Should You Quit Your Job?

By Jeff Mallinson

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I love to ride motorcycles, especially when stress threatens to overwhelm me. Recently, I installed ProFire Nology ignition coils on my Triumph Speedmaster. It took that modest 900cc engine and made it a whole new machine. What does this gadget do? It supplies optimal energy at all RPM levels. It doesn’t make the engine bigger, it helps the engine work efficiently. I mention this because you are like a motorcycle. You have a certain amount of energy at your disposal. You are burning fuel on something. But, your circumstances often cause you to feel sluggish. Perhaps, you’re thinking that a career change could help you be more productive and fulfilled. We discuss this topic on this week’s Virtue in the Wasteland podcast, entitled “When Your Job Sucks.”

Sometimes, a course correction is precisely what’s needed to get your life in line with your loves, talents, and hopes. Sometimes quitting something that’s a drag on your energies is exactly what you should do. But not always. Therefore, permit me to pose a series of questions you should answer before making a drastic move.

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1. Do you have another guaranteed option available?

If so, work through the remaining questions. If not, stay patient, unless you are independently wealthy or have a way to support yourself for at least the next year. Do quality work and build your resume. Use each day at your current gig as an opportunity to love and serve your neighbors, especially those you’re inclined to hate. Keep your eyes open in the meantime, waiting for the right moment to make a move. If you want to get into a competitive industry by going back to school, that can be a heroic wager, but don’t overestimate your chances. A good rule of thumb is, if you can’t get into a top-tier program by the standards of your discipline, you may be wasting time and money. Check the job boards in your intended career. Is anyone hiring people with the degree you seek? Also, be sure a few objective peers agree that you’re as good as you think you are at your potential new field.

2. Does your potential new job or entrepreneurial venture threaten to eclipse other important vocations in your life?

I’ve seen too many marriages destabilized by ignoring this question. I’ve seen too many people chase notoriety and success only to ruin their relationship with their children. It can be a bummer, but providing a stable salary for oneself and one’s family—even through a miserable job—may well be your calling for now. At least keep it on the table. You might even think about taking an early retirement and positioning yourself for a second career or life of volunteerism after you’ve shored up your finances.

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3. When contemplating your new position, does it inspire renewed energy, or is this idea little more than a way of escaping your current situation?

One thing I know too well is that people tend to gripe. Co-workers have their workplace in common, so it often bleeds into casual conversations after work or in the break room. Griping can become toxic to the community and to one’s self. You may indeed be in the worst workplace ever, but it’s unlikely. So, when you make a move, make it count. Folks in recovery groups often talk about an “addiction geographical” or “geographical cure.” This phenomenon occurs when an addict moves from place to place, promising each time that there will be better circumstances and a new start, only to find that they keep dragging their problems with them. Of course, if you’re addicted to a substance like heroin, relocation can remove you from familiar temptations and dealers. But for most of us, we bear a lot of responsibility for our interpersonal problems. So, be sure to get yourself right spiritually and emotionally before assuming that a change will fix your problems.

 4. Are you motivated by prestige, wealth, or fulfillment?

If your primary motivation is a new prestigious title, be cautious. If you are trying to naturally climb the ladder within your field, this may be a reasonable option; just don’t ignore the potential collateral damage to your loved ones. If you dig what you do but don’t get noticed, ask yourself why you do what you do in the first place. Maybe a humble calling that provides fulfillment will be better than a high-profile job that grinds you down. If you’re after wealth, you’re of course free to prosper. But riches alone cannot satisfy you. Read Ecclesiastes 5:10-20 before letting dollar signs obscure your vision. Now, if you are looking to do something meaningful and fulfilling, and have the chance, what are you waiting for?

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5. If you stay put, would it be because you fear the unknown?

Even if change frightens you, give something astounding a try after you’ve thought through your options carefully. I know folks who settled for unfulfilling work because they were afraid of change, and now they are frustrated. Ponder this: if you were to look back at the end of your life, would you rather regret taking a chance that didn’t work out or regret never taking the chance of a lifetime? Time can indeed fly by in this life, and it’s harder to course correct at the tail end of one’s career. So, give yourself the grace and freedom to make a mistake.

6. Is there a third or fourth option that you have not yet considered?

If you are willing to consider a change, don’t aim too low. Too often, we limit our options to the obvious ones. Before making a life change, there might even be a bigger life change that will be incredibly rewarding. Don’t just change cubicles. Don’t just move to the outfit across town. Maybe you need to radically shake up everything.

7. Have you cleared out enough mental space to discern your options?

Take quiet walks. Sit in stillness. Pray. Now, don’t pray to find the answer. There are likely several worthy options before you, and I doubt a voice will call out from heaven that you should send out a resume. Pray to figure out who you really are and what the virtuous course of action might be. If you stay put, what does that say about you? If you make a move, what does that say about you? When in doubt, love God and do what you want, to borrow from St. Augustine.

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These are by no means the only questions you should consider. The point is for you to figure out your core values, the people and communities to whom you are responsible, and the way in which your life can serve to contribute to the wellbeing of the world around you. Once you get that settled, you are at liberty to take calculated risks. You are also free to remain patient. If you find yourself frozen and unable to decide, flip a coin. Just don’t let your engine lag when you’ve got options that could get you running strong with less effort.

The Wayfaring Stranger

Sipping Matcha Green Tea with too much kick for my internal engine, between chapters of Jerry Coyne, Why Evolution Is True (panned on Amazon, incidentally, by Bror Erickson).

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