Career / Career Changes

How To Leave Your Stable *Yet* Soul-Sucking Job (Without Losing Everything)

By Thursday, May 13, 2021

A few years ago, I was in the most comfortable position in my career I could’ve possibly been in.. I was working at a low-stress job with good, stable pay and I had great job security in a government office. I had growth opportunities; my employer was paying for continued education and I had a wonderful benefits plan. Everything looked great on paper but there was something missing.

I was content, but I wasn’t happy.

This was not the career path I wanted to follow anymore and though I tried to ignore it, I had to face the fact that I was not fulfilled by my work. I was just going through the motions of life, but unlike other jobs, I didn’t have a definite reason for wanting to leave — like a bad manager or anything. There was nothing forcing me out of my comfort zone. After a year of feeling comfortable, but exhausted by the nagging feeling that I was not fulfilling my career potential, these were the steps I took to make my grand departure.

1. Remind Yourself That There Is Never A “Perfect Time” To Start Over

When you are working a job, especially one you’re comfortable in and used to, it’s tempting to find an excuse to stay. It’s easy to tell yourself “I will leave after the next project,” or “I will leave next year,” but the truth is there is no perfect time to look for a new job.

I made my biggest career change in February 2020. I had no idea of the global upheaval that would occur in March. When I resigned from my job in Jan 2020, I had a lot of hesitation on if this was the right decision at the right time. However, if I had waited even one more month to begin my job search and leave my job, the COVID hiring freeze in my industry would have severely impacted my job search for at least the next six months. 

If you are a high-achieving perfectionist, it can even make you feel guilty to leave your comfortable and stable job. I had great managers and I didn’t want to disappoint anyone, but understanding that I was not individually responsible for the success of my team or projects was liberating. I’m a natural people-pleaser, so I enjoy being known as the smart, hardworking, reliable one. I like the words of praise. So although it hurt my ego to know that I would be embarking on a new career path, where I wasn’t the star of my team right off the bat, it was more important for me to grow.

While there can be opportune times to leave a job there is no perfect time. There will always be another project, there will always be more work, and there will always be another excuse. There is no “perfect time” because no one knows what will happen next. Remember, if you are in a comfortable job, you have the added bonus of being able to look for a new job without the pressure of having to accept it. 

If you are looking to get started, make sure to download my free job application tracker that I use before every job search! 

“While there are opportune times to leave a job, there is no perfect time. There will always be another project, there will always be more work, and there will always be another excuse. There is no ‘perfect time’ because no one knows what will happen next.”

2. Give Yourself An Exit Deadline (& Use Affirmations To Help)

We all know a person that says they will quit their job a million times, but never actually does. I have been that person several times. And while creating a deadline on your calendar can be helpful, it’s more important that you consistently work towards that deadline instead of leaving it to the last minute or letting it pass for another year. To keep yourself accountable, create an affirmation for yourself. An affirmation is a written or oral statement that you declare as true, which in turns helps you believe it and helps you overcome negative or self-sabotaging beliefs (e.g “this job isn’t so bad, I should just stay a bit longer.”) 

The reason an affirmation works is because it activates your reticular activating system which curates information that your brain deems as important. For example, if you are in a crowded room, your reticular activating system is the part of your brain that is listening for your name; it is trained to seek out information that is helpful. That’s why when you think about buying a new car, you start seeing that car everywhere, because your brain is actively searching for the information that will contribute to the decision of buying that car. An affirmation does the same thing for your brain when you are looking for a new job. Instead of putting it on a new year’s resolution list that you forget about by March, it forces your brain to actively look for new job opportunities every single day that you may not have been aware of before. An affirmation I like to use when I’m leaving a job (and I’ve done this several times) is:

 “I will celebrate the last day of my [insert job/company] by [insert date] or sooner.” 

The language that we use to create an affirmation is really important as well. Framing it as a celebration will remind your brain that this is something exciting to look forward to, not something to fear, and adding the “or sooner” part allows you to think about opportunities that come up when it may not seem like “the perfect time.” For example, instead of saying you will find a new job when “COVID is over,” it opens you up to the possibilities that you can find a new job while COVID is still ongoing. There are many companies still hiring during this time. 

Writing down this affirmation 10-20 times a day also gives you release from your current job. It’s easy to feel consumed by the negativity of working in a soul-sucking job, but once you know there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, it gets easier. I find myself less resentful of a job when I know there’s an end, and even though I’m not quitting today, the end is coming.

If you are looking for more career affirmations, I share more ideas here

“I find myself less resentful of a job when I know there’s an end, and even though I’m not quitting today, the end is coming.”

3. Start Focusing On Projects That Highlight Your Transferable Skills

Finding new work can take time, and the thing about being in a comfortable job is that you have the ability to be picky with your jobs. You already have an easy going position, so you don’t have to accept a job out of desperation or make a lateral career move; you can be picky about what you do next. If you interview for a company that has a lot of red flags, you can decline and walk away.

This process takes time because the right opening also has to come up. However, instead of just going through the motions of my work day, I started thinking about how I can make the most of this time to advance to my next job. Take advantage of your current situation and develop your transferable skills in your job. Here are some examples of transferable skills you can develop in your current position.

  • Skill Development – Look for ways to develop your creative writing or design skills by asking to update the company blog or designing social media posts.
  • Software Knowledge  – Utilize your current job to learn new software you may have available to you. If you want to change careers and would like to learn a new skill like coding, use current software like Excel. Update some of your Excel sheets by using VBA code or find a way to utilize the software at your current work to advance your skills. Does your work have Adobe Photoshop? Ask to learn new software skills you know will be transferable.
  • Experience – If you want to go for a higher-level role that requires supervisory experience, request to train new employees or create training manual guides that could streamline processes.

During this time, really focus on developing the transferable skills you will need for your new job, whether that’s a career change or a promotion that you feel unqualified for, really use the time you have in your current job wisely to ensure that you have great examples for your interviews. There are a lot of ways to make the most of your current job while you in the process of a job search. 

4. Keep On Good Terms With Your Managers For

Here’s the thing about quitting a job, people only remember what happens when you start and when you leave so it’s important to ensure you are leaving on good terms. When I’m about to leave, I actually work harder than I ever had before. I really make an effort to leave all my jobs on good terms.

It’s the final push. The final sprint. If I’ve given a job for years of my life, I’m not going to throw it away to “prove a point” that no one will really care about in the long run. Something that has always given me a leg up in job interviews is my glowing references. I know my old managers have always appreciated that I didn’t just check out the second I handed in my resignation. 

Before I leave every job, I work on one last big project to really make a positive impact on the team before I leave. And this tendency to remember people’s last accomplishments isn’t abnormal. It’s a very common phenomenon in psychology known as the primacy/recency effect. We tend to only remember the first and last part of the situation the most vividly. As you are leaving, people will remember when you got hired, and they will conclude with your most recent accomplishments. For example, if you worked at a job for two years, it’s easy for people to remember the first few months, and then the last six months, but the middle months get kind of blurry.

It’s easy to think that everyone will remember your hard work, but most of the time, people are just thinking about their life, their work, and themselves. Make sure you don’t throw away your years of hard work at the last minute.

***

I’m a great quitter because I’m very careful in the steps I take when leaving a job. But the one thing that I see in a lot of people (myself and coaching clients included) is the fear of quitting. The thing is that career change is inevitable—either you choose it or it happens to you. One of the things I’ve loved about my last few work spaces, including my soul-sucking job, was the management. I’ve been fortunate to have been mentored by incredible leaders, but shortly after I left, they also left for a number of reasons

“The thing is that career change is inevitable—either you choose it or it happens to you.”

When we think about leaving a job, it’s easy just to think about how it impacts ourselves, but the reality is, there could be a number of external factors that could force you into a career change. It’s important to take control of that narrative so you aren’t unexpectedly forced to work under new management you don’t like, or continue with a company when you don’t agree with their new direction. 

If your job is leaving you exhausted and empty, it’s time to leave. Something I always remind myself any time I leave a safe, yet soul-sucking, job is that I can always get one back. If I was talented enough at this point in my life to get this job, I could do it again. And so can you. If you are contemplating leaving a soul-sucking job, remind yourself you can always return to a similar role. The time will pass either way. 

Looking for more help on the next step in your career? The Financial Diet’s Career Day is just around the corner! Register here

Kim is a Career Confidence Coach and the founder of worklifemoney.co, a platform for women to develop the personal growth skills to meaningfully make and manage their money to create work life balance. She is also the host of Money In Integrity, a weekly podcast that takes women beyond the tips and tricks of career advice and deep dives into the self-doubt, impostor syndrome and perfectionist habits that hold high-achievers back. When she’s not working, coaching, or podcasting, you’ll find her cooking and watching reruns of food competitions. Her biggest non-career related dream (because she fully believes we are more than our careers!) is to compete on the Food Network.

Image via Unsplash

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