Two of the most common topics my coaching clients ask me about are how to manage difficult situations and when to leave because of them. While there is no one-size-fits-all answer to these questions, the one consistent piece of advice I give is: before you leave your job, test your assumptions first. What are some of the assumptions you might be making in your situation? To help you think through them, here are a few common ones I’ve heard, along with some thoughts on how to test them:
- “The other job/boss/culture will be better.”
Are you sure? The saying “the grass is always greener on the other side” is a helpful one if you’re considering a job change for this reason. Don’t get me wrong: the other job may very well be better – the point I’m making is to be sure that’s true before you make the leap. Is it possible you’ll have a better boss, but awful coworkers? Perhaps a better culture, but terrible hours? One strategy you can try is to talk to people who work either in similar roles, or who work in the organization you’re looking to move into. What is it like for them? What do they like and dislike about what they do? Another strategy is to actually apply and interview there – doing so doesn’t mean you have to leave right now; it can simply provide helpful information that will give you perspective about your current role. Maybe you’ll find the other organization is a logistical mess, and realize how much you appreciate how organized your current organization is. Better yet, perhaps you get an offer at the other company and (pro negotiator tip!) leverage it for a raise in your current role – now you have the perspective to realize you’re already in the right job for you and more pay for it! It has happened. Or, you may find that other role really is better and you’d genuinely be better off leaving – who knows until you test the assumption?
- “I’d be happier with a higher salary.”
Are you sure? Money can be an extremely tempting reason to leave your current job. If you just had a higher salary, you could afford more of the things that make you happy, right? Not necessarily. There are some reasonable things we need (such as more room if your family has outgrown its current housing situation) that might really help improve your well-being and happiness. In my experience, though, most of what the extra funds will buy have zero to do with happiness. There was one job in particular that I left and with the lower income that ensued, I couldn’t afford to live in the area that would provide shorter commute times. I had to give up all luxuries and live off the bare minimum basics for a little while. What I learned during that period is that none of those comforts made me happy. The job was making me so unhappy, in fact, that I was happier without all the comforts as long as I didn’t have to go to that job! If you’re considering another position just for higher pay, ask yourself: what do you like about your current role that might be worse about this new one? Could you bring home more stress to your loved ones after work? What will it be like to be in this new role – can you picture yourself there? Usually, the higher salary is a trade for something else – longer hours, more responsibility, more direct reports, etc. – so if you’re able to really get in the mindset of what the new role will be like, you’re more likely to be able to make an informed decision about whether it’s the right move.
- “I have to get away from this difficult person/situation.”
Are you sure? I once had an early-career coaching client who was in a low-stakes, temporary position. Their boss was frustrating to work for and constantly failed to provide clarity about the role. It was chaotic, uncomfortable, and full of conflict. Sounds painful and a great situation to leave… right? However, if we back up a step and look at the bigger picture, a few insights emerge: first, there will always be difficult people. They’re everywhere. Would moving to another job guarantee all pleasant interactions? Certainly not. Second, given this is a low-stakes, temporary role, what if it’s the opportunity of a lifetime to practice working with someone difficult, so that in the next role where it really matters, they come prepared with new skills to handle this kind of situation? If you’re dealing with a difficult situation at work that’s making you want to leave, ask yourself: is there a valuable lesson or other bigger purpose the discomfort is serving? Ultimately, there is no job worth sacrificing your health and well-being to stay in for long, so another approach is to identify a “breakeven” point so that you are clear what the boundary is between learning a lesson and being downright unhealthy. Then, if you hit that defined point, it will be clearer that it’s time to leave.
- “I know exactly why I’m unhappy in this role.”
Are you sure you’ve identified the right problem? One of my younger coaching clients was feeling tired, frustrated, and unmotivated only three months into her first “real” job after graduating. She reached out to a mentor who could not believe she was thinking of quitting that soon. “But I have no purpose in my work!” she protested. It was clear something had to change – she couldn’t go to work every day feeling that way. It was slowly eating away at her. However, the problem wasn’t that her work had no purpose – she just wasn’t looking at it from far enough away to see the purpose. That particular job’s purpose on her path was to help her gain transferrable skills – skills that take more than 3 months to build, and skills that she would need to get more meaningful work down the line. I’ve never met anyone who found and was living their career purpose in 3 months (it took me 7 years). If you’re “sure” you know why you’re unhappy in your current role, you can test your assumption by talking with a loved one, mentor or coach (or journaling) about the bigger picture. Is there another way to see what’s going on? What would they advise you to do if they were in your situation? Is there anything you’re missing or haven’t considered about the situation?
Sometimes, though, it really is time to leave. How do you know when to quit your job? The following are some of the reasons to consider:
- You are in a prolonged, toxic situation that is compromising your physical and/or mental health.
- You know exactly what you need to do career-wise and have an adequate support system to do it, but the only thing holding you back is fear or limiting beliefs.
- You haven’t learned anything new in a few months despite a good faith effort in consultation with your manager. You are the expert at your role, and you want to learn and grow.
- After testing your assumptions and consulting loved ones, you determine that leaving is the best move for you at this time.
I hope these tips have helped you think through your situation! If you could use a coach on your journey, or someone to talk through your journey, please don’t hesitate to chat with me.