Breaking Up (With Your Job) is Hard To Do

I have a client who is completely fed up with her job. She is spread too thin, underpaid, under-resourced, isolated, and dissatisfied. She has tried hard to make the job work better, but it has now become clear that the fundamental problems with this job are not going to change. She sees that it will never provide what she wants and needs from her job: financial reward, respect, teamwork, meaning, and balance. If this job were a boyfriend, her friends would all be urging her to dump him and find someone more worthy.

And yet she is finding it difficult to leave – in part because she feels trapped by a bad job market, and in part because she finds it painful to let go of the hopes and dreams she had when she took the job. Despite her disappointment, she can still see the potential that attracted her to the job in the first place. It feels like a loss and a failure to give up and move on.

We coaches often talk about having a vision and going for it. But sometimes you try as hard as you can to make something work and circumstances beyond your control make it impossible. So when do you quit and how can you overcome your feelings of disappointment and failure?

How do you break up with your job?

Step 1. Assess whether your needs are being met. A job, like a relationship, needs to align with your values. Identify the things that are most important to you and the things that you would like to have. If your current situation doesn’t meet all your “non-negotiables” and many of your “nice-to-haves,” then you know that it is not long-term viable and it’s just a matter of time until you leave.

Step 2. It takes two …. Just as you can’t fix a relationship single-handedly, you can’t hold yourself responsible for a poor work environment or bad management. If you have tried hard to make things work, acknowledge your effort and don’t blame yourself. Recognize what you have done to try to resolve the problems at your job. And also recognize the elements that are outside your control. Don’t blame yourself.

Step 3. Learn your lessons. Reflect on your experience and extract whatever lessons you can learn from it. What about this job works and doesn’t work, and what should you seek in your next position? What attracted you to it, and were there warning signs at the first date (interview) that you should have heeded? Are there things you would do differently next time?

Step 4. Allow yourself to mourn, but don’t wallow. Letting go of a dream, like breaking up, can be painful. So cry on a friend’s shoulder, write (but don’t send) a pissed-off letter to your boss, or do whatever you need to do to acknowledge the loss you feel.

Step 5. Move on. Just as the excitement of a new relationship can help heal the wounds of the old, the prospect of a fresh start at a new employer can help you get over the loss of the dream job that wasn’t. Once you have resolved to break up with your job, take your non-negotiables and nice-to-haves lists, and begin looking for your next position. While I wouldn’t advocate going on any first dates until you have ended a relationship, job interviewing is another matter. Especially in the current job market, unless you can afford an extended period of unemployment, it makes sense to find your next job while still employed.

Step 6. Be choosy. Don’t trade one dysfunctional relationship for another. Use what you have learned in Steps 1-3 and keep looking until you are confident in your choice. Depending on your situation and the job market, you might be looking for Mr. Right (your dream job) or Rebound Guy (a transitional step to ward your dream job). Either way, make sure your decision is grounded in your values and your lessons learned.

P.S. These steps are good for relationships, too!