I’ve seen this movie so many times. You get really upset with your current job. It might be a new manager that publicly berates you. It might be the chaos in the organization. It might be the lack of upward mobility. The common thread is, you lift your head from the grindstone and realize that you really, really hate your job. You dread coming into the office.
In this god-awful situation, you’re pretty emotional on the inside - even if on the outside, you’re as cool as a cucumber. Your fight or flight response is powerfully engaged. With each bad interaction at work, it’s as if someone is stepping on your foot that’s hurting already. You can’t really fight the situation - by that point, you probably tried, and failed. So the only thing left to do is run.
There are lots of natural ways to act in this situation. You can start lashing out, turning belligerent towards people that you see as the source of the problem. You can disengage and be disinterested. You can keep going, pretending that nothing is happening for weeks and months, pushing your unhappiness further down, and hoping that it doesn’t blow up later (it always does).
Each of these is our psyche’s attempt to regain control. I’ve personally done every single one of the three don’t-do-it things above and well… they weren’t particularly effective. One thing I’ve been lucky to avoid, thanks to my mentors, is the worst mistake you can make in this kind of situation.
No, it’s not quitting on the spot without another job lined up. Our parents all told us that this is the dumbest thing you can do; surely, it’s dangerous if you don’t have savings to last you a few months. Try to not do that if you can.
There’s something much worse than just quitting without a job lined up. It’s accepting another job because it seems like a fine escape from a terrible situation.
Why is it such a bad move? Because your perception is massively skewed. You judge every opportunity against the one you have on hand. Since the issues you’ve been experiencing seem particularly painful at the moment, you’ll be over-valuing not seeing those in every job opportunity out there. The boss there seems like a great guy, and your current one yells at you every day? I want that job!!! Who cares if the role isn’t particularly exciting or the company is going nowhere… the boss is amazing!..
You can already tell where this kind of thinking takes you. Anna Karenina’s principle tells us that there are many, many ways to have an unhappy workplace. If your attention is narrowed to just one aspect.. So you’re likely to ignore red flags.
That is, 6 months in, you realize you don’t really love the role. That it’s merely OK, and not a step forward - you’re doing things you’ve known how to do for years. And at that point, you can’t really leave - having super-short tenure is damaging both for your resume and for the company; you feel bad even thinking about leaving: how could you, it’s not like the issues are devastating. As a result, you burn 2-3 years in a not-very-exciting role with a poor career trajectory.
All because you decided to run away from your current job, instead of running towards a new role. Basically, you settled. Settled for less than you deserved, because you were in a distressed state. You’d have been better off - financially, career-wise, happiness-wise - if you just quit on the spot, without a job lined up. Especially in the current market.
How do you cope? How do you survive in a situation where you know you’ve got to leave to stay sane?
- Develop a timeline. Do you have a big chunk of stock vesting in 3 months? Great. Survive till then, and promise yourself to quit after it, no matter if you found a new job or not by then. Knowing that something painful has an end date will give you something to look forward to. Happiness research points to anticipation as a powerful factor.
- Don’t hold things in. Pretending that nothing’s happening is a sure way to blow your lid - at home, at someone who doesn’t deserve it, or at the worst possible point in time. Thus, it’s a good moment to engage your support network. Meditate (with a drink if you prefer). Work out.
- Take a vacation. No matter how bad the situation is, it’s rare that your boss would decline a vacation request. Position this as a “mental health break” - it’s even less likely that you’ll get a “no” to that. Take a week off and recharge… it’ll win you some time, and build back some of that resilience that you feel has been depleted.
- Focus on the people. Find someone who’s worse off than you are. Someone who looks up to you in the organization. You can bet that they could use your help - if you’re unhappy, so are they.
If none of these is enough, and you feel that there aren’t any good alternatives, that you’re at the end of your rope… quit. Yes, quit without a new job lined up. Pay for a COBRA for a month or two. Spend time with the family and do recruiter outreach. You’ll land a much better job this way - a job that will take your career forward.