Over the past year, I noticed an alarming trend.
Nearly every person I’ve talked to this year feels burned out and demoralized. In the last 3 months, I’ve met at least ten high-functioning professionals who started experiencing physical illnesses from continuous stress. That’s a big problem.
When I ask what keeps them from leaving such a bad situation, the most common answer I get is, “I can’t just quit.” And there are plenty of valid reasons. Some people are the source of health insurance for their families. Others are paying for college or supporting a child with special needs.
But there’s one reason that troubles me and I hear often:
“I’m not that kind of person.”
If you suffer from “quitter’s guilt,” I invite you to consider the unthinkable.
Let’s dive in!
Our parents’ generation taught us that quitters never win and winners never quit. Well, that’s bullshit.
When I was 19, I asked my 8th-degree blackbelt Karate teacher what he would do if several
opponents ambushed him in an alley.
I was hoping he’d show me a combo of lethal moves worthy of a Chuck Norris flick.
Instead, he gave me the most anti-climactic answer: "I’d run like crazy."
There you go… even a skilled martial artist understands that sometimes the best move is to escape.
This also applies to highly-toxic job situations.
I know it can be hard to consider quitting a job, especially if you value stability and security. But nobody is going to give you a Purple Heart for enduring a job that’s destroying your physical and mental health. In the long run, the risks of remaining in a toxic job may be greater than the risks of leaving.
Grinding it out even when it’s clear things won’t improve is not persistence. It's stubbornness. Neglecting your health to keep your psychotic boss happy is not grit. It's martyrdom. Think about it. Keeping your foot on the gas while your car drowns in a lake will not pull you out of the water. Persistence only works if there's hope that you stand a chance. And sometimes, the reality is that you don't. In such cases, the smartest thing to do is leave.
Many risks can be managed.
Leaving a job can be scary, and there are real risks involved.
I quit two jobs in my career. Both were scary decisions, but getting out of unsustainable situations gave me the mental space I needed to find a better job.
If your financial situation is relatively stable, there are logical steps you can take to mitigate those risks, like tightening your budget for a few months to build reserves and accelerating your networking activities.
But the most important thing is to let go of the false notions that nobody will be interested in hiring you, that you are too old to pivot, or that you won’t find another job that pays this well.
Ultimately, leaving a toxic job is a personal decision and will depend on your specific circumsta
nces and priorities. But sometimes, it's the best thing you can do for your mental and physical well-being.
If you're considering jumping ship, here are seven tips:
Explore alternative work arrangements. Before throwing the baby out with the bathwater, explore alternative arrangements within your organization, like transferring into a different role, working part-time, or becoming a contractor. These options may be the fix you need to feel fulfilled again. All you have to do is ask. If they say no, you’ll have peace of mind that you exhausted every option.
Craft a 3-month exit plan. Be strategic. How can you get to “D-day” in 90 days? Lay out Plans A, B, and C. How will you network? What resources do you have? What gaps do you need to cover? How will you hold yourself accountable? How are you going to communicate it?
Think about the next job as a bridge rather than a final destination. If the goal is to move out of a toxic situation, getting picky will play against you. Embrace that your next move will probably only check some boxes on the wish list. But an imperfect interim option will buy you at least one year of stability so you can find an ideal job.
Take care of yourself. Quitting a toxic job can be emotionally draining, so it's super important to prioritize self-care during this transition. This might mean indulging in your favorite hobbies, taking up a new exercise routine, or just taking some time off to relax and recharge.
Find a mentor or coach. A mentor or coach can provide valuable guidance and support as you figure out how to quit your toxic job and find a new career path. They can help you clarify your goals, develop your exit plan, and push through the mud. It’s a worthy investment in your future.
Let go of the guilt. It's normal to feel guilty about leaving a job, especially if you have a good relationship with your coworkers. But remember, your mental and physical well-being is at stake. Let go of the guilt and do what’s best for you.
Exit with grace. Imagining yourself walking with a swagger while the company blows up in flames behind you is cathartic. But sticking it to your employer, expressing ire and contempt, and burning your bridges is a terrible idea. Always leave on good terms and remember that many of those who made you miserable are also miserable.