What to Do When You Want to Quit Your Job


I’m in Arizona this week with a few old friends. In the desert, everything seems to be in sharp relief: earth, scrub, cloudless sky. If only everything in life were so clear! When I have tough decisions to make, it often feels like I’m under water, where emotion clouds my judgment. It made me think about the last time I quit a job, when nothing was clear. I was fraught with indecision, anxiety, and doubt. Maybe the stress that change brings is normal, but every time I’ve quit a job, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how best to do it. Because while marching in, throwing down your resignation, and enunciating each detail of your long suffering and dissatisfaction is certainly satisfying in the moment, its drawbacks may come back to haunt you. If moving on to a new job is on your mind, here are some things to consider when you give your notice. (See also: How to Quit Your Job)

Remember: It’s Just a Job

I often get really tied up in my work — it’s easy to because I spend so much time doing it. But at the end of the day, it’s a just a job. Today your job may feel like your heart and soul, but 10 years down the road, you’ll probably be unable to distinguish the cubicle you’re sitting in now from the ones that came before it — or after. This is why quitting is often so important. You may have to work to live, but it’s your family, your friends, and the things you love that are really worth sticking it out with for the long term. If your job isn’t compatible with your life — or the life you want to live — it’s time to move on.

Make Sure You Can Afford to Quit

Whether you love your job or not, most people spend hundreds or thousands of hours of their lives working for one main reason — the money. No matter how much you think you hate your job, you’ll really be kicking yourself if you find yourself unemployed and unable to pay your bills. Before you quit, work on getting another job, even if it’s only a temporary one that’ll keep you going while you look for the perfect position. I know it is oh so tempting to quit your job on the spot, but your life is not a Hollywood movie, and this dramatic approach is unlikely to have a happy ending — particularly in the current job market.

If you have a savings account that will pay your basic expenses for at least six months, quitting might be a reasonable risk to take. Just be sure to put some thought into whether your current situation is really bothering you enough to warrant tapping into your emergency fund. And remember that any current dissatisfaction with your job is likely to evaporate as soon as you walk out the door, while the financial repercussions of quitting in a huff may stick with you for years.

If You're Doing It, Do It Soon

I’ve seen a lot of people who were really unhappy in their jobs but stuck around anyway. Their lack of enthusiasm really showed, and it didn’t help their reputation around the office. Quitting a job is uncomfortable, but if you already know you aren’t going to be happy where you are, start working on a plan to get out. Persisting in a job you hate will only make you bitter, and most people just don’t do a great job of hiding that from their coworkers for eight hours a day. Your grouchy behavior may even reduce your chances of getting references from your coworkers; if it goes on long enough, it could put you at risk of being fired. Quit your existing job the minute it’s financially possible. Letting go will take the weight off your shoulders — and allow you to leave with your reputation intact.

Root Out References

If you’ve worked somewhere for a while and did your best, chances are you’ve made a few friends who can speak to your abilities. You’ll no longer be seeing these people every day, so be sure to ask them if they’d mind being a reference while you’re still well acquainted. If they agree, get their phone numbers and emails so that you can provide them to potential employers. You don’t need a lot of references, but if you have managers or supervisors who are happy with your work, that’s a good place to start. Coworkers can make good references too, just be sure to choose someone that you trust will speak well of you. Finally, avoid spending your last week or two of work Facebooking about how eager you are to leave. Instead, work hard to leave things in order for your replacement and make that transition easier for your coworkers — they'll remember you for it.

Prepare Yourself

Quitting one job and starting another can be a rewarding experience — but also a very stressful one. Rather than assuming that the rest of your life will be an easy downhill ride once you move on, be prepared to experience stress and even sadness. I have liked something about nearly every job I've had, and despite being grateful for being able to move on, I always miss the people I met, the tasks I covered, or even the coffee shop I visited before each workday began. I like routine; chances are that if you've been working full-time for any length of time, you do too.

One great way to deal with the stress and disorientation that disconnecting from a job can entail is to give yourself a week or two away from work between jobs. If you can afford the time off, it will give you some time to decompress, destress, and arrive at your new job ready to take on the world. If that's not an option for you financially, consider going away for the weekend.

The bottom line is that if you break your routine, it should feel out of the ordinary, not as if you're playing hooky on a Wednesday afternoon. This is why if you quit your job outright and are looking for another, it may be a good idea to develop a plan for how you will spend your time. While sitting at home and watching reality TV probably sounds pretty sweet while you're still working full time, spending too much time as a couch potato could affect your job search and even lead to depression. if you plan to be at home for any length of time between jobs, make a plan to take a scheduled break. Once that time's up, set your alarm in the morning, get up, and get the ball rolling on your job search. This will help you keep perspective and momentum, and set you up for success.

Say Goodbye

If you aren’t happy at your job, quitting can be the right thing to do — I know, I’ve done it! But no matter how desperate you are to get out, don’t let frustration or anger cloud your long-term judgment. If you resign in the most polite and professional way possible, you’ll be able to make a clean break from your job and move on to something better.

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Guest's picture

It's always smart to have your next move lined up. That may be a new job, or that may be the seeds for a new business. Whatever way you cut it, it means that you will not be out on your own when you sever ties. Having a back up plan is always a good idea.

Guest's picture
Sally johnson

I have quit dissatisfying jobs, the first two to go back to school. I still cannot believe I did this! Then I decided to make my own family in my mid thirties because Mr. Right was not coming along. That caused a few compromises and I went back to work from "law school". I liked working better than finishing my last year of "law school" even though I was doing well in "law school". I simply hated law.

I nailed a job when I was five months pregnant back in 1987. I made it grow and I transferred and got a better job. I stayed at this job for years. Never made too much money but enough (low six figures when I retired). Enough to pay for good care for my disabled son. Enough to feed a pension and I also contributed $100,000 to a 401K which I do not need in retirement.

Leaving an unsatisfying job can be done. And you can benefit from it and learn from it. I am so happy I did. And I am in a super happy retirement. And, I have two sons who make me so proud. That is what really counts.

Guest's picture

All very good advice. I have to force myself to listen to a couple of those and not be hasty.