5 ways to survive a job you want to leave

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“I give up. I’m just going to stay here until I can save up enough to retire early.”

“How long will that take?”

“Seven more years. Given that I’ve decided to stop trying to move, do you have any advice for me?

She worked for a well-known company where she was handsomely compensated, so I could see why leaving the company wasn’t something she ever considered. However, her supervisor was moving the team toward work she wasn’t thrilled about doing, so she had been trying to find a different role within the company for the past year. Things didn’t pan out. She wasn’t happy, but she was throwing in the towel, for now.

“So, what I’m hearing is that you eventually want to leave this job and company entirely, but you don’t feel you can do it right now?”

“Yes.”

“Ok. If you’ve decided that you really want to leave eventually, maintain and protect your exit velocity.”

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Exit velocity is the minimum energy you must maintain to ensure you eventually fulfill your goal to leave the company, instead of getting sucked back in and staying longer than you should. The unfortunate thing about being in a work environment that’s a drag is that if things get bad enough, it will impact your exit velocity.

So, if you want to leave, but can’t just yet, here’s how to make sure the daily grind doesn’t completely snuff out your motivation to do something else:

1) Focus on what you can control: the power of choice
Studies show that a sense of control over a bad situation reduces stress and builds resiliency. What you can control are the choices you make. You have chosen whether to stay or go. You can choose when to leave. And you can plan for what you would choose to do if you had to leave, immediately.

2) Set an end date
If you’ve decided that you will leave, just not immediately, internally set an end date. Think about it: doing something difficult becomes much easier when you know exactly how long you have to keep doing it. The unknown can drive people crazy and break their spirit. If your end date is more than two years out, be sure to set interim check-points to evaluate whether it’s still worth it to stay.

3) Remember why you’ve chosen to stay
You’ve chosen to stay, because something is currently more important than having a job that makes you happy. In this case, she didn’t want to give up the compensation or the recognizable name on her resume. Staying in this job is serving some sort of purpose, which is making it worth it to stay, for now. Write that purpose down and put it in a place you can refer to when the going gets tough.

4) Identify your safety nets (and build them if necessary)
Identify what your alternative would be if you had to leave your job today. What could you do to meet your basic needs? Do you have money in savings? Friends or family you can stay with? It’s likely that this alternative scenario is not as attractive as staying at your job, but there may be a point where things get so bad that you need to jump ship. It’ll be easier to do that if you build safety nets to catch you.

5) Define a trigger point
Identify what would signal to you that staying longer is jeopardizing your ability to leave. Beware of when the job is so draining that you no longer have the ability to have positive networking conversations or interviews. Or when you’re working so many hours that you no longer have time to look for another job. Or when the quality of your work suffers so much that it’s impacting your reputation. If you’re set on eventually doing something else, know what would signal to you that staying may no longer be as good of an option as leaving now (and using the safety nets you have built).

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