Keep Calm and Quit Your Job

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average worker currently holds ten different jobs before age forty, and this number is projected to grow. Forrester Research predicts that today’s youngest workers (that might be you) will hold twelve to fifteen jobs in their lifetime!

Hello, desk displeased, cubicle crestfallen, open space sorrowful, corner office objectors, home den defeated and coffee shop sullen. My name is Brock Armstrong and I am… not the Workplace Hero. You are the real hero here. Well, at least until the end of this episode. Things may change after you hear this one.

It’s odd. In school, we spend a lot of time and give tons of attention to putting together a resume, building a CV, and generally how we should go about getting a job – but we give pretty much no air time to how to leave a job, quit a position or walk away from a contract. Personally, as a member of the first generation to not do as well as their parents (GenX) I think this is pretty “meh.”

Gone are the days of choosing a career, climbing the corporate ladder, and retiring at 65 with a comfy pension and a gold watch. Many of my friends have had more than 5 jobs in their adult lives. Some jobs ended, some never really got rolling, some we were fired from and some… gasp… we actually quit!

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average worker currently holds ten different jobs before age forty, and this number is projected to grow. Forrester Research predicts that today’s youngest workers (that might be you) will hold twelve to fifteen jobs in their lifetime!

Quitting My First Job

In 2005, I had been working for the Alberta Provincial Government for nearly 5 years. I was comfortable. I had a pension. I had a great team a decent enough office with big windows and my coworker was also one of my closest friends. We actually planned activities together out side of work! But then, one day it happened. One of the cool, young firms in town not so subtly dropped the hint that there would be a spot for me if I were to become available. The pay would be less and the responsibility would be higher but the projects would be cooler, there was more room for upward growth (unlike my government job where without going back to school, I was already nearing the top of my surprisingly low pay grade) and to top it off I would rarely ever have to wear a tie again. It didn’t take much for me to draft my letter of resignation, cash in my vacation days (which overlapped nicely with my new job’s starting date – talk about double dipping) and make the move.

I have been accused before of not having the gene responsible for the feeling known as nostalgia (by my mother no-less) so you may want to take this with a grain of salt but I never looked back. Not only that, I have quit at least 5 more jobs since then. How did I do it? How should you do it? Should you do it? Well, that is what we are going to talk about today.

Get-Fit Guy

But first, I want you to write down this URL: workplacehero.me/getfitguy that will take you to the Quick and Dirty Tips network website where I recently became the host of the Get-Fit Guy podcast. If you are a fan of these short, snappy and information packed podcasts, you will dig the Get-Fit Guy (and the other Quick and Dirty Tips podcasts). If you want to begin an exercise routine and don’t know where to start, or if you’ve been working out for a while and aren’t getting the results you want, I will give you the tips you need to reach all of your fitness goals. So head over to workplacehero.me/getfitguy or just search for Get-Fit Guy and check it out.

Back to it!

Ok, back to quitting your job without leaving a trail of destruction in your wake.

Before we get to some good strategies and graceful exits, let’s talk about some not so graceful moves.

Quitting the job I told you about earlier was smooth for a few reasons (not including my emotionless heart). The biggest reason was that I had a job all lined up. I also knew and liked the people I was going to work for and I was walking into a guaranteed pay cheque. But that is not how it always goes. I have left three jobs in the last 10 years with nothing but a hope and a dream — and a partner with a solid income. Which I will never take for granted.

Having a supportive partner was extremely helpful for me along with the elephant in the room – being a white, middle-aged man in north America. I am fully aware that I have a distinct advantage here. I wish it were not so and I attempt to do my share to put my overly confident pasty people in their place. It will be a long battle but I believe that we as a society are ready and I am willing to use all my Homer Simpsonesque white male privilege to help fight the good fight. Black Lives Matter. Love is Love. I’m with her.

So with that acknowledged, here are a few lessons I learned and a few I found in a great article at themuse.com from jumping in head first.

Eyes closed, head first, can’t lose!

1. You Don’t Need the Approval of Others

When I would tell people about my plan to leave my office job in favour of the freelance fitness coach life, I wanted them to reassure me with statements like, “Oh wow, you’re so brave!” “Good for you!” or even a friendly, “Go get ’em, buddy!”

Unfortunately, that’s not really what I got. Instead, I was faced with a lot of, “Wait, you’re doing what? ” or “Do you think you have enough clients for that?” and my favourite “I guess you can always go back to the liquor store.” which is where I worked in my early 20s.

But in the end, it really didn’t matter. I was the only one who needed to feel good about my decision. And I did – at least I did in between each beer fuelled doubt session.

2. Scary is Exciting and Change is Good

There’s a reason that people love downhill skiing, mountain biking, open water swimming and riding motorcycles – we like being a scared. There’s a part of being wholly unsure about your situation that makes you want to run and cry—but the other part is actually thrilling.

In the first few days (alright, months) after leaving my desk job, I’d sit down at my computer and feel lost. Some days I would be tempted to put “checked Facebook” on my to-do list just so I had something to cross off.

But, at the same time, I felt liberated. I had no idea what was coming next, and that actually made me feel surprisingly motivated and optimistic. But it wasn’t until my partner said “You’re eventually going to make more than $400 per month again, right?” that I actually felt completely in control again. Some how answering that question, looking the woman I love in the eye, saying “Yes! Absolutely.” gave me the reassurance I needed to land my next big client.

3. You Never Know Until You Try

I hate to sound like a second rate motivational speaker but this sentiment is really true. You can only guess at what you’re actually capable of until you push yourself to freakin’ do it.

Honestly, I didn’t dislike my full-time job but it didn’t set my hair on fire either. It was repetitive and frankly… easy for me. And, while I did perfect the art of taking someone’s pretty Photoshop designs and turn them into code that would appear consistent across nearly everyone’s crappy computers, I knew deep down that there was more out there for me.

Fast forward to now, and I’ve accomplished things that I never even thought were a possibility for me. I’ve been published places that I assumed were mere pipe dreams. I’ve worked with people who are essentially celebrities in my eyes. Just think—none of it would’ve happened if I had stayed with the “safe” route.

4. Your Career Really Doesn’t (or at least shouldn’t) Define You

We all have (at least at some point in our lives) had the tendency to use our careers to define ourselves. But, it’s important to remember that your job isn’t who you are—it’s what you do to make money to afford to do the things that define you. As Muse Managing Editor Jenni Maier explained in her article about being laid off “Your position definitely adds to your life, but it doesn’t make up the entirety of it.”

When I left my last full-time job, I felt the need to justify my decision and clarify every last detail until friends actually put a moratorium on the subject. Apparently, I felt a need to explain my employment situation in order to give myself a purpose and identity.

Turns out, that’s really not the case—all of that pressure to define myself using my full-time job was totally self-imposed. In fact, most people honestly didn’t care if I was slinging beers or repairing bikes – as long as I was happy. Although, above anything else, they were most likely just wondering why I gave them a play-by-play career breakdown when all they asked was, “Do you need a bag today, sir?”

Three Ms

In an article over at Fortune.com, they say that before you ditch your current position in favour of a new gig, take the Three Ms test:

M#1 – Are you miserable?

Life is too short for misery. Figure out if you’re having a random bad day or if you’re stuck in an endless string of them. (Here’s a simple rule: You shouldn’t dread going to work.) If you’re miserable, leave. But before you do, consider whether there’s anything you can do or ask for that would take the misery away.

If you like the company but don’t like the job, tell someone how you’re feeling. Better yet, bring a plan to your boss for how you would change your job. Be a part of your own solution. If they can’t fix your pain point, that will make your decision to leave much easier.

M #2 – Are you making enough money?

But then again, how much is enough? Rather than fuss over numbers in a spreadsheet, how about making a list of the lifestyle you want. My list is simple: live somewhere with no commute, eat out a couple times a week, have a membership to a gym I actually like, and take a few vacations per year (one of which is overseas). Clarifying success in terms of daily life vs. dollars makes it easier to see how much is “enough.”

When your primary motivation is money, you tend to forget about things that are more important to your day-to-day satisfaction, such as challenging projects, opportunities for professional growth, and my personal work ethos “working on cool projects with awesome people.” Think about what you truly need financially. If you’re under the line, then it’s time to go.

M#3 – Are you getting mentored?

Do you have a supervisor or experienced colleague who has shown an interest in your professional development? Do you have a peer or mentor in your company you turn to when you have professional questions? These coaches aren’t easy to come by, and they shouldn’t be abandoned casually. A great mentor is more likely to clear the path toward higher compensation and job satisfaction than an impulsive job change.

My own mentor not only kept me employed but also found me other clients, raised my hourly rate and actually took me back after I went and worked for the competition for 18 months… and somehow made it seem like it was his idea.

If you can’t think of anyone at your current company who fits that description, it’s worth seeking out another opportunity.

The Secret?

Now, it may seem like I have been building to some huge reveal of the secret handshake you can give to ensure that there are no hard feelings or burned bridges but honestly, just by simply being a good person, a good employee and a reasonably honest human about your life, your goals, your feelings and your future, you will do fine. But here are some tips from an article in the Sydney Morning Herald that breaks it down for us… especially for those of you who truly hate your job with the white hot rage of a thousand suns.

The story your employer will tell about you is key. They don’t have to love you, but you don’t want them bad mouthing you either. That’s the kiss of death.

“People are moving every day in the new economy,” said Shipley, author of Design Your Life. “If you burn a bridge with your old employer, that bridge may wind up at your dream job and they will not hire you.”

So let’s start with…

How to tell your boss

Every organisation is different, but generally, it is best to inform your boss in person and well in advance. Make sure you thank your supervisor.

Craft a clear story and stick to it.

You are going to have to tell those you are working with at some point.

Work with your employer to decide when what and how your colleagues will be notified you are leaving. Make sure you authentically express your appreciation for working with colleagues and leave things on a high note wherever possible.

Say thank you and mean it.

Just because you are leaving the company does not mean you are leaving your relationships behind.

Make sure you thank your mentors and sponsors and craft a plan to stay in touch. You never know when or how your paths may cross in the future.

Have a transition plan and put it in writing.

Make sure you don’t leave your team or employer in the lurch. Make yourself available in the event it takes some time to find your replacement and be willing to train someone to bridge the gap until a back fill can be found.

Work until your last day as if it was your first day.

Minimize the amount of disruption your departure may create by focusing on delivering quality work until your last day.

And now, your homework!

In order to get the most out of each opportunity, even ones you end up hating, you must dig deep. You must pick apart every single aspect to figure out what’s making you dread going into the office each day. You can start this process by literally creating a “pros and cons” list and filling it in throughout a typical workweek. And that is your homework for this week. Look for patterns—everything that involves organization falls into a pro; everything that involves your micromanaging boss does not.

And there is nothing too small to go on this list. Because at the end of the exercise, you can use the pro column as your “ideal job description” to be matched up against real opportunity (should it come your way). And you can use the con column as red flags to keep an eye out for in future interviews.

Conclusion

To be honest, I don’t believe in “the perfect job” being out there for anyone. I think that is an unreasonable expectation. But that doesn’t mean you need to settle for being unhappy, disgruntled, overworked, frustrated, marginalized or downright miserable. Examining the glum factors that are causing you to be glummy-glumerson will help you figure out where to go next, whether that’s simply about adjusting something with your current situation or bailing and finding something completely different. Because you can’t see the future, you can’t see precisely where your career path will take you. And like that time I fell out of the raft on a whitewater rafting trip – it can be fun, exciting, scary, dangerous, painful and perhaps foolhardy but it usually ends with a cold beer and a great story to tell your grandkids.

Now go make this week a pro, not a con.

**

Workplace Hero is researched, written, narrated, and recorded by me Brock Armstrong in Vancouver Canada. Logo by Ken Cunningham. Music is courtesy my old band, The Irregular Heartbeats. Extra narration in this episode by Eleanor Cohen

One Reply to “Keep Calm and Quit Your Job”

  1. Very good – there would be a lot more happy people in the world if they took your advice in this podcast!!!

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