and build rapport? Can I build mutual respect? Can I demonstrate more appropriate behaviour for them to emulate? Sometimes, the answers are right in front of us. We simply need to step back and look for them.
- Busy or Productive: Hamsters in a wheel, rats in a maze, dogs chasing their tails. All of them are very busy but are they going anywhere? Before considering “Should I quit”, let’s take a good long hard look at what we’re actually doing. We can begin by going back to our agreed goals and objectives. What’s the vision that’s driving them? Can we see a clear line of sight from our activities through the goals to the vision? If we can’t see a clear connection, let’s put one in place. We can then anchor all the relevant goals, tasks and activities onto the vision and put all the rest into the ‘review critically’ basket. Over time, the goals regain their relevance, the activities become purposeful and the vision begins to come back into focus. Now I’m not pretending that we can do the ‘review critically’ step by ourselves. This will be a shared activity that leads to a consensus outcome. But, hey, we can always use the well tested review technique “If in doubt… OUT!” We can simply stop doing the unanchored tasks and see what happens. Will the world come to an end? Probably not. Maybe “Should I quit?” can become “Should I quit doing these things?”
- Thinking’s not doing: We all have great ideas. But how many of them do we turn into reality? Many times I’ve seen individuals give up and begin to ask “Should I quit” because they already have quit! They’ve checked-out mentally or emotionally and don’t even realise it. How would we feel, instead, if we took some of these great ideas and applied them to our work? Would we still be looking to leave or would we be flying through the day? Confucius said, “Do a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”
- Failing to succeed: Mistakes happen, it’s inevitable. So, rather than looking for the door and asking “Should I quit?” we need to learn to forgive ourselves. If we’re too afraid of failure, we won’t learn and we’ll never take the steps we need to be successful. Just because it’s not happening now, doesn’t mean it never will. Sometimes things have to go very wrong before they can go right. Those are the times that we remember most and other people do too… ‘Those that matter, won’t care; those that care, don’t matter’. It’s how we respond to mistakes that mark us out, not asking “Should I quit?”
- Everything changes: Good or bad, every situation will change: that’s something you can count on. Knowing that one, simple, truth gives us enormous power to control our own destinies. Even if we’re deeply dissatisfied, right here, right now, simply know that another situation will be along any minute now. Armed with that certainty, why are we asking “Should I quit?” instead of “What’s coming next and how can get me some of that?” See how simple that reframing is? And how much better we feel when we begin to look upwards and forwards instead of downwards or backwards? In times of change, our thriving (beyond mere survival) lies in positioning and timing. Now is the time to be visible, to have our value recognised, to be engaged in the bigger picture. When change comes, we want to be right beside the change makers and to be supporting their efforts. This is no time for “Should I quit”, it’s time for “Get in the swim”.
- Life is too short: Let’s be honest, everyone loves a volunteer. Bosses always make demands. We convince ourselves that we’re indispensable. But is any of that true? All too often, we begin to question “Should I quit?” because we’ve dug ourselves into a rut and work has taken over. We’ve lost the art of living. It’s not the job we want to quit, it’s the rut; the routine, the drudgery, the monotonous sameness of every day. Work all day and collapse on the couch at home, maybe with that glass or two of our favourite anaesthetic. In that case, the question “Should I quit” becomes “What can I start?” What does having ‘a life’ mean to us? What have we sacrificed on the altar of work? What can we add back in? In short, ‘What else is there?” Of course, our drudge-self will always argue that we don’t have time for other things, we can’t afford them, we don’t know how. Really? We simply need to ask that drudge “Whose life is this, anyway?” Truly, what would happen if I left work on time? Would the couch miss me if I went out? Does that wine really need to be drunk tonight? Getting some balance back into our lives helps us to get a sense of perspective and maybe the job, and our lives, won’t seem so bad after all.
- Judgement day: not mine. Their judgements are based in their frame of reference, not ours. Our most important point of reference is our own conscience. If we are acting well, and for a good purpose, then we should be content (as long as we’re being honest with ourselves!)
- Make or Break: Some of our toughest challenges will become the highlights of our career, if we let them. When we’re asking “Should I quit?” because it all feels too hard … STOP. Often we’ll find ourselves in the middle of something that takes us out of our comfort zone and it’ll feel very uncomfortable. It’s natural to want to escape but that might not be our best course of action. The ‘flight’ instinct is one of the classic responses to adrenalin in our system. The other two are to ‘freeze’ (like a deer in a headlight) or to ‘fight’. Now I’m not talking about us going all Rambo on the case but, rather, that we step up, grasp the situation and wrestle the best possible outcome from it. Is there anyone left on the planet who can’t finish the catch phrase “When the going gets tough…” (Yeah, I can hear you singing it from over here!). But it’s true! If we control our own destiny, and know that change is always going to happen, what are we gonna do when tough times come along? Freeze like a deer? Fight for our successes or ask “Should I quit?”
So here’s just a few things we can do to reconsider the “Should I quit?” moment. It may well be that after all of these it may still be right to quit and we’ll talk about that in the next article. In the meantime, here are three simple steps you can do now to become more resilient in your job and career”