Quitting Time

Have you ever been so frustrated (or tired, or upset)….that you just wanted to quit? I know the feeling. I’ve been there lots of times….from jobs that seemed to be going nowhere, to relationships that didn’t seem to work anymore, to goals I’ve been pursuing……that didn’t seem to be worth pursuing as much. 4cfdf9210b27e6cabef7956352734461

Some times, however, I have trouble knowing when it’s really time to quit. Not to quit pushing forward, but maybe to change direction towards a better goal. Instead of continuing to pour energy into something that isn’t working for anyone involved…..maybe it’s better to decide…..’I’m going to do something else.’

For example, early on in my career, I took a job at a (now defunct) communications company. I was moving from the NYC area down to Washington, DC, and I needed a job….so I woke with a recruiter who was trying to fill openings at the company. I heard all the good things he was saying….and either didn’t hear (or probably ignored) any of the concerns I might have had about taking a job with a company where I didn’t know the culture, hadn’t worked in the industry, and hadn’t even talked with my potential team members.

Once I moved to the area and started the job….it was pretty clear that I was in over my head. I tried to keep up with the constant stream of e-mail, meetings and discussions that I had no idea how to deal with. The recruiter had already been paid, I had 3 bosses in 2 months….and by this time, I didn’t know how to get out of the mess. It was clearly the wrong fit, but I kept thinking…if I just work a little harder, put in more hours….that I’ll eventually get it.

That wasn’t happening. The pace only picked up, and new consultants kept showing up every week. My newest boss (#4) brought in a group of consultants and had me show them the ropes. What I didn’t know was…..that was who was going to replace me. So….on the Friday before Christmas, six months after moving to DC and starting the job….and 2 months after buying my first house….I got called into the bosses’ office.

“We’re going to have to let you go.”

I was stunned. How could I be failing at the job? It really didn’t matter. There was no discussion, no explanation why…just thanks, and turn in your badge. Here I was, right before the holidays, a mortgage payment coming up, and now, I was unemployed. How could this get any worse?

Turns out…that was the wrong question to ask. What I should have asked was,

‘What can I learn from this, and how can I make things better?’

I learned three things from the experience, and have tried to remember those lessons to this day.

1) Some times, quitting is the right thing to do. The job wasn’t a fit for me, and it was apparent, almost from day one. Instead of doubling down and trying to make things work, my time, effort (and sanity) would have been better spent looking for the right fit in another job. Mistakes happen, and some times we make decisions with incomplete information. Once we have enough information to make the RIGHT decision, it’s important to make it and move forward.

2) Working harder isn’t always the answer. No matter how much I tried, that job wasn’t going to work. I was the wrong person in the wrong job, and I needed to recognize that first. It’s not fair to anyone, including the company, to keep prolonging a bad situation. It’s a good thing to work hard, but it’s even better to work hard at something you’re actually good at doing (or at least can get good at doing).

3) No matter how bad a situation seems, you can make it better. I was devastated when I lost that job. I thought things would never be right again, and that I’d have trouble finding anything at all, let alone anything that was better. Turns out, losing that job was a good thing. It got me out of that ‘deer in the headlights’ phase, and moving forward on finding a better job. I had to really work at it, but just a few weeks later, I found a new job and was surprisingly (at least to me, at first) good at it. The thing that I needed to do was recognize that the situation wasn’t working, and that I was the one who needed to change.

There’s an old saying that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. In my case, what I was doing….was insane. I felt that if I kept doing more of the same (just working harder at it) was going to make things better. What I needed to do….was to QUIT doing what I was doing…..and do something else.

Is there something that you’ve been doing that isn’t working? Maybe it’s time to quit.

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