It’s sometime after 3 p.m. on any given day at the office. You’ve perused your way silly through social media. By now you know way too much about what’s going on in the life of a former college classmate you promised to contact for lunch almost two years ago. You skim the job boards, wondering whether you should submit your résumé for a couple of appealing positions.
At first the desire to quit your job will manifest itself in small ways: leaving a little early here, arriving a little late there. As your discontent grows, your brain will start to scan for negativity. Unhappiness at work may seep into your personal life. At the office you’ll do your best to always smile, but in time that becomes more and more taxing.
It’s incredible how much effort it takes to pretend that everything is OK.
You’ll get that voice inside your head telling you to find another job only to be paralyzed by questions that seem to have no clear answers: “Where would I go? Who would hire me in this market? Is it the job that dissatisfies me or the industry? Should I have gone into public (or private) accounting after all? Is my unhappiness affecting the way I think about my options?”
Sometimes leaving is the right choice. Sometimes staying is the right choice. And often there’s more at play than what we let ourselves see. Here are some steps that can help you determine the best course of action.
1. Get at the root of your unhappiness
On a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being very dissatisfied, 10 being greatly satisfied), give yourself a satisfaction score for the following categories:
- Everyday job responsibilities
- Growth opportunities
- How much you’ve learned since you started
- Personal life
- How your strengths and interest align with your role
- Personal perception of your company/organization
- Personal values alignment with the company/organization
- Personal finances
Be honest with yourself. Notice any patterns? Are there any clusters of low or high scores? This information will help you create a baseline to identify the areas that are causing you the most discontent. You can modify the list above to fit your own circumstances.
2. What is important to me today, at this point in my life?
We often fall into the trap of making decisions for an older, future, fictional version of ourselves—how we imagine we’ll be at 30, 40, or 50. But when we do that we’re ignoring the needs of the one, real person we are in the present. Having gathered some data about which areas of your life bring you the most and least satisfaction, move on to think about what you want out of life today. Perform an importance inventory, on a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being most important, 10 being least important) for the following categories.
Note: there are 12 options below to provide some range of choice. You should pick the 10 that most resonate with you.
- Environment (this can include any of the following: being in nature, office culture is a good fit, city where you live is important, etc.)
- Making progress toward your goals
- How others see you
- Current job
- Work/life integration
Don’t answer how you think you’re supposed to answer as a 20- or 30-something. Answer according to how you really feel.
3. Now really ask yourself…
How does my importance ranking match up to my satisfaction ranking? What areas of my life are most influencing how I feel? What would “change” look like?
4. Action plan
Regardless of whether you decide to stay at your current job or leave it, make an action plan of what you would like to change and how you plan to achieve those goals. While making your plan, consider the following:
- Make each goal time-bound and specific. It will help keep you accountable.
- If you decide to stay, write down why or what helped you make the decision to stay.
- If you decide to leave, start by building an exit plan. If you are thinking of quitting on the spot, ask yourself whether you have enough money saved to survive for six months without any income. If you don’t, consider what the consequences of quitting right away would be. What would be the pros?
- If you decide to leave, give yourself a date by which you would like to be somewhere else.
Making big decisions about your job can be scary, whether you opt to stay or go. But don’t underplay the power of your own decision-making ability to control your present. Trust that your future will come. How it unfolds will be based on the decisions you make today, not tomorrow.
Alex Durand is a career and aspirations coach at Frable Consulting.
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