Why “Don’t be a quitter” could be the worst advice your parents ever gave you

Posted by Kurt Rakos on 2/2/21 8:45 AM
Kurt Rakos
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Should I quit my job?

How to shake off the ridiculous myth that quitting = failure

Like many a Minnesotan, I was raised to believe that “grit” – the ability to never, ever give up in the face of adversity – is one the highest virtues to be found in a human. For the most part, I still believe it: the idea of withstanding whatever storm – in order to pursue or preserve a noble cause – is a beautiful thing. But for some of us, it seems, this ideal of refusing to retreat has become so deeply ingrained that the idea of quitting a bad job without the safety of a new, “better” job lined up, goes against our very grain. Why do we commit to staying stuck in a joyless job? Is it noble to keep your head, smile through the pain, and stick with a horrible job, just for the paycheck? Yes. It certainly is when your ability to provide for and protect those you love (yourself included) is depending on that paycheck. But the truth is, there are ways to remove some of the financial obstacles. In fact, check out this article about how to financially prepare to quit your job.

Here, I want to talk about how to remove that other obstacle: that little voice in the back of your head that keeps telling you nobody likes a quitter.

A toxic job is like quicksand. The longer you’re stuck, the deeper you sink. Inevitably, it’s tough to keep a clear head, stay positive, and launch a successful job search. The key to getting the heck outta there? I’ve broken it down into the steps I’ve seen work.

Reframe: You’re running toward (not running away).

Here’s my own rule about the “Don’t Be a Quitter mindset”: the length of time you stay stuck in that thinking is roughly equivalent to the length of time you’ll stay stuck in that toxic job. Start planning your escape by making two lists.

  • List 1 - What I’m Leaving Behind: Here, name those things that make your current job untenable. Seriously. Write them down. You might be surprised by how empowering this little exercise will be. Why? Because when you name your reasons for leaving, you give them the legitimacy they deserve. They also help keep you focused when that voice in your head tries to tell you you’re just being a quitter.
  • List 2 - What I’m Seeking: For this one to be useful, you’ll need to have really know the difference between nice-to-have’s and non-negotiables. You’ll also need to be specific. If you find yourself using general phrases like, “a place where I feel valued,” that’s fine. But don’t stop there. Put the thought into what kind of place values its people. Name some examples. Name some characteristics. Just as importantly, name the kind of work and work activities that energize you.

Stop falling for the false promises.

Those of us who tend to look for the bright side in any situation face a particular risk: we cling to positive signs, no matter how tiny, how brief, how intermittent as a reason to “hang in there because things are starting to look up.” If this is a pattern that repeats itself, I have an update for you: No, things aren’t looking up. If you doubt me, start to journal these little episodes. Write them down. Do you see that pattern? The one where each series of negatives and knockdowns gets temporarily interrupted by random moments of empty praise or future promises? You’re stuck. And you deserve better.

Muster your supporters.

Networking, when done well, is always a good idea. In fact, there’s an undeniable correlation between building a strong professional network and cultivating a great career. But I think there’s a serious misconception out there about how networks really work. Good networking should support you on many different levels. Sure, if you’ve invested your time and energy in the workshops and the industry happy hours and the endless opportunities to opine and advise on social media, you should expect to be richly rewarded with referrals, references, and serious inside tips on great opportunities. But don’t overlook that other, partially overlapping network: that smaller circle of like-minded, dependable folk whom you can trust with the realities of your current job and the worries associated with “quitting.” These are the people who know you and a thing or two about your situation, and will be there, at your side as you plan your leap out, up, and forward. Talk to them. Enlist them early as your support team.

Script your resignation.

So, you’ve been daydreaming about how it will all go down, haven’t you? You vent your spleen in a perfectly choreographed, witheringly sarcastic final speech and swagger out, smug, satisfied and free as a bird. If that little fantasy gets you through each day until you do actually resign, more power to you. But here’s the thing: keep it there, in the fantasy drawer. Don’t let all – or any – of those pent-up feelings of frustration, betrayal, or disrespect leak into the reality of your resignation. Two reasons for this:

  • Regrets: you’ll have them. Any possible satisfaction you might experience by telling your boss exactly what you really think will be brief – and swiftly eclipsed – by the lingering impact it will have on your job search. Tales of your unprofessional conduct or cutting personal commentary will get around. It’s just not worth it.
  • A more important reason: if the only resignation-day image you’re carrying around in your head is the fantasy one, then you’re not getting any closer to making it a reality.

In most instances, the best resignation from a toxic job is a short one. In nearly all instances, it is a dispassionate one. It is always polite. To nail that, write down the facts you absolutely must share when resigning (the fact that you are actually quitting, and your last day of work). Then consider saying one or two positive things if they’re true (something like “I have learned so much during my time here” or “I will always be proud of xyz accomplishment and am grateful to have had that opportunity”). Then stop. Write the letter. Run it by a trusted friend.

Trust yourself

At the end of the day, you know if a job or a workplace is a place where you can flourish or a situation that constantly depletes you. You know. Steps 1-4 can help you plan, prepare, and practice for your safe departure. But before you can really take flight, you’re going to have to let go of those old messages about quitting and quitters. They’ve been holding you back and weighing you down for too long already.

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Topics: For Job Seekers