Article by Geoff Blades
You’re going to quit at least one job in your life. In fact, more than 2 million Americans quit their jobs every month. You know what’s heartbreaking about that statistic? Virtually none of those 2+ million people know how to quit their job and still win.
You need to approach quitting with a strategy. You must recognize early when it’s time to leave and set a plan to do so in a way that most benefits you. People who ignore their unhappiness and wait until their situation is so desperate they’re forced to quit are the ones who leave with too little to show for it.
To avoid that situation, here’s a step-by-step guide to quitting your job and still coming out on top:
When to Quit
Knowing when it’s time to quit requires being brutally honest with yourself. You have to ask, “Am I excited to be here?” At its core, that’s what this is all about – excitement.
Let me give you an example. When my friends or clients have decided to quit their jobs, they often come to the decision in different ways, but they all start in the same place. They begin with the feeling that something isn’t “right,” that they aren’t as excited about their life as they should be, that there is “more to life than this.”
Those who bury that feeling deep inside wind up wasting years at a job only to exit without a strategy when the proverbial final straw breaks their back. The ones who trust that feeling and investigate it are the ones who quit their jobs and win.
To start being honest with yourself, ask yourself these questions:
- How many times did I hit snooze on my alarm clock today?
- How many cups of coffee did it take me to get going?
- During my day, how often did I think about doing something else?
People often assume work should be a slog. Everyone has trouble waking up. Everyone needs coffee to get going. Everyone imagines being on vacation while they work.
People who are living the life they want to live wake up excited to dive into their day. They don’t need a liter of coffee to get going in the morning, nor do they spend their days fantasizing about being somewhere else.
People who are living the life they truly want tend to have one other thing in common as well: They didn’t magically find themselves where they are. Instead, they moved strategically from job to job, collecting the skills, experiences, and relationships they needed to get to where they are today. In other words, they’ve learned how to quit their job to continue winning.
How to Quit
There is a formula for quitting a job in a way that moves you closer to your dream life, and it’s a simple three-step process. Although the specifics might differ, this approach generally works for everyone:
1. Determine Why You Want to Leave
To understand what excites you, you need to understand what doesn’t excite you. Think about your current day-to-day. What tasks do you put off? What kind of days leave you most exhausted? Don’t stop there. Go deeper. Why do you feel that way? Why do you put off tasks? Do you lack the skills to do them well? Are they opposed to the kind of work that excites you?
These questions can help you understand what about this job unsettles you and allow you to begin formulating a new plan.
2. Discover What You Want
After listing out all the reasons why you don’t want to be where you are, you need to figure out where you do want to be. For many of us, creating a vision for our future is a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be. You’ve already created a list of qualities you know you don’t want in your life – now focus on the positive qualities that you do want.
Maybe you hate being isolated from people in your work. If so, you can begin by saying to yourself, “I’m not sure which job I want, but I know it involves lots of personal interaction.”
3. Focus on the Action Right in Front You
A mistake many people make is becoming overwhelmed. They look at what they want their life to be, and they let the weight of that massive vision crush them.
To avoid this problem, don’t constantly focus on this “big vision” of your life. Instead, focus on one thing every day: What action are you taking today to keep your life moving in the right direction?
Don’t worry about stepping straight into your dream life tomorrow. Figure out what action will move the needle today. What skill can you start learning today that will help you get there? Who can you meet today that will bring value to your life?
You might think, “Sure, Rome wasn’t built in a day, but that’s not a stunning insight.”
But you’re wrong. This is about more than incremental progress.
As you move through life, your vision will inevitably shift. What will not shift, however, are the skills and relationships you build. By focusing on adding value to your life every day, you make yourself more independent and more capable of chasing your dreams even as they shift. You’re adding something permanent to your life: potential.
How to Create a Good Exit Plan
If you follow the process above and remain focused on taking actions that benefit you, it is easy to quit your job without ruining relationships.
A lot of people fantasize about giving their boss a piece of their mind on their way out the door or making some other type of dramatic exit. That isn’t the way to go.
When I quit Goldman Sachs, I sat down with my bosses and told them I had to leave. I was open, positive, and respectful, and they responded in kind. Professionals understand that sometimes a job is a bad fit; it’s nothing personal. If you quit in this way, as a termination of a contract but not a relationship, then you can leave without burning your bridges. This often requires patience.
Take Your Time to Quit
From the day I began exploring the possibility of leaving Goldman Sachs, it took me another six years to actually leave the firm. I know that sounds ludicrously long, but that is how long it took me to make two more career moves inside the firm, stash away some savings, and, most importantly, do the work to convince myself that I was making the right decision.
This did a number of things for me:
- I found clarity on why I was leaving and what I wanted to achieve first.
- It gave me the space to build a strategy for what came next.
- It demonstrated to my bosses that it wasn’t about them or the firm but was the result of many years of reflection.
I built this system by actually living it, and I’ve made my fair share of mistakes along the way. I could have planned a little better; I could have been more focused on the next small steps. But the one thing I nailed was the timing of when to quit.
When you quit, don’t just rush to your boss and tell them it’s over. Take your time to decide what the next step is for you, begin building the skills and relationships you’ll need, and only quit when you know you can hit the ground running.
Why Quitting Is the Key
Many of us feel anxious when we tell our colleagues and our friends that we’re quitting. In part, we’re afraid of the financial and professional repercussions. On an even deeper level, though, we’re afraid that we are being ungrateful.
A lot of people reading this are probably in the same place right now. Even equipped with the system I’ve laid out, they are held back by this sense that what they have right now is all they deserve. A company will fail if it pays employees more than they contribute to the company – it’s simple math. If you think that by pursuing the life you want you are screwing someone over, you’re making your job too personal.
Jobs are economic contracts. You are selling your employer the precious hours of your life in exchange for getting what you want. If your job isn’t giving you that, what choice do you have?
Never let fear force you to settle. You can have – and deserve – nothing less than exactly what you want in life. Often that, means you’ll have to quit a job or two.
A version of this article originally appeared on SUCCESS.com.
Geoff Blades is an advisor to senior Wall Street professionals, CEOs and other leaders. After a career as a vice president at Goldman Sachs, Geoff quit to study how everyone can achieve high performance. He’s the author of Do What You Want, a career guide for professionals serious about winning.