Generally the world looks down at people who give up – they are called all kinds of derogatory things like “loser”, “quitter” and so on . We are taught from an early age on why hard work can overcome all challenges – often with stories of heroes to make that point .
I think this sets us up for failure more than success – at least for most people . There are always exceptions and by all means let us applaud them .
I started off this way too – thinking it will be a shame to quit jobs or projects or whatever and that it will all get better if I just worked harder , smarter etc . All that happened was that I became more miserable both physically and mentally . So I changed my mind .
To my horror – I realized that the hard correction I made was a terrible mistake . Quitting too quickly made everything worse . To cut a long story short – I figured out a rough framework to think through when to quit and when to double down .
Over the last couple of weeks – I had lengthy conversations on this topic with some young men and women that I mentor in India . I figured it’s a good idea to post this in my blog since it is a fairly common theme .
As always – these are strictly my personal thoughts and opinions .
1. Prevention is better than cure
The better we qualify upfront – the less our chance of facing grief later . That means you choose your employer carefully , your projects carefully , your sales pursuit carefully and so on . Easier said than done – because often we don’t have great choice in the matter . For example – you are assigned a sales patch by a manager and you have no say in it . But whenever you can – spend the time qualifying upfront . I will discuss options on what to do if you have no options later in this post .
Part of having choices is a safety net . That means having a little rainy day fund set aside , living under your means , keeping your skills and network active and relevant etc . Without a safety net you will never have good options .
2. Listen to your body and your family
Your body has a way of telling you if the stress level is getting to an extreme . For me – this used to manifest as extreme acid reflux and nausea . I would just take some OTC medicine to get over it – but my family could easily see it was stress that was causing it . Took a long time before I realized my mind was numb to the issue but my body wasn’t . Since then I have spoken with tens of people about it and it seems everyone has some physical manifestation of it – some people cry , others have heart burn or head aches … but at the height of stress everyone seems to have a physical symptom that is a clear tell . And I am yet to see a person whose family couldn’t spot the correlation fast 🙂 .
Unless you recognize you are stressed – you won’t act on it . No one deserves to be miserable for extended periods of time . This doesn’t mean you need to quit to solve it – but that might be one answer .
An easy way to test this is to take an immediate time out . If a week away from work makes you feel a LOT better – it should tell you clearly where the problem is . Irrespective of the decision to quit – it is always a great idea to take vacations whenever you can so that you can mentally and physically reset .
3. Can you make peace where you are ?
We often get miserable about absolute things in isolation – a specific salary raise , a promotion we didn’t get , a difficult manager, a less talented colleague moving up faster than us etc . When we are worked up – it is hard to put these things in context .
A few different things have helped me get through this aspect . One way is to write down on paper . For example – say it is important for me to stay rooted in technology and directly work with clients . If I get a promotion now – I might have a more internally facing role . Should I wait for another role to open up that better fits my criteria or bite the bullet and take it now ? Is the extra money worth the potential lower satisfaction ?
Another question to ask – are you looking for a promotion for more money ? If so – would you be ok with no promotion but a raise alone ? Would you be ok with a raise in variable pay instead of base pay ?
If I can’t make up my own mind – how can I convince my manager of it ?
The second way I get through this is by having an honest conversation with multiple mentors . One such conversation many years ago helped me come to grips with that fact that there will always be some people who will be better ,smarter and luckier than me in any short window of time . Another conversation clearly showed me I lacked some skills and there is no way I will move forward unless I got those skills . I don’t think I would have figured these things on my own .
Also – pls remember you need to have mentors in place to use them in a time of crisis .
4. Know where you want to go – at least roughly
As the Cheshire Cat told Alice , it doesn’t matter which way you go unless you know where you want to get to .
Till you know what is that makes you miserable and what will make you happier for a longer term , it doesn’t make a lot of sense to quit . The one exception to that is extreme stress . If my body tells me that I shouldn’t stay the course – I will quit . I only had to do it once in my career . I left with no backup plan (and left significant money on the table at that time ) and till date I feel I did the right thing .
The best time to plan your next move is when things are stable at work . Then you are in a better frame of mind to decide objectively and have no time pressure to act . Just as experienced drivers scan the horizon and the rear view mirrors even when cruising – it is smart for us to be aware of the evolution in our markets so that we are prepared to act without making it an emergency .
5. Can you change the rules to make it work for you where you are ?
Everything is negotiable at work . If you get a bad manager but the company is one you like – you could try to ask for a transfer . If you get a sales patch which has no immediate sales prospects – you can ask for a different compensation plan to make it work . If you don’t want to be an SAP consultant – ask if you can work on a UX design project .
You have to ask the question and present options before you quit . Just because the first answer is NO or because your friend heard NO when she asked – it doesn’t mean you will get the same answer .
It is also important to ask the right person who is empowered to act on it . In many companies the first line manager is not empowered to act on such matters . You as the employee should feel comfortable to find an up line manager to have this conversation before you leave . As an executive – I have often felt terrible that I could have easily made things work if only I knew what was going on . If your up lines don’t care very much for that conversation – then it’s usually pretty clear that there isn’t much of a point prolonging your departure .
6. Quit in peace
If you have gone through all the above and have had no success in resolving what makes you unhappy , then you can rationally conclude that quitting is probably the next best action .
As I mentioned above – unless your body/mind tells you otherwise strongly , try hard to have a place to go to before you quit . In most cases you can navigate the known devil a lot more than the unknown devil .
When you have made a rational decision to quit – it makes the process of leaving less traumatic . You send a very short resignation letter , give a courtesy notice and burn no bridges . It’s a small world and it pays to leave on good terms .
I personally do not accept counter offers if my employer makes one after I chose to quit . Ideally I would have thought through and negotiated such options before I made the final decision to leave . Once that decision is made thoughtfully – at a minimum , it is very unfair to your new employer to accept a counter .