When Work is Bad: Getting the Guts to Leave Your Job

"Every day is like being in an abusive relationship," Liz said of her job. She was miserable. There would be the occasional good day, a week or two that were fun or engaging. But mostly, she was miserable, and it was only getting worse. Her boss was terrible, either criticizing her behind her back or avoiding her entirely. Her motivation was shot and had been for months now. Instead of starting new projects she would job hunt at work, looking at listings online and thinking about leaving. Most days she couldn't muster the cheerful hello to her colleagues, and quietly went straight to her desk in the morning. She would question decisions instead of act on them. Sometimes she would argue, she just couldn't help it. "I don't think my manager is very happy with me," she told me. And at about 2:30 pm, she would watch the clock tick ever slowly toward the end of the day. She was slipping slowly into the void. 

You Can Leave on your Terms or Theirs 

You will need to leave this situation. Staying is a no go. First, of all, you must leave because life is simply too short to waste it this way. And second, even if you choose to stay, your lack of motivation has been noticed, and the situation will most likely continue to deteriorate. And then the choice to leave will not be one you get to make, you will be forced out. You can make this workplace relationship end slowly and painfully, or you can bite the bullet and take action to go. I know it's scary to leave a job that might feel secure or safe, or certainly safer than going out into Job Search Land, but if you are mostly miserable, like in a bad relationship, you can't afford to stay. 

Dare to Dream 

Now that we've become clear on that, in order to help propel you out the door, think about what's possible for your life instead. What are your day dreams about what you would do with your time if you had all the time in the world? Do you have a fantasy job? (Don't freak out, I've read all those articles about how you're not supposed to follow your passion too, I'll get to that.) When I was in my last miserable job I used to fantasize about owning a coffee shop, the smell of the coffee, and big leather couches, a place where I would know the people who came in and I could set the rules and build community. This is not the next option I took but it was an interesting indicator of what I wanted to move toward instead (and, incidentally, I now get some of my best work done in coffee shops!). So what's your fantasy? How do you feel when you day dream about other options? There are clues in those fantasies that you can listen for.

Do things that Build Your Confidence 

One of the killers in a bad work situation is feeling like you lack worth as a professional and as a person. So overcome that by engaging in activities that will boost your confidence, esteem, and dust off some old skills. Volunteer to teach something that's a strong interest of yours, or that you have expertise in. Take a class in a topic that you've always loved. Do things you're good at, whether that's running, drawing, boxing, or weeding. 

Transferable Skills: What Makes you Amazing 

What skills do you have that you can take to your next work adventure? Think about all the tasks you've completed or projects you've worked on, or even just what skills you utilized as part of your work in the past. What are you good at? If you struggle with this, ask others. What skills do your coworkers, friends, teachers, or fellow students think you have? 

Get Support

There are lots of people who have left crappy jobs and gone on to live a life more amazing than they ever thought possible. I am one of those people, and they are all around you. Ask people for their work stories. Let people know you hate it but you feel stuck, and ask if they have ever gone through that, and what their experience was. Join a community like Escape the City or Live Your Legend to surround yourself with people who've been there and moved on.

Get Out There 

Now get out there and let people know you're looking. Take small steps that will begin the change process. Update your LinkedIn profile. Update your resume. Research best companies to work for in your area. Go tour a startup incubator or coworking space. Take a class to brush up your skills. Create a website. Tell people you're looking to make a change. Take action. 

Not sure if quitting is the right thing? Talk to me.