The best time to be a quitter

Not quitting. A golden value that every millennial (and everyone, really) should have. Your parents probably instilled it in you when you were young – don’t quit sports, don’t quit clubs, don’t quit friendships – and if they didn’t, you should adopt it now. Because now you’re in the big leagues, and if you want to be successful, it’s important to stick things out. College, relationships, jobs.

The reputation of millennials rests upon our collective shoulders. It’s widely believed that our generation throws in the towel instead of facing a challenge; that we give up when situations aren’t as ideal or desirable as we wish. As we slowly and inevitably become the leaders of society, we have to prove to our predecessors that we’ll do a damn good job.

Rarely are things accomplished by sitting back and hoping things go your way. We cannot be a generation of quitters.

However, sometimes you achieve more by doing just the opposite: knowing when it is time to quit.

Like when you thought you could handle that double major, but all of your grades are suffering.

Like when playing your sport with an injury cold help your team win the game, but could cost you the season.

Like when you’re madly in love with someone, but they’re not as faithful as you.

And like when you were once so excited about your job, but it’s not giving back all that you put into it.

It’s possible to do more damage, both personally and professionally, by hanging on when it’s time to move on. You may never have to alter your degree path to fix your GPA. You may never struggle to know when it’s time to end a relationship. But almost everyone at some point will be faced with the decision to leave or stay with a company.

What are the warning signs? You may spend weeks, even months, feeling like something just isn’t right. You’ll probably have a million thoughts running through your head – questions of why you don’t feel content, where you’d rather be, and the risk of pursuing a new path. You’ll probably play out every possible scenario of staying or going. Contemplating such a big decision can be extremely stressful. It can flood your mind and make it impossible to focus on anything, especially your current career tasks.

Before you make any snap decisions, you should really give yourself time to work through your thoughts and get to the source of your dissatisfaction. It could be a result of many different factors, and it could even be a result of problems outside of the workplace. First, take a day or two off if you can. Whether it’s vacation time or you sneak in a mental health day, some time to step back from work is beneficial. No working from home. Just focus on relaxing and getting to the root of any non-work related issues that are bogging you down. Even if you aren’t able to take time off, you absolutely must do what you can to view your job from a fresh, more distant perspective.

Next, dive into your true emotions with the following exercise, which is designed to objectively evaluate your job on an individual level.

  • Set aside an hour or more to focus only on this task.
  • Begin by cutting 50+ strips of paper that are big enough for you to write a few words or a phrase.
  • Next, spend some time thinking of all the positive aspects of a job and write them individually on the paper strips. Not your current job, any job. This can be literally anything that would be considered a good quality of a company or position. It can include things such as “paid maternity leave”, “free parking” or “friendly coworkers.” Don’t worry about how simple or complex the qualities are. Don’t think about a specific line of work or things that you know others have at their jobs. Definitely don’t think about whether you currently do or do not experience the things that you write. You might think of some qualities that contradict each other, like “Earn a comfortable living” and “Make 6 figures” or “Opportunities to move up in company” and “Possibility of becoming a VP”. Write them anyways.
  • Now assign a “weight”, between 1 lb and 5 lb to each aspect and write the numbers on the strips. A weight of 1 lb means it’s a characteristic that you can live without and be happy at work. A weight of 5 lb means that you would be unhappy without the quality; it is essentially a deal-breaker. Assign the middle weights 2, 3 and 4 accordingly.
  • Now take a piece of paper, and sketch a balance scale to your best ability. Your drawing skills do not matter, as long as you can clearly depict a left and right side. Label the right side with a smiling face or a ‘+’ and the left side with a frowning face or ‘-‘.
  • The right (positive) side represents aspects that your current job/company exhibits, while the left (negative) side represents what it lacks. Sort all of your strips of paper to the proper side. Do you have a “good retirement plan”? Place it on the right. Do you not have “healthy vending machine options”? Put that step on the left.
  • Finally, add up the weights of all the strips on each side of the scale. Which side is “heavier” – the side of job characteristics that you currently experience, or the side of characteristics that are missing?

After taking both actions prescribed above (taking a break and then completing the activity), the best case scenario is you’ll realize you’re not as dissatisfied as you thought. Maybe it was that one exhausting project, or that argument you had with your spouse that was infusing negativity into your work life. Your job is providing you with more benefits than negatives. You may not want to stay forever, but you don’t need to escape immediately. Hopefully the desire to leave was situational, and you can move past it with optimism.

Worst case scenario is that stepping back and thinking critically does not resolve your unhappiness, and the activity indicates a workplace that is toxic for you. You may return to work Monday morning feeling rejuvenated and positive, but after reviewing your task list, or sitting through the week’s first meeting, or receiving one disrespectful email, you feel tired and deflated.

When you dread every day and have an overwhelming instinct that you cannot repeat the motions day in and day out, it’s not a good place to be. When you feel your heart sink into your stomach at the thought of the future with the company, Trust your instincts. Its time to go.

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