I’ll be honest with you. When life feels tough, our instinct as humans is to want to run away. Despite this defense mechanism, quitting is often a luxury because it means you have options.
As you probably already know, there are plenty of situations when you are up to your eyeballs in frustration and want to press the hypothetical “redo” button. You know what I mean: you’re halfway through a project and suddenly realize it’s not going to work out the way you hoped it would. Or maybe the reason you can’t move the project ahead is because someone on the team is moving at a snail’s pace and you have to wait for their input before you can proceed. What do you do?
Well, first of all, take a deep breath. That sounds easy enough, but we all know how hard it can be when we’re stressed out. And that’s the point: when things get tough, our minds start racing with negative thoughts about everything from our past failures to our future anxieties. Things spin out of control in no time at all—and then we feel like giving up because there doesn’t seem like any way out of this mess!
Here’s what I’ve learned: if there’s one thing that can help get us out of these kinds of situations, it’s finding ways to quiet our minds so we can focus more clearly on what needs doing right now in order for us to move forward successfully despite whatever challenge is.
Quitting is a Luxury You Cannot Always Afford
If you’ve ever been in a situation where you just wanted out, your brain is doing its job. You see, your subconscious is programmed to scan the environment for threats and when you perceive a situation as toxic, scary, or upsetting, your brain sets off a Fight-or-Flight response that all too often leads you to want to run away.
Having the desire to flee and the ability to do so are two different things. In some situations, as much as you want to escape, you aren’t able to. Something is keeping you in the situation. It can be a sense of responsibility like not letting your teammates down or not having another way to pay your bills. If you’re self-employed, you certainly have no guaranteed paycheck, so quitting isn’t always an option.
Trouble is, when you want to run and are forced to stay, you can easily burn out.
It’s not that dissimilar from parenting. In full transparency, there are days when I feel so fed up with my kids that I just want to disappear. I fantasize about having time all to myself without the yelling, fighting, manipulation, or frankly the stupidity that my two young kids deal with every single day when they are together. It’s exhausting and I can only take so much.
But I recognize that I am their parent. I can’t go anywhere. Instead, I need to figure out how to take care of myself so I don’t burn out.
Burnout is Serious and Can’t Be Solved By Just Quitting
Burnout is a serious problem for many people, but it’s not something you can just quit. You need to find a solution to your burnout before you can even consider quitting.
Burnout happens when we’re working too hard and don’t have enough time or energy left over for ourselves. When this happens, we may start feeling stressed out and overwhelmed by our responsibilities at work or home. We may go through periods where everything feels like it’s crashing down around us.
About 25 percent of workers feel like they can’t step away from their job because they don’t want to let their teammates down, so they forgo their vacation time. You can imagine that if you have a hard time picturing yourself getting away for a vacation, that it would seem impossible to take a break in the middle of the day. Too often I’ve heard people say they don’t take bathroom breaks! This is insane.
Not only is work stressful but then you go home and have additional stressors to contend with. Maybe like me, you have young children, and as much as you love them, you don’t have the bandwidth to deal with them. Perhaps you’re like some of my clients who are married to hoarders. This means you come home to a mess of a house with legos everywhere on the floor, boxes stacked so high in certain rooms that you can’t use your home gym equipment that you bought to stay in shape, or absolute clutter everywhere you turn that it drains you just to look at it.
It’s no surprise that 77 percent of workers recently reported feeling burned out. We’ve got a lot to deal with and so much of the responsibility for managing stress falls on our shoulders. Except that we aren’t given the tools to deal with it all, just the expectation that we’ll figure it out.
Unfortunately there isn’t an easy fix here – burnout doesn’t go away on its own; instead it needs attention from professionals who can help provide guidance so that individuals can find healthy ways forward after experiencing symptoms like exhaustion, anxiety attacks, or depression (which are often caused by stress).
When You Quit, Other People Pay the Price
If you’re burned out, the thought of quitting your job makes sense in some respects. It’s a form of self-preservation. But keep in mind that quitting isn’t just about what happens to you; it’s also about what happens to those around you.
When you’re thinking about leaving your job, think about all the people who work with you and how they’ll be affected by your absence: coworkers who depend on your productivity for their own performance reviews, clients whose projects are dependent on yours, managers who rely on your skills and expertise to manage their teams effectively and efficiently.
And if you do quit, what happens when you’re back out looking for another job? Will someone hire you if you’ve already proven that you can’t stick it out when times get tough? You might want to quit, but the people around you don’t deserve this—and neither do you!
When Should You Quit Your Job
Quitting is usually seen as something negative, but it doesn’t have to be. There are times when quitting makes sense.
Quit when you’re ahead, when you’ve reached a ceiling and have more potential than you can tap into in your current placement.
Quit when you have options like a better job offer that’s waiting for you.
Quit when you’re looking to improve lifestyle factors like relocating your family, reducing your commute, or transitioning to working from home.
Quit when you have an opportunity to advance your career and focus on new skills, obtain additional training, or be challenged in some new fashion.
Finally, quit if the culture is absolutely so toxic that it’s beyond your control. You spend far too much time at work to not be affected by the negativity that goes on there. You’re better off elsewhere.
Don’t Walk Away From a Problem Until You’ve Found a Solution
Don’t walk away from a problem until you’ve tried everything to make the situation work. Often, it’s not necessarily about changing your circumstances, but more about shifting your mindset.
I once worked with a woman who was burned out and very resentful of her industry. Not only did she want to quit her job, she wanted out of her career.
After a few weeks of working together, it became clear that the issue was her perfectionism. She was too focused on doing everything just right, pleasing her patients and going above and beyond for them. Things would come up that she hadn’t planned for. Instead of scheduling time to focus on those areas, she would attempt to cram them into her already busy day. This translated into spending more time at work and to the belief that her industry’s requirements were unreasonable and unrealistic.
Once we realized what the culprit actually was, I challenged her to show up to work in a more strategic way. Her task was to show up on time and leave on time. This forced her mind to focus on the essentials, to prioritize the most important tasks, and to keep herself from getting distracted. In an astonishing accomplishment, she was able to achieve her goal of getting her work done in the expected time frame.
Regardless of the specifics of your situation, you need to have clear boundaries around what you are willing and unwilling to do. The reason I specifically state that boundaries have to be “clear” is because too often our boundaries (if we even have any) are blurred. Consider this: Having blurred boundaries is like driving a car in a rainstorm when your windshield wipers don’t work. You’ve got a mechanism with the potential to keep the windshield clear but when you’re not able to use them, you can’t see through the glass. Similarly, when you have an unclear boundary, you can’t reap the benefit from it because it’s not being upheld.
What To Do If You’ve Lost Your Motivation
When you’re feeling burned out, it can be hard to remember what it feels like to be motivated and engaged in your work. It’s easy to start thinking about all of the things that are wrong with your job and what you might be missing out on by staying there. What you need instead is to remain hopeful and resilient. In order to stay motivated and not give up on yourself or your career goals, here are some tips on how to manage burnout without quitting your job:
1) Focus on the good parts of your workday instead of dwelling on what isn’t working for you.
2) Take breaks from work regularly so that when it comes time to focus again, you’re ready for the task at hand.
3) Take time to do things that interest you so that your job doesn’t feel like such a grind all the time.
4) Keep an eye out for other opportunities in your field, even if they aren’t immediately available or seem impossible to achieve at this point in life. You never know what might come up!
5) If you have a manager or supervisor, talk to them about the things that are making work feel like a grind.
6) Try to find ways to reduce your workload so that it doesn’t take up all of your time and energy.
7) If you can’t reduce your workload, try to find ways to make it more fun.
8) Try not to get caught up in comparing yourself or your job with others; everyone has different work situations and needs so it isn’t fair or productive to compare.
9) Try to take breaks during the day, and don’t feel guilty about it.
10) Find ways to make your job more meaningful; ask yourself what value you bring to the world and how you can use this position as a way of contributing something positive.
In a perfect world, we would all be able to manage our burnout by taking a break, doing some self-care, and then jumping back into the game as fresh as a daisy. Unfortunately, real life doesn’t always work that way. When you have a job that pays well and offers benefits, quitting can be your worst enemy—but it can also be your best friend. The trick is recognizing when it’s worth pushing on and when it’s time to quit.
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