Updated: Sep 2, 2021
Have you been thinking about quitting your job? Maybe daydreaming obsessively about everything else you’d rather do with your life? Or contemplating a whole new career? Or even (gasp) pondering going back to school and just starting over again?
I get you. I was a school librarian for 16 years and always had a love/hate relationship with it. I spent many years dreaming of other jobs. I read a ton of books about switching careers and took all the “best career for you” quizzes out there. For years I dragged my feet, unable to make a decision about what I would rather do (there was a piece of me that LOVED my job). I tried a bunch of side hustles hoping something would click and I could easily slide into my next gig. I took some classes and experimented with various things. Nothing ever felt right.
This went on until the year my position in the district changed and things went bad fast. (You can read more of the story here.) I was intensely miserable and my whole body was telling me that this couldn’t go on. I looked around for jobs in other districts but something about that just felt wrong to me. So, despite the fact that I had no idea what was next, I officially retired at the end of that school year.
As crazy as that was, it wasn’t as big a deal as I expected. Maybe because I hadn’t been quiet about how miserable I was, no one was really surprised. We all assumed I’d be like the thousands of other people who quit their jobs and found new ones fairly quickly. I had talked to people in similar situations who jumped out of a job and had surprising ease finding their new thing.
Well, it hasn’t been quite that simple for me. Probably because I wasn’t supposed to get a new job but become an entrepreneur, which took some time for me to reconcile. Also, Covid (enough said).
But even though my journey has been a little twistier than I expected, it has not been devastating. I’ve been shocked at how easy some things have been. Other things have not played out the way I expected but I have always managed. Family and friends have been extremely supportive. I’ve had space and time to explore ideas and figure out what I really want.
So, I can tell you from experience that quitting your job (or your career) is definitely not the end of the world as you know it. Here are some things you may want to know before making your own jump:
What will everyone say?
I found that most people are really supportive. Particularly those who are close to you who have faith in your intelligence and resourcefulness and know how unhappy you have been. They want the best for you and usually realize that holding down a steady job is not the only marker of success in life. Now, this isn’t true across the board. If you live/work in a cultural group that will lambast you for your decision to step down, then you may want to think about how to deal with those people before you walk out on your steady job.
The best way to prepare for this is think of all the possible reactions you may get from people and come up with a variety of responses. Everything from the very honest, “I’m seriously unhappy and need to pursue something that works better for me,” to the slightly evasive but adventurous-sounding, “I’m going to take some time off to travel before I move on to something new.” (Everyone seems to love the idea of travel because they secretly wish they could do it too.) Then pull out the answer that works best in each situation depending on who you are talking to and how much you trust them.
If the people who might freak out most are your parents, then you will have to do a little more emotional and mental work around this issue. No one wants to disappoint their parents, grandparents, etc., but the fact is that you have to live your own best life, not theirs. As much as they love you, their expectations for you should not dictate the life you create for yourself. If you have some deep-seated stress thinking about this, then you need to do some work examining your beliefs around this issue and figuring out how to break free. Or you may choose not break free and continue to live the life your parents want you to live. That’s a valid choice too, but maybe not one that will create your best life.
I don’t have qualifications to do anything else!
Yes, you do. You have a million transferable skills. Particularly if you went to college and have any kind of experience in a professional job. I’m shocked every day by how much of what I did as a school librarian and technology specialist transfers to my business now. I don’t use all my skills (I don’t have a lot of use for the Dewey Decimal system or MARC records these days) but I do use a ton of what I spent years developing. Technology skills, organizational skills, people skills, writing agendas, creating documents, building a website, and much more.
Now, to be honest, there are some jobs I am not qualified for. I’d love to work at a place like Longwood Gardens. Sadly for me, they only hire people with actual horticultural or botanical degrees to work with their plants, so that’s out. (Yes, I did consider going back to school to get a degree but quickly ditched that idea.) I could still work at Longwood in the office or as a guide or something, but that didn’t feel like a fit for me. So, I suppose my background does limit me in some ways, but overall, I have many skills that can transfer to many types of jobs and so do you! Sit down and write out all the skills you have from all your jobs, your experiences, your volunteer work, etc. and be amazed at what you have to offer a new employer. If you need to fill some gaps, then see if you can take some classes or workshops, get a certificate, or even start at an entry-level position and work your way up to where you want to be.
But I’m overqualified for the jobs I want to do!
Who cares? If you are willing to take a smaller pay than what you are “worth” it’s unlikely a new employer will care. If you have more skills to offer than they explicitly asked for, it’s not going to hurt you. Honestly, I see job descriptions all the time that want someone with a ton of experience to work for a meager salary. I think it is unrealistic of employers to ask for that, but if that’s what you really want to do, then go for it. It would be better to do the work you love and not use all your skills than to use all your skills being miserable every day.
What will I tell employers?
Do you think any employer is going to have a problem hearing that you left a job you don’t like to find one you are passionate about and THEIR job is the one that sounds awesome to you? They will think that is great! Just make sure to tell them that you left your old job on good terms and include some people from that old job on your reference list and it will be fine.
What if there is a gap in my resume?
So you want to take some time off in between jobs? Or maybe you just had time off because you didn’t find the next thing right away? Then take advantage of that! Use the time to travel, get some coaching, take a class, or get experience in something closer to what you want to do. You can spend lots of money on this or not, depending on your situation. There are plenty of courses out there from free to really expensive. Experience could mean volunteering somewhere that is doing stuff you want to do or getting mentored by someone in the industry you want to join. Travel could be exotic or going to visit family on the other side of the country. Get creative and fill your time with valuable experiences that give you a good story to tell. It also lets an employer know that you are self-motivated and haven’t just been sitting on the couch eating donuts and feeling sorry for yourself.
What will I do for money?
Obviously, I don’t know your situation so it is hard to answer this. The fact is, you’ve probably gotten used to spending a lot more than is necessary and could easily adjust to a cheaper lifestyle. You can probably coast for a year or two on what you have in your wardrobe without going to the store. For some reason when I retired I had about ten pairs of sneakers, one of them brand new. It’s been two years now and I still haven’t had to buy a single pair. Ditto for stuff stashed in your pantry or freezer. You can also look around your house for stuff you can sell. I made over $100 just selling off canning jars I didn’t want to use. Start being a bargain shopper again. Join the freecycle and local online yard sale communities in your area. Get creative. Making money or saving money is actually a lot easier than you think.
Another option is to get a short-term, low-commitment job that just pays the bills while you figure out what is next. Especially for those of us coming from salaried jobs or jobs that require billable hours, we are used to giving a lot more than 40 hours a week to our employers. Look for something you can do from home or walk away from at the end of your work day. Or consider a position that allows you to do your own work while you are there. I’ve heard of people who get receptionist jobs or guard duty work because it allows them to study for classes and get paid to work at the same time. Don’t do something that you hate or that sucks the life out of you. Find something reasonable so you can get a paycheck, walk away from it at the end of the day, and still have energy to pursue your dream job when you get home.
These are just general suggestions to help you realize that there are tons of ways to make money outside of your current job. If you are supporting a family, paying a mortgage or anything like that, you may want to get someone to look at your finances so you can get very clear on what you need to get by and how long you can coast until you need a solid job set up.
But I don’t know what to do!
Ok, so this is obviously the most important step. It would be really nice to leave one job you hate and slide into another job that fits you perfectly. I hear plenty of stories of people who do this. I was not one of them, so I can’t speak from personal experience. My last year of teaching I was miserable, exhausted, sick, and barely keeping myself together. Leaving was clearly the best choice for me even though I didn’t have the next thing set up. You will have to examine your situation and see if it is better to stay in your job while working on the next steps, or just leave outright and figure it out from there. This depends a lot on your own personality, how unhappy you are, and the demands your current job places on you. For some, dealing with the job they dislike is much less stressful than quitting and worrying about finances. For others, their current jobs suck so much time and energy that they just don’t have any space to figure out what is next. You’ll have to take those things into consideration.
So how do you figure out what is next? Some people have always had a dream of what they want to do. Maybe something they dropped by the wayside because it seemed too crazy, or irresponsible, or something you couldn’t make a career from. If that is you, then quit beating around the bush and go do that thing! If you are lucky enough to have a deep sense of what you are meant to do, then stop wasting your time and make it happen.
If you are like me and really like a lot of different things, or maybe just never felt like you had a deep sense of what your purpose is, then you’ll have to do some exploring. Read books, get a coach, volunteer, take those online quizzes (not the cheesy ones, the real ones from career centers) and see if anything sparks your attention. Even if you’ve done this in high school or college, do it again. You are a different person now. Hopefully one who knows yourself better. One who tried your first choice career and now needs a change. One who is ready to mix things up and try something new.
If you want to explore your options and start thinking about what is next, here are three of my favorite books that helped me:
Design Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life by Bill Burnett and David J. Evans (You can check out their blog here.)
Finding Your Own North Star: Claiming the Life You Were Meant to Live by Martha Beck
Making a Living Without a Job: Winning Ways For Creating Work That You Love by Barbara Winter (This book is a little older, but still had lots of good things to say.)
If you want something shorter, here is an article by a blogger who has some good ideas for how to get started.
You can also go out and talk to people about what they do. Find someone you are jealous of and figure out what about their job makes you want to have it. What are you passionate about? What are you drawn to? What sounds worth giving your time to? If this sounds like fun, definitely check out the book Design Your Life because the authors talk all about this.
Changing jobs means getting to know yourself in a new way. What you don’t want to do is to jump from one job you hate into another. You want to think about what you are supposed to be doing with your life and how to get there. If you are ready to stop simply working for a paycheck and start working toward something meaningful, then it’s time to dig deep and discover who you really are and what you bring to the world.
But isn't that terrifying?
YES! This is challenging and scary work. But staying stuck in your fear is not the way you create your best life. There are many ways to face your fears and eliminate the underlying limiting beliefs that are keeping you stuck and unhappy in your job. The books I mention above give you some tools to do this. You can also check out my blog post on EFT which is another awesome tool. You can explore other posts on this blog that deal with fear and limiting beliefs to help you face them. What you most need to know is that if your body and mind are telling you that it is time to re-evaluate your job and make a change, that means that there is a way through this that will lead you toward a better life. Do whatever you need to make that happen!
So if you are afraid to leave your job because you think life as you know it will end, don’t worry! Trust your intuition and get ready to make the jump. I can definitely say that although my post retirement life is not at all what I expected (darn you Covid!), it has not been nearly as bad as my worst fears. If you have more questions than what I addressed above (and you probably do) feel free to contact me and I’ll share my experience with you. I love coaching people going through these types of changes and would be happy to work with you too! You could also go out and find some of the thousands of other people who have switched jobs/careers and learn from them. Honestly, it happens all the time and it is not as terrifying as it seems!
It's time to face this head on and start changing your life!