In 2016, I received a job offer from a local university. Knowing that I wanted to go into higher education as a career path, it felt like an ideal opportunity. I hadn’t even finished my own undergraduate degree and I was already getting my foot in the door as an academic advisor.
The plan was that I would complete my training and onboarding, working part-time for three or four months until I completed my own degree. Then, I would transition to full-time employment. During my time as a part-time employee, there were plenty of red flags that made me think that I wasn’t a great fit for the position. Ego won out over logic, however, and I stuck with it.
By 2017, I was fully burnt out. It wasn’t for a lack of endurance either. I sat completely still for a tattooing session that covered my entire chest– I know how to endure uncomfortable situations.
As much as I liked my coworkers, going into work each morning was a struggle. I wanted to be anywhere but work, and I looked for every excuse possible to leave my cubicle. The work I was tasked with didn’t excite me or challenge me in any way. I went into the position with grand expectations of helping non-traditional students succeed in their educational careers, and instead found that 99% of my time was spent being yelled at by students who blamed me for their decisions to plagiarize or the speed with which they received their financial aid disbursements. If I wasn’t speaking with an upset student, I was filing papers and doing clerical work that often felt like it was more to keep me busy than it was to actually help my students.
The final nail in the coffin came when my manager and I went out for lunch with one of my closest work friends. Normally, they say that folks quit jobs because they have terrible managers, but that wasn’t the case this time. My manager was fantastic, and he was one of the few elements about the job that I enjoyed. It wasn’t something he did wrong that made me decide to quit; it was him talking about promoting me.
As we ate, he told me that he was impressed with my work and felt like he was training me to take his position within a few years. At first, I was flattered and excited to receive the compliment. But then, I thought about what that would entail: staying at the university.
My heart sank at the thought of being there for a few more months, let alone years. After some soul-searching, journaling, and phone calls with my mother, I decided that it was time for me to quit my job.
While I stand by my decision to leave my position and seek out new opportunities, I did pretty much everything else in the resignation process incorrectly. Were I to be in the same position again, I’d do things quite differently. Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned along the way to help make the job resignation process less stressful and more of a tool to set you up for long-term success.
Secure a New Income Stream ASAP
When I quit my job in academia, I decided to pursue freelance writing full-time. I wanted to take some time as a self-employed writer so that I could hone my skills and make money doing what I loved.
BIG MISTAKE. Huge.
One of my biggest regrets about my time as a freelancer was that I only wrote. While it’s a romantic idea to hope to make money doing what you love, passion and finance rarely go hand-in-hand, especially for creative people. Knowing that my writing meant being able to eat or pay my rent took away a lot of the joy that I got out of writing. Plus, at that point in my life, I didn’t know enough and wasn’t mature enough to start my own business, which is what you’re doing when you decide to freelance.
If I could do it all over again, I would have secured a part-time retail job before quitting my job at the university. Having (almost) enough money to pay my bills while still having enough free time to develop my business skills and professional writing portfolio would have been ideal.
Whether you want a change of pace, are trying to start your own business, or just need time to figure out what you want to do long-term, securing some form of income is a powerful means of building a safety net. You may not be profiting or flourishing by any means, but as long as you can eat and keep a roof over your head, you’ll be in a better position to focus on creating meaningful change.
Consider Your Internal Roadblocks
When you work a job that sucks, it’s easy to identify the negative aspects of the job that make it such a pain.
However, employment is a two-way street. Often, negative work experience can be an insightful tool for understanding what you do and don’t want in your career long-term. As much as I would love to say that I was a perfect fit for my aspirations in higher education and that it was just the university I worked at that I didn’t like, the truth is that I’m not the kind of person who can sit in a cubicle doing clerical work and taking phone calls all day. On top of that, I hadn’t dealt with my chronic anxiety disorder. I wasn’t going to enjoy or be successful in that role because it wasn’t right for me– no amount of blaming my workplace environment would change that.
If you’re looking to change careers, making the leap without spending time doing some active reflecting on what it is you ultimately want to achieve with your career is a bad idea. Spend some time journaling and think critically about:
- What you like about your current role.
- What you don’t like about your current role.
- What new skills, experiences, or interests you would like to explore in a new role.
- What is non-negotiable for you.
- What you want to be doing in ten years.
Knowing these details will change the way you think about changing careers. The average adult in the United States will spend around 90,000 hours at work in their lifetime. Having a strong understanding of what motivates you and how your actions today can impact your future tomorrow is the best way to make sure you’re actively benefiting from your time at work beyond just getting a paycheck.
It’s not uncommon for folks to struggle with answering these questions at first. If you’re getting tripped up or have so many ideas that you don’t know where to begin, consider working with a coach to gain clarity.
Create a Plan for Your Transition
If you’re ready to leave one career, make sure you have a solid idea about what you want the next steps to look like. I’m not just talking about the next job that you apply for, either.
Transitioning from employment to unemployment or employment to entrepreneurship is hard. You’re going to need to account for your time, spending, and networking in ways that you often don’t consider when you’re fully employed.
Business advisors and consultants often advise entrepreneurs to never go into business without first creating a business plan. I would argue that the same is true for leaving employment. Having a written plan, whether you’re starting a business or getting back to job hunting, is an easy way to protect yourself against unnecessary hurdles or setbacks. Put together a plan for how you’ll budget your money between paychecks, what steps you’ll take toward creating your ideal professional life, and how you’ll know when you’ve succeeded.
As terrifying as it can be to leave a job to pursue something new, it’s often worth it to do so. By securing a stream of income, figuring out what you want out of a career, and then assembling a plan to help you get there, you’ll be more likely to create your ideal situation and avoid having to settle. Use your time between jobs as a learning opportunity and take advantage of it. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, as the cliche goes, and I’d say that we can modify it to attest that a month of thinking critically about your long-term career goals is with a decade of satisfaction.