So, you’ve been feeling really unhappy at work. You don’t like your projects, you feel out of sync with your team, and you don’t respect your organization’s culture.
Still, you keep going through the daily motions, even though you’re absolutely certain you can’t keep it up. In fact, you’ve been thinking about resigning. Maybe this time last year, a similar thought entered your mind. Now, a year later, things haven’t gotten better, but you just haven’t been able to bring yourself to pull the plug.
Sounds strange doesn’t it? If you’re not happy with your situation, you just get yourself out of it, right? Easier said than done.
Why is it so hard to move on, even when you know the situation you’re in is wrong for you?
I’ve been there. In 2012, I was nine years into my career as a brand marketer at a consumer goods company in London, climbing the corporate ladder. I’d recently gotten married, and something about that life change exacerbated the lack of fulfillment I’d been feeling in the corporate world.
This wasn’t the first time. It reminded me of how I’d felt on the path toward becoming a medical doctor years prior. I didn’t feel like I was making the most of who I was, and I wasn’t energized by my work—something I spoke about in my TEDx Talk. So I left my medical career behind to pursue marketing, and many years later, left that marketing job to pursue career consulting—my current line of work.
Making the decision to leave your job or career behind is huge. A lot is at stake: education, investment, money, status, reputation, and future job prospects.
With my current focus on working with people relaunching their careers, I often cross paths with professionals standing on the intersection of change—between where they have been, and where they want to go.
Moving on is tough. So how do you clarify if the time has finally come to resign? Asking yourself the following three questions can provide you with some clarity when standing on the confusing cusp of a new career venture.
How is Staying in Your Job Serving You?
If you’re in a job that makes you unhappy, and you’re wondering why you’re still there, it’s likely because that job is serving you in some way. Maybe this seems obvious, but for me, acknowledging how my career path was serving my interests helped me clarify if and when I wanted to let it go.
For example, when I was hanging on to that unfulfilling marketing job, I realized many of my reasons for staying were external factors, like keeping up with my peer group—maintaining a sort of social and professional “status.” When I continually received LinkedIn updates about a former classmate or colleague getting promoted to Director, Vice President, or insert whatever “Fancy Title” here at Goldman Sachs, McKinsey or Proctor & Gamble, the idea of leaving behind my reputable title at a well-known company dealt a blow to my social ego.
What is Staying in Your Job Costing You?
One of the things I learned is that you job always serves you in some way, but often costs you something else. Clarifying those costs is important so you can determine whether the time has come to re-prioritize what you’ve been giving up.
Way back in my college days when I majored in psychology, I had a desire to focus my life on helping people. This initially manifested in my desire to become a doctor. Later, when I pursued my MBA instead, I initially wanted to become a professional business coach. However, people older and wiser than me advised me to table the idea and spend time in the corporate world first, to understand the environment of those I would coach one day.
So I did that. And while working as a marketer in the corporate world served this purpose, there came a point where it prevented me from doing work I found truly meaningful.
Is This Trade-Off Still Worth It?
Trade-offs are inevitable in our careers. We may prioritize certain factors that serve us well during some life stages only to later become less relevant. We may postpone pursuing our passions to gain other important experiences first. We might make choices during certain points in our careers that eventually make less sense at others.
At some point, you have to ask yourself if the trade-off you’re making is still worth it. Consider the importance of what you’re gaining versus what you’re giving up. How has this changed over time?
Personally, I had to rank the relative importance of a) hanging onto a career I knew looked good on paper versus b) my desire to do meaningful work. And I reached a point where my personal fulfillment mattered more.
Once I became clear on this, I made the leap.
It didn’t make the change less scary or complicated, but at least I knew why I was doing it. Being clear on my motivation for change helped me stay on track during the inevitable ups and downs of the transition that followed.
Feel free to watch this video where I explain these 3 clarifying questions in more detail and share a bit more about my own career story.
Is It Still Worth It to You?
If you’ve been on the brink of change, and you’re feeling confused about what to do next, I encourage you to hone in on the #1 thing that keeps you in your job and the #1 thing this is costing you. Consider giving it a rating from 1 (not important at all) to 10 (extremely important).
You can also download my “Should I Stay or Leave” Worksheet to help you go through the exercise of doing a cost benefit analysis of remaining at your current job or leaving it behind.