Career Advancement

What to do when you can’t quit your job (even though you want to)

Photo credit: Sinseeho, Shutterstock

Photo credit: Sinseeho, Shutterstock

Have you realized that you’ve outgrown your job but you just can’t quit?

There are many reasons why you might not be able to throw your hands up and storm out of the office. However, you don’t have to succumb to feeling trapped. Instead, spend some time exploring the options you do have inside of work and outside of work to make the most of your current job.

Step 1: Reflect

  • Make a list of all the reasons you want to quit. Maybe it includes things like oppressive internal politics, a difficult boss, too much work, too much travel, not enough opportunity. When it comes down to it, you have too much of the hard stuff (amount of work, travel, politics, difficult people) and not enough of what you love (seeing your impact, feeling productive, generative conversations). You feel out of balance.
  • Break your list into two columns. “Too much” and “Not enough.” Once you have all your items listed and divided, take a break.
  • Step away from your list. Go for a walk or swim. Whip up a meal in your kitchen or work on a personal creative project. Whatever you do, there is no need to focus on your list during this time. Instead, let it simmer on your internal back burner.

Now come back to your list.

Step 2: Plan

  • For each item, brainstorm at least two ways that you can get less (if it’s what’s bringing you down) or more (if it’s what you wish for). Why two for each problem area? You want to remind yourself that you do have options and give yourself enough choices to explore.
  • Think about ways to get more of what you need inside and outside of your job. For example, if you’re not seeing your impact, you may want to negotiate for assignments that bring you more directly in touch with the people and causes you serve. Or, look outside the office for volunteer opportunities that will give you more of that direct experience. If you’re overworked, think about what you could say “No” to without hurting your career.
  • If you’re stuck, think about past experiences. Ask yourself: When in my life have I felt I had what I needed in this area? What could I transfer from that experience to my current situation? How could I get more of what I need in my job in a way that helps the organization too? Where else could I go to get more of what I need?

The new options are out there waiting to be discovered. By thinking through each of your “more” or “less” items you’ll begin to uncover them, so get curious and have fun with it.

Step 3: Act

  • Consider creating new opportunities. Nonprofit positions are often fluid based on the demands of the organization. What kinds of new opportunities can you create? Maybe you love technology and have an inkling you want to go more in that direction in your career. You could see if there’s a tech problem your organization needs help tackling (there almost always is) and network with organizations focused on non-profit tech to learn how to approach it.
  • Don’t neglect the tangible things. For example, if what you need is more money, think about work on the side that might give you additional income and be in an area of interest (could even turn into your next job!). Get a friend to look at the list with you. It can be easier for someone outside the situation to see options.
  • Keep how you want to feel front and center, and remember to think across the different areas of your life.  For example, if you feel unappreciated at work, touch base with a friend who knows how much you’ve been there for her over the years, and says so. Your sense of imbalance has a way of creeping out of the office, so make sure that you’re getting enough time to restore and recharge in ways that are meaningful to you.

Once you have all the options listed, sift through them. Which feel most energizing? Easiest to do? Start with those. The positive feedback you get will kick-start a new, more constructive path.

Any other advice to add? Include them in the comments below.

About Cynthia Jaggi

Cynthia Jaggi M.Sc. is the Founder of GatherWell, the Think + Do tank for practical idealists. She has been getting results for social sector leaders and their organizations for over a decade. Learn more at: Gather Well and her website.

4 Comments

  1. This is good advice, but there’s no substitute for being brave and saying YOLO… It takes a lot of guts to quit, or realize that the “can’t quit” is really, “afraid to quit.” The discernment / wisdom to know the difference is critical.

    • Totally agree, Maria. Discernment is the key word. Looking at your individual context and knowing what is coming from unwarranted fear and what is a reasonable stepping stone. Tripwires help with this – topic for another post :)

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