How to Quit Your Job (and Still Win)

December 23, 2016

You’re going to quit at least one job in your life. In fact, 2.8 million Americans quit their jobs every month. You know what’s heartbreaking about that statistic? Virtually none of those 2.8 million people know how to quit their job and still win.

You need to approach quitting with a strategy. You must recognize early when it’s time to leave and set a plan into action to do so in a way that most benefits you. People who ignore their unhappiness, who wait until their situation is so desperate that they’re forced to quit, are the ones who leave with too little to show for it.

Related: My Top 10: The Best Career Advice I’ve Received

To avoid that situation, and to help get what you want, here’s a step-by-step guide to quitting your job and still come out on top.

When to Quit

Knowing when it’s time to quit requires being brutally honest with yourself and asking, Am I excited to be here? At its core, that’s what this is all about—excitement. Let me give you an example. When my friends or clients have decided to quit their jobs, they often come to the decision in different ways, but they all start in the same place. They begin with the feeling that something isn’t right, that they aren’t as excited about their life as they should be, that there is “more to life than this.”

The ones who bury that feeling deep inside wind up wasting years at a job only to exit without a strategy when the proverbial final straw breaks their back. The ones who trust that feeling and investigate it are the ones who quit their jobs and win.

To start being honest with yourself, ask yourself these questions:

People often assume work should be a slog. Everyone has trouble waking up. Everyone needs coffee to get going. Everyone imagines being on vacation while they work.

Wrong.

People who are living the life they want wake up pumped and excited to dive into their day. They don’t need a liter of coffee to get going in the morning and don’t spend their days fantasizing about being somewhere else. People who are living the life they truly want tend to have one other thing in common: They didn’t magically find themselves where they are.

Instead, they’ve moved strategically from job to job, collecting the skills, experience and relationships to be where they are. In other words, they’ve learned how to quit their job to continue winning.

How to Quit

There is a formula for quitting a job in a way that moves you closer to your dream life, and it’s a simple three-step process. Although your specifics might differ, this approach generally works for everyone:

1. Determine why you want to leave.

To understand what excites you, you need to understand what doesn’t excite you. Think about your current day-to-day. What tasks do you put off? What kind of days leave you most exhausted? Don’t stop there. Go deeper. Why do you feel that way? Why do you put off tasks? Do you lack the skills to do them well? Are they opposed to the kind of work that excites you?

These questions can help you understand what about this job unsettles you and allow you to begin formulating a new plan.

2. Discover what you want.

This step takes a mental flip from the last point. After listing out all the reasons why you don’t want to be where you are, you need to figure out where you do want to be.

For many of us, creating a vision for our future is a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be. You’ve already created a list of qualities you know you don’t want in your life, now focus on the positive qualities that you do like.

Maybe you hate being isolated from people in your work, and so you can begin by saying to yourself, I’m not sure which job I want, but I know it involves lots of personal interaction.

Related: 5 Lessons on How to Make a Successful Career Change

3. Focus on the action right in front you.

A mistake many people make on this topic is becoming overwhelmed. They look at what they want their life to be, and they let the weight of that massive vision crush them.

To avoid this problem, don’t constantly focus on this “big vision” of what you want your life to be. Instead, every day focus on one thing: What action are you taking to keep moving in the right direction?

Don’t worry about stepping straight into your dream life tomorrow; ask what action will move the needle in your life today. What skill can you start learning today that will help you get there? Who can you meet today that will bring value to your life?

You might think, Well sure, Rome wasn’t built in a day, but that’s not a massive insight. But you’re wrong. This is about more than incremental progress.

As you move through life, your vision will inevitably shift. What will not shift, however, are the skills and relationships you build. By focusing on adding value to your life every day, you make yourself more independent, more capable of chasing dreams even as they shift. You’re adding something permanent to your life: potential.

How to Create a Good Exit Plan

If you follow the process above and remain focused on taking actions that benefit you, it is easy to quit your job without ruining relationships.

A lot of people fantasize about giving their boss “a piece of my mind,” on their way out the door, or making some dramatic exit. That isn’t the way to go.

When I quit Goldman Sachs, I sat down with my bosses and told them I had to leave. I was open, positive and respectful, and they responded in kind. Professionals understand that sometimes a job is a bad fit; it’s nothing personal. If you quit in this way, as a termination of a contract but not a relationship, then you can leave without burning your bridges. This often requires patience.

Take Your Time to Quit

From the day I began my work exploring leaving Goldman Sachs, it took me another six years to actually leave the firm. I know that sounds ludicrously long, but that is how long it took me to make two more career moves inside the firm, stash away some savings, and, most important, do the work to convince myself that I was making the right decision.

This did a number of things for me:

  • I found clarity on why I was leaving and what I wanted to achieve first.
  • It gave me the space to build a strategy for what came next.
  • It demonstrated to my bosses that it wasn’t about them or the firm, but the result of many years of reflection.

I built this system by actually living it, and I’ve made my fair share of mistakes along the way. I could have planned a little better; I could have been more focused on the next small steps, but the one thing I nailed was the timing of when I quit.

When you quit, don’t just rush to your boss and tell him or her that it’s over. Take your time to decide what the next step is for you, begin building the skills and relationships you’ll need, and only quit when you know you can hit the ground running.

Why Quitting Is the Key

There’s an anxiety many of us feel when we tell our colleagues and our friends that we’re quitting. We’re afraid of the financial and professional repercussions, sure, but on an even deeper level we’re afraid that we are being ungrateful.

A lot of people reading this are probably in the same place right now. Even equipped with the system I’ve laid out, they feel held back by this sense that what they have right now is all they deserve.

A company will fail if they pay employees more than they contribute to the company—it’s math. If you think that by pursuing the life you want you are screwing someone over, you’re making your job too personal.

Jobs are an economic contract. You are selling your employer the precious hours of your life in exchange for getting what you want. If your job isn’t getting you that, then what choice do you have?

Never let fear force you to settle. You can have—and deserve—nothing less than exactly what you want in life, and often that means quitting a job or two.

Related: Why It’s Better to Quit Quickly and Fail Fast

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