So, you’ve recently realized that you and your current job just aren’t a great fit. But you’re not quite sure what to do with that realization. Should you quit? Tough it out and try to improve your situation? Coast for now so you can put your energy into finding something better?
These questions aren’t easy, and weighing their endless implications and consequences can be emotionally exhausting.
Well, let me settle your mind a bit.
There are three situations in which you should definitely quit your job. Not necessarily right away—the details of how and when I’ll leave to you. But as for that nagging question of whether or not you should leave, this list will give you some peace of mind about that. If any of the following apply, you can start planning your exit strategy.
1. It Just Isn’t Sustainable
If you find yourself in a situation in which it is emotionally, physically, or mentally draining (or worse) for you even to show up to work, let alone get excited and perform at a high level—you need to leave. It might be due to unsupportive co-workers, an unattentive supervisor, a commute that is destroying all of your personal time, or an unfair workload that is impossible to handle. But whatever the cause, realize that professional development and confidence compound over time—so it’s critical to keep your career momentum moving, rather than getting stuck in a bad situation.
This also includes being systematically underpaid. If you are slowly (but definitively) running out of runway because you have a job that doesn’t pay you well enough, you don’t want to wait until that runway dissolves entirely, at which point it will be much more difficult to move on.
In many situations, there are ways to change these factors—transferring to a new department, picking up a new project, or asking for a raise, for example. But assuming you’ve tried to make the best of the situation and those attempts haven’t been successful, don’t feel bad about doing what you have to do to take care of yourself.
2. It Isn’t Furthering Your Professional Development
A job shouldn’t just provide you with a paycheck—it should be helping you gain skills, experiences, knowledge, and training that will help you further your career. So if you find yourself in a situation in which you are falling unacceptably behind in your professional development, it’s time to move on.
It can be hard to recognize when you’re in this situation, but it’s typically accompanied by a feeling of unmet potential, restlessness, or being “stuck.” More specifically, a job is not contributing to your professional development if it isn’t letting you do at least one of the following things (and ideally several or all of them):
- Gain new skills, networks, expertise, or certifications by working on new projects.
- Save money so that you can make further investments in yourself.
- Invest in yourself directly by paying for your education or professional development experiences like conferences, courses, and trainings.
- Have the time to explore other job duties, organizations, and fields.
- Build relationships with influential people within and outside of your organization, particularly people who might be in a position to help you get promoted or find another job when the time is right.
- Receive mentorship from people who are more experienced than you.
- Find intellectual stimulation in your work.
- Take risks, so that you have the chance to fail, succeed, and learn from those experiences.
- Great companies make sure you’re able to do all of the above, because they know that’s the way to attract and develop top talent. The fewer of these opportunities your job is affording you, the sooner you should be looking to move on.
3. Something Else (Way Better) Comes Along
Every now and then, as you’re slogging away at the path you’ve laid out for yourself, the stars will align and a too-good-to-be-true opportunity will show itself. You won’t see it coming, but you’ll be at a dinner party and someone will turn to you and say “Hey, I’ve got a friend at Dream Company and he’s looking for an XYZ—I feel like you’d be perfect!” And just like that, you’re two phone calls and an unofficial interview away from an amazing job opportunity.
This one sounds like a no-brainer, but I’ve seen a lot of people consider passing on these types of opportunities because of fear, loyalty, or self-doubt. But remember: At the end of the day, you don’t owe your company more than you owe yourself in furthering your own development and growth. If you’ve been offered a job that will offer you much more in the way of career development, responsibility, or happiness—unless you would be causing catastrophic failure at your current employer—you should take it.
Admittedly, these situations aren’t always as black and white as I’ve depicted here. In almost every situation, there is some facet of your job that makes it worth staying at. But be honest with yourself about why you’re not happy. And if there’s something you want to change or gain—some skill, some side project, something that gives you valuable traits that you didn’t have before—don’t be afraid to ask for these things. Good managers will appreciate your interest in keeping yourself sharp and growing, and they’ll help to get you the right opportunities.
And if you’ve tried, and your organization isn’t receptive to your heartfelt requests, take a deep breath and lay your plans. It’s time to find something bigger and better.