We need to quit things. Those things can include the urge to quit your job.
Sometimes work (or anything else in your life, for that matter) can reach a point where you go from enjoying yourself to not. Where you used to be achieving your goals and feeling great, thriving really, to your goals being unattainable, feeling crappy and barely surviving the day-to-day.
How exactly, though, do you know when it’s time to quit your job? Being in that middle ground, you can feel stuck and, quite frankly, confused.
When you are in this middle ground – caught between feeling good about your job to feeling increasingly overwhelmed and discouraged about it – it sounds like this. Some days you feel like “I can do this” and “Just watch” and “Get out of my way and see what happens” when tasked with something or asking to take care of an event. Other days you think “This is impossible” and “I can’t do this” while thinking “It’s too much, too overwhelming, so unreasonable that they expect me to do these things”.
I’ve been there, as I shared when my journey with burnout (and ultimately me quitting my job) was on The PA Is In.
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When things are going well you can use a combination of proactive critical thinking and problem solving and positive reframing of the challenges and things that you cannot change as a part of your job.
When this happened to me I tried and tried to change policies, improve the environment, adjust the expectations and get more human resources in place to help with the growing workload… all to no avail.
How do you know, though, if it’s time to give up and move on?
Well, there are two approaches to determining if it’s time to move on or not. First, there’s the logical step-by-step approach where you systematically weigh the pros and cons. Second, there’s the emotional approach of intuition and tuning in to trusting your gut.
Explore vs. Exploit
Let’s start with the logical approach – looking at the pros and cons when it comes to continuing on vs. to quit your job.
This logical approach is actually rooted in biology, comes from how foragers act in nature. There is something called the explore/exploit paradigm. This is how animals decide whether it’s time to explore new terrain that is uncertain and learn a new things as opposed to staying put and exploit where I am, where I know what to expect.
I have recently become fascinated by neurobiology and neuroanatomy. My oldest is in college and took a class on neurobiology and handed down one of the books he read to me.
It feels so great to have the bandwidth to be fascinated in something again. When I was burned out I would never have read a book just for fun or because the topic interested me. Alas. Let’s get back to the foraging animals.
So foraging animals – these animals look for food. They have an area of food that might have become scarce. They have to decide to stay and look harder and harder for nuts and seeds in this area or move to another area.
The familiar area – they know what risks it possesses, the evil they know and all that – they are comfortable here. It’s not perfect but they are aware of what they are up against.
The other option is to proceed to an unfamiliar area – with unknown risks, potentially more rewards but the uncertainty needs to be taken into account.
When animals are faced with this situation they read the environment they are in. They consider the environment they might be headed for instead, assessing other options. They assess the risk of predators, or the cost of change, and the abundance of resources.
When it comes to the logical approach of when to quit your job, of course there are lists involved!
How can we apply this explore/exploit logic to the situation as a person with a job, relationship, hobby, leadership position or anything else we are doing?
There are 4 things that you want to consider as a part of this decision tree:
- Benefits of continuing
- Benefits of stopping
- Costs of continuing
- Costs of stopping
You want to evaluate both the long-term and the short-term costs and benefits of staying put vs. moving on. The goal here is to maximize the benefit and minimize the cost of whatever track you wish to proceed.
I’ve put together a grid to help you make this decision. You can use it if you are deciding to continue on with a job or quit your job and start looking for another position. This grid will help you decide between two choices or potential jobs – simply replace continuing with Job A and stopping with Job B.
Another way to approach this situation, determining if you are better off staying in a position or quitting and moving on, is to trust your gut.
Tune in to your intuition. Trust your gut. Listen to the whispers inside your head. That still small voice that has been whispering amongst all of the yelling, noise and distractions in your life.
That internal voice that might be telling you “You’ve done all you can here. It’s time to move on.”
We are surprisingly good at ignoring this voice. Life is busy. We are moving so quickly we don’t take time. We don’t listen. Onward to the next activity, the next patient, the next step on the ladder we climb without evaluating where the ladder is leaning and asking ourselves – is this the ladder we want to be on?
Our culture values things like self-control, glorifies hustle and grit and loves to tell stories about the underdog. We have for years and years, celebrated the underdog. Culture tells stories that are inspiring of the person who pushed through discomfort and overcame.
This has led us to believe that in order to succeed we simply need to try harder and push past discomfort. Sometimes that discomfort is actually a sign from our body and our brain telling us that we should stop. That where we are is no longer where we are supposed to be.
We’ve been conditioned over the years to believe that “failure” of achieving a goal or staying in a job means that there is something wrong with us. The same is true for quitting.
If you’ve been multitasking come on back to me, because if you are considering quitting something this is what you need to hear:
Quitting is not a failure on your part. Sometimes it’s simply not a good fit. Or the situation has changed. Or you’ve outgrown the job. Or you’ve developed new skills and interests. Or things have changed in your life.
Quitting does not constitute a failure. Sometimes it’s just not a good fit anymore. The only constant is change.
The Role of Stress in When to Quit Your Job
It’s interesting to think about how stress factors into these decisions of to quit or to stay. The more stressed we are, the more stressors that we are dealing with, the more difficult it is to make a change.
The more stress that exists in our lives, the less likely we are to make the change, simply because of the way stress affects our brains and our bodies.
If you are feeling frustrated and stuck in your job, but also helpless, isolated and trapped… if that small voice whispering in your mind is telling you it’s time… sometimes, it’s time.
If you are dreading work, feeling the parking lot scaries & having a hard time opening the door to walk into work, and living your life for the moment your day is done, it might be time to quit.
If you’d rather sit in line at the DMV with taco bell tummy than pick up an extra shift, it might be time to quit.
If you’d rather have an awake colonoscopy than open up your laptop to chart on your patients, it might be time to quit your job.
To Stay or Quit Your Job
There are so many factors to consider when you are considering leaving a position. How will it affect your family financially, logistically? What affect will it have on your career?
Whether you decide to use the decision grid that you can download for free at www.tracybingaman.com/decide or simply take time and space to tune into your intuition, carve out time to do just that.
Don’t agonize over this. Do the decision sheet.
Tune in to the voice. Make a choice and don’t revisit for 3-6 months.
Being in the middle ground can feel exhausting and maybe it’s not time to make a change yet. If that’s the case, accept that and table the decision for now.
Set a reminder in 3-6 months to revisit how things are going and re-do that exercise.
Understand that quitting a job that you’ve outgrown that no longer brings you joy is in no way a negative reflection on you.