Time to Leave: Knowing When to Quit Your Dead-End Job
by Kelli Smith
You only live once, so make the most of it. Don't settle for mediocrity. Identify what you want out of life and work towards it. Open your mind to potential opportunities. Create opportunities for yourself.
All of these motivational phrases can be read in self-help books, and some can be found in fortune cookies. They sound great, but aren't much use unless we learn to apply them to our own lives. Unfortunately, life lessons are best learned through individual experience, which can be painful. Little of what you read will affect your outlook on life as much as something that actually happens to you.
If you dread going to work every day, it's time to take control of your life and find a career you can be passionate about. Make the most of your professional life! It's possible to break the inertia that's currently keeping you at your dead-end job. But you won't fully understand and appreciate the reality of this advice unless you act on it and experience for yourself how far your own sense of purpose can take you.
Step 1: Identify your Passions Here's the first piece of advice. You'll never get anywhere until you identify what you want to do for forty or more hours a week. What are your hobbies? What activities get you excited? If you're not passionate about some aspect of how you spend the majority of your week, you won't be fulfilled. No matter what anyone tells you, it's hard to find passion in life if you hate your job.
What about finding fulfillment through supporting your family? Often, the glum you'll bring home from your hateful job will do more harm to your family members than the good of the money you bring home. What about finding fulfillment over the long term by sucking up horrible work hours in order to earn the promotions necessary to make more money? If you ultimately hate what you're doing, you'll still hate it at a higher level. You'll just have more money and time to distract yourself from the fact that you don't like your chosen purpose in life.
This is your life we're talking about. A few more trips to the Cape and a couple of extra fancy meals won't fill the big gaping hole in your heart where your sense of self and purpose are supposed to be. Your reason for living has to include the fruits of your labor, because that labor ultimately accounts for 11,000 days, 2,200 weeks, or 42 years of your life.
Next Step: Take Action Once you take a close look at yourself and figure out where your passions lie, you may realize that you need to make some changes, including leaving your current job. This decision can be one of the harder decisions of your life to make. It's tough to leave a steady job and a known entity to face the risk of unemployment and uncertainty. The one thing that should give you consolation is that over 50% of your peers have done it already. According to a study conducted by George Mason University, 51% of college graduates ten or more years out of college have changed jobs at least once since graduation. Almost half of them, 43%, said that if they could to do it all over again, they would have chosen a new major of study. What this should tell you is that most people don't have a great idea of what they want to do right out of college, and that ending up in a career that's right for you may take some trial and error.
When I graduated from college in 1999, most of my friends wanted to work in the investment banking or management consulting industries. It was generally accepted that those two fields paid handsomely and provided the most room for career growth in the long term. I ended up working for a consulting firm in the Silicon Valley. I had no idea what I wanted to do after I graduated, so I surmised that what was good for my friends would be good enough for me. I was wrong. My main two passions were politics and music, neither of which I followed when choosing the consulting road.
After two years, I was depressed. I dreaded going to work every day because it made me feel lost and unfulfilled. I started caring less and less about climbing the corporate ladder and impressing my bosses. When it came time for my two-year evaluation, one of my partners handed me a questionnaire that I was to fill out to facilitate a more meaningful review. One of the questions on the form read something like this: "What can you do over the next sixth months to help you become more effective?"
Be Honest with Yourself I tried at first to write something that would fit the expectations, like "communicate better with my teammates," or "assume more leadership roles," etc. Every time I came up with one of those clichés, I just couldn't write it down. I eventually threw up my hands and decided to tell the truth. I told them that over the next six months, I wanted to become a better singer, determine what I could do to help certain political causes, and enter a triathlon. Within two weeks after my review, I decided to leave the firm. Within six months, I was working on a political campaign, taking voice lessons, and had finished the San Jose International triathlon. Filling out that questionnaire was a turning point for me. I had to be truthful with myself, and as soon as I was, my decision to leave my job didn't seem that tough anymore.
Is it time you filled out your own career questionnaire? Have you come to a career crossroads? Listen to your gut. It will tell you whether your current job fulfills you or not. It will also lead you to follow your passions. Don't wait for a sign from a fortune cookie saying "Carpe Diem." Be honest with yourself and "seize the day" when you know the time is right.
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Kelli Smith may be contacted at or firstname.lastname@example.org