Before You Leave It All Behind
I remember pulling up to my new workplace nervous, hopeful, and still a little sad that I had quit my last job.
I’d taken about two weeks off in between, which was important because it took nearly that long just to get rid of the papers, folders, and extra stuff in my home office from six years at a company I loved. In that time, I’d become the go-to girl for a very specific piece of the business.
Leaving, even with a solid transition plan in place, felt kind of like walking away from a marriage – painful for everyone and a little bit selfish.
I was a late twenty-something with about seven years of work experience, and hungry for a leadership opportunity my company couldn’t provide. My track record was good, but I’d outgrown the niche I’d carved for myself. My hunch was that unless I did something drastic, I’d always be “Mel, the teacher outreach girl.”
Frankly, I was bored with the work and concerned that I’d grown complacent.
At the time, a former colleague and friend needed a young leader on her team. The timing was fortuitous and I bit. Two months later, I was transitioning off the team of my nonprofit and onto the leadership team of a charter school.
Eleven months later, I was on the phone with a friend and mentor sharing the painful truth: that I was afraid I made a mistake in leaving my former company. The very attributes that made me a winner in my last environment made me stick out like a sore thumb in my new one. The people were mission-aligned, sincere, and some of the most hardworking I’d ever met, but they weren’t my people.
In this new environment, I still didn’t have the leadership opportunity I was hoping for. What I did have was a year of hard knocks that taught me a valuable lesson: the grass isn’t always greener – and often, it’s not even grass at all.
Four weeks later, I found a way back to my old company, on a new team and in a new seat. The work has been hard and ambiguous at times, but the people, culture, and mission have been a North star confirming that I’m in the right place.
Reflecting on my experience, I figured out what my problem was all along: I assumed there was no way to find what I needed in the company I loved. When things got hard, rather than looking for a new opportunity within my company, I did what was the most intuitive– found the job I wanted elsewhere.
For many of us – those who don’t hate their company, or even their job, but just aren’t happy anymore – it may seem easier to just find something new. But like any great relationship, a strong bond between an employee, their boss, and even their company is worth fighting for.
There are lots of good reasons to leave a company– even a great company– but many of us walk out on our employers without giving them a chance to keep us. Doing that costs us years of won equity and breakout career opportunities.
So how can we avoid the urge to jump ship too early? How can we “love the one we’re with” instead of just chasing the next shiny opportunity?
Before you quit your job, give yourself a longer decision runway
Although the easiest time to leave a job is when things are challenging, most of the decisions you make in haste you’ll regret later. If you’re feeling like you’re fed up, take a walk, a rigorous spin class, or even a mental health day– whatever it takes to clear your head. Talk to your most level-headed friends or mentors (outside the company). What do they think is happening? Don’t make a move until you’ve deescalated, had time to reflect, and have weighed all your options.
Talk to the man in the mirror
Before you jump ship, get to the bottom of what’s really bugging you– or what you really want. “Something different” isn’t enough. If you’re not sure what’s broken, I guarantee your next job won’t fix it. Spend the time to isolate whether what’s going on is boredom, interpersonal drama, overwhelm due to your workload, competitive jealousy, etc. Once you do, figure out how much of what’s wrong has to do with your job in specific – and how much has to do with things you could do better. The truth is, if the problem is internal, it will follow you to your next job.
Don’t take on other people’s drama
Although complaining to others sometimes makes us feel better in the moment, it does little to ameliorate the real problem. Instead of complaining to your peers at the digital water cooler, think about what you could do, right now, to better your situation. Refuse to be a trash can for others’ complaints as well. It’s one thing to troubleshoot problems together; it’s another to demean people and conspire together. If you don’t watch it, before you know it, you’ll find yourself taking on other people’s angst as well as your own.
Say no strategically
A lot of the reason our workload overwhelms us is because we’re afraid to say no. As in, “No, I don’t have bandwidth for this project” or “No, I can’t work this weekend – I have family plans.” There’s a time to be flexible, and a time to be stalwart. The trick is knowing when to be rigid about your priorities and what’s realistic to deliver. As long as you’re getting your manager’s priorities done, you’ll be surprised how much wiggle room you have to say no to “good” but not “great” ideas.
Don’t play the short-game
The truth is when you’re stuck at work a few extra dollars in your pocket isn’t going to make that much of a difference. Instead of nickel and diming your boss, figure out what the most strategic ask to make is– then make it. Maybe what matters most to you is making a significant career jump in the next five years: decide what additional opportunities and tasks you need experience with, and ask to do them– for free. You’d be surprised what will be given to a person who wants more responsibility and has proven themselves effective.
In short, the choice to walk away from a company you love when you feel stuck is a valid one– but it’s not your only option. One lesson I’ve learned in the last two years is there are ways to keep the fire burning and “love the one you’re with” without compromising on the career experiences and opportunities that matter most to you.
Have you ever walked away from a job, only to regret it later? What strategies do you use to stay motivated during a hard season at work?