When the job market gets hot, as it is now, it’s easy to look around and decide that it’s time to move on to someplace new. The days are long past when companies treated employees as a community to whom they owed reasonable constancy and when employees felt a sense of loyalty in return. So the traditional emotional barriers to exiting a job or organization are quite low. And the financial constraints are relatively small as well. We are lucky enough to work in an industry where pay is relatively good and most practitioners are not living paycheck to paycheck, so quitting is not as big a risk as it might be in other professions.
But this doesn’t mean that just because you can easily go somewhere else, you should. Too often people who are frustrated with their current tasks, peers or supervisor quit on impulse, whether they have anything new lined up or not. Millennials have the reputation of being unusually prone to quitting when things don’t go their way. (Whether that reputation is deserved or not I’ll leave to academic researchers.)
Obviously, strong negative emotions about what you are working on or whom you’re working with can be very hard to ignore. We spend a lot of our waking hours engaged with work, and it’s quite easy to fixate on the perceived unfairness, injustice, unpleasantness, etc. that we encounter at work every day. I’m not going to tell you that you should ignore these feelings, because they are difficult to endure for long.
But I am going to suggest that discomfort should not be your only consideration when deciding whether or not to leave a job. Often, there are good reasons to stick with what you are doing, for completely selfish reasons. And I’ve found that when someone passes through the urge to leave and stays because it is in his or her own self-interest, the anxiety that led to the crisis diminishes significantly. In other words, the things that bothered you before become less important when the decision to stay is your own.
When you find yourself eager to leave, try asking yourself a couple of key questions.
Am I repeating and reinforcing unhelpful behaviors?
If you are thinking about quitting your job, it’s important for you to examine whether this departure would be a unique occurrence or part of a pattern of behavior in your career and your life in general. Do you frequently respond to adversity by trying to escape rather than persevere? Have you quit other jobs when things haven’t gone your way? Ask a friend or mentor about their perceptions. Try to be honest with yourself about this, and do not be judgmental. Avoidance is a perfectly normal human response to difficulty.
If this is part of a pattern in your life, how well has it served you, and how likely is it to serve you in the future? Learning to cope with and push through tough times is an important skill to learn. How would your career and personal relationships benefit if you were better able to negotiate to change the things in your job that bother you and to accept the things that you cannot?
This may be your opportunity to learn to navigate adversity rather than avoid it. Don’t underestimate what an important skill this is for both your career and your personal life.
How will leaving affect my career?
In the short term, think about how this will look on your résumé. Not so long ago, people with lots of different jobs with different employers were known as job-hoppers. They were dismissed as too erratic, disloyal or incompetent to consider for a position. As changing jobs has become common, much of that stigma has faded, but that doesn’t mean it’s entirely gone. If you have a string of jobs lasting less than a couple of years, recruiters and hiring managers will assume that, at best, you are unlikely to stay long and become a regular contributor to their organization. The more damaging assumption is that you may have been forced to leave your past positions due to your inadequacies. They may think that you are not technically competent. Or they may wonder if you have trouble working with other people or a history of disrupting projects and dragging others’ productivity down with unnecessary drama.
In the long term, you’ll likely get fewer opportunities for growth. If you are interested in learning new technology or trying out management roles, you’ll have a tougher time getting the chance to do these things. Hiring managers rarely bring in new people to do things that they haven’t already done. They prefer to hire people with demonstrated skills for the initial role they are expected to play. Managers offer the chance to learn new things to people they know and trust. And even if they know you, they are not likely to invest in you if they expect you to leave soon.
Of course, there are times when leaving is the right thing to do regardless of the consequences. But most of the time, it pays to take a step back and reflect before you act on the impulse to quit. Doing so may cost you more in future opportunities than you realize.
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