If you’ve been thinking about leaving your job, do it this year. If you haven’t been thinking about quitting, but think you might be valued as an employee somewhere else or have something more to offer the world, start thinking about saying goodbye to your boss.
Every time as an adult I left one job for another — or to work for myself — it was something I regretted not doing sooner. I have few regrets in this world, but I look back on my progress, and I think I would have benefited much more if I worked up the nerve to quit earlier than I did.
No one can blame me for staying in a relatively stable situation, holding onto a paycheck and subsidized health insurance benefits. That creates a comfortable situation, and that comfort is the set of handcuffs companies use to ensure their employees don’t leave whenever the mood strikes. The media help by making every American aware of the high unemployment rate, keeping workers where they are, scared to venture out and find a working situation vastly better than the one they could be leaving.
Although what was my side business at the time had begun to generate revenue beyond what I was earning at my uninspiring, boring day job, I stuck around. My routine worked for me. I could work eight hours during the day and come home from the office, have dinner, and work another eight hours or so before going to sleep. Juggling two jobs paid off. I had my paycheck and benefits, but I had a nice source of additional cash.
Even after I decided it was time to leave my job, when my side earnings were a healthy multiple of the paychecks from my day job, I tried to take the easy way out. I still wanted the security of a corporate job, so I tried to negotiate a leave of absence. A leave of absence to work for oneself is not something the company normally grants, so it took some time for managers to have discussions with their bosses. It was taking extra time, and the outlook didn’t look good, so I have my notice. I gave my notice, and it was about three years later than I should have.
I found pretty quickly that being able to focus on my own business allowed me to grow that business much faster. Had I made this move three years prior, there’s no telling what I would have been able to accomplish.
Anyone who feels they might not be getting what they want out of their job should start putting the wheels in motion to leave. This year will likely be a good opportunity. The job market will continue to improve. The economy seems to also be favoring start-ups with great ideas. Businesses will be looking for the best talent and the most motivated people, and with some of the balance in the job market shifting back to workers, companies will be more willing to offer competitive compensation and benefits — but not for those who stay in the same job. You’ll have to look elsewhere to get what you want.
An article on Forbes pointed to the Corporate Executive Board’s five reasons employees look for when seeking a new job:
- Health benefits
- Work-life balance
Perhaps this is true, but throughout my life, the one thing I never really felt in a job was that my skills and talents were being used to their fullest capacity. This left me feeling unfulfilled and underemployed. I did what I could to rectify that within just about every job I’ve had, shaping my roles and responsibilities to be more gratifying, but for me, it wasn’t enough. And I think that often, ideas like stability, health benefits, and work-life balance, among other things, are used as excuses to stay in a job that’s emotionally unsatisfying. “Well, at least I get paid steadily and have good benefits,” someone might admit after complaining about their job.
There’s something better out there for everyone, and resolve this year to find it. Quitting your job without a plan can be exciting, but it might not be the best way to build long-term financial success. It’s good to have a plan, if not a firm job offer or method of replacing your income, before leaving one position behind. At the same time, the lack of a steady income right off the bat can provide much-needed motivation to find something new — but beware, the pressure to replace income can force you to accept a job that’s just as bad as the one you’re leaving. It’s best to prepare.
Build up your emergency fund. A well-organized emergency fund, consisting of cash and savings, is necessary if you’re taking a job-related risk. A common rule of thumb is to grow your emergency fund to a size that will cover a number of months of your previous income, and that number should match the unemployment number. For example, if the government reports the unemployment rate at 8 percent, you should have 8 months of income stored away in a safe place.
If you’re taking a risk, you have a good reason to boost that emergency fund even higher. If, however, you already have a new job lined up before quitting, you may never need to touch your emergency fund. It’s still better to have it than not.
Discuss your plan with your family. I’ll admit, making job decisions has been easy for me — well, it should have been — because I have no one relying on my income. Without a wife or children, there is no one else besides me who needs the cash flow I generate to survive in a manner to which they would be accustomed. Having a family with financial needs is one reason people who would be better off in new working situations stay in their current jobs. Many businesses never get started because the risk is too high when there’s a family to feed.
Personal sacrifices and compromises are a part of living with a family. There are a few options to consider. One is not leaving one job until there’s a clear offer or you’ve re-created that income elsewhere. But that could take too long, and you could be wasting too much time working in an unsatisfying situation. You don’t want to make a decision that affects your entire family without your family 100 percent behind your decision, so find out what it takes to allow you to improve this aspect of your life by keeping the discussion open and honest.
Let people know of your intentions. Your friends and colleagues can be some of the best resources for helping you find a better situation. This can get tricky. You may not want to tip your boss off to the fact you’re looking for a new job and will probably quit at the first opportunity. The worst that can happen is that they’ll find a way to let you go — but that’s not always a bad thing. You’re intending to leave, anyway, and this way you’ll probably be able to at least collect unemployment benefits — a small consolation if nothing else — while moving your life in a better direction.
Admit to the world that you are open to new opportunities, and others will help you find them.
Don’t burn your bridges. Treat every relationship you’ve made over the years with class. Don’t, as a grand farewell gesture, write an opinion piece for the New York Times criticizing your job and your industry (unless you have a book deal in place, I suppose). Make yourself available to your prior job should your former bosses need your help during a transitional period. With one of my previous jobs, the company was calling me at least a year after I left, asking for my assistance, recognizing I had some skills they found difficult to replace.
There are many reasons often given for maintaining good relationships with people you may not work with in the future, and many of these reasons stem from the basic idea that they might be in a position to help you in the future, and you don’t want to miss that opportunity. This is a selfish reason to remain on good terms; do it because treating other people with class and respect is the only way to be comfortable with who you are. How you treat others — especially how you treat others who appear to have nothing to offer you — defines who you are.
Don’t hesitate longer than necessary. I shouldn’t have drawn out my process of quitting. It took two months after I let my boss know I was interested in taking a leave of absence before the point where I just quit outright. I should have quit from the outset, and I should have done it years earlier. I was already in a good enough personal situation to leave the job behind, but I hesitated. I thought my success would only be temporary — and I had a list of similar excuses. Just do it.
Don’t wait one second longer than you have to, once everything else is in place. Don’t wait for your new situation to be perfect, though. Nothing, and I can vouch to this from my own experience, is ever perfect.
Are you quitting your job this year? Have you quit recently? What were your experiences?
Published or updated January 7, 2013.