I told myself I could never quit a job without having another job. That would be crazy. That would be career suicide. I’d be a bag lady on the street.
The fearful voices weren’t just inside of me, they were coming from real life, respected colleagues.
“It’s not smart to quit a job without another job lined up.”
“You lose your negotiation power.”
“your energy will be more desperate.”
“you have less value to perspective employers.”
“people will question the gap on your resume.”
The first time I quit my job without another job was when I was 23 years old. At that time, I was working as an assistant at a crummy advertising sales rep firm. I reported to a toxic, manipulative, narcissistic, angry 40 something woman whose standard refrain on Friday afternoons (while she flew out the door, with barely a wave) was “I HAVE HAD IT!”
She made good money and had no crying children at home, so I’m still wondering what she was so fed up with. Maybe loneliness or lack of connection. Maybe she wasn’t proud of the work she did or wasn’t feeling appreciated? Maybe she felt out of control to deliver on unrealistic promises to demanding clients. Who knows? My 23-year-old mind wasn’t developed enough to ask those kinds of empathetic questions. I just knew she yelled at me, and called me stupid if I made a human error. One time she even commented that I wasn’t as thin as she was (How dare you, bitch?! I looked smokin’ in those tight BEBE black pants that were so hip in 1998! Haha).
WOW. Recalling that now, I’m kinda pissed at myself for taking that kind of abuse for a whole year – but like many old “rules” we thought we had to follow, I assumed I should gut it out for a full year, so my resume reflected commitment and reliability. BARF.
(Side note: I am super jealous that millennials feel entitled to inclusive and nurturing work environments. That kind of expectation often didn’t occur to my generation!)
I didn’t consciously think about anything at this age. I knew “the rules”, and I also knew what I felt (which was quickly chafing against “the rules”). I sensed my boss was toxic and, as if that energy was contagious, I shrunk from her and the fear that I might one day become her.
Thankfully, before there were life coaches, there was my twin sister.
She came to visit me in Los Angeles, and sensing how miserable I was, said the best 7 words I’d ever heard.
“you should just quit that fucking job!”
I threw every argument at her –
I have no savings in the bank.
What if I don’t get another job ever again?
I have no experience.
It will look bad on my resume.
She countered with – that is exactly why you should quit. You can easily get an entry level job again. You have no experience, but they don’t expect you to have any experience at this age. Or you could always be a waitress like me. She was right on all counts. Knowing I didn’t really want to be a waitress, I faxed out resumes responding to several “want ads” in the back of an ADWEEK. (ahhh, the days before linkedin and glassdoor!)
And then I quit that fucking job.
You know what happened?
The world DID not fall apart. I did not become a waitress. In fact, I got a call within a couple of days from an Account Executive at Turner Broadcasting. I had a new job lined up before my two-week notice was even up.
That brings me to the next time I quit a job without having another job.
Much more nuance, much more angst.
Because I now had much more experience, enough knowledge, and A LOT more on the line (at last I thought so at the time!). I was in my late 30s, and trying to find meaning, by moving from one job to another within the giant matrixed company called ESPN. I was feeling lots of responsibility and pressure, but no support and no deep gratification. Serving the sports fan and advertisers looking to connect with sports fans was not my calling. If it’s yours, go get it. I’ll connect you to the right people. Because no one does that mission better. For me, with each new division or new boss, it became more and more clear that ESPN wasn’t my home.
Unlike at 23, when I only knew what I DIDN’T want to be, I now knew better what I DID want to be. What might bring more meaning to my life. I wanted to be of service, I wanted to help people. I wanted to inspire others to problem solve for themselves. I wanted to work with others to generate ideas, to make change, to learn about themselves. I wanted to feel proud of how I contributed to the world.
This time around, it wasn’t my sister giving out advice. It was my father imparting some simple, but transformative, wisdom. He said, “you’ve been keeping your head down and chopping wood. That’s good. But now, it’s time to pick your head up and notice whether you’re in the right forest or not.” I wasn’t in the right forest.
And at that mere permission to question, or contemplate change, the fearful chorus reached fever pitch levels of hysteria.
“You are definitely going to be a bag lady on the street if you quit your job.”
“New York is such an expensive city to live in.”
“What are you going to say when people ask what you do for a living?”
“No mortgage company will give you a loan unless you have consecutive months of income.”
(all my own taunting voices, by the way)
“I just think someone as smart as you would know better than to quit a job without having another job,” said one of my co-workers.
Meanwhile, I shit you not, when I actually did quit, there was line outside my office door, of people saying…
“Oh my god, I’m so miserable too! Where are you going? Take me with you!”
This time around, I made a few more plans. I made sure my savings account was flush. I got training and certification as a coach.
But in the end, I still quit that fucking job.
You’ve got to be the brave one sometimes. Sometimes you have to choose what’s right even when it’s also more difficult. And that can be a lonely spot to sit in. Even harder to take action from. Without positive feedback or assurance, until AFTER you take the leap.
And you know what? I’m 3 years into owning my own business, and every year my bank account reflects a growing business. But I’m still uncertain, plenty of the time. And I self-sabotage, and I doubt like crazy.
I don’t know if this is “forever”, or just this PARTICULAR stage in my career evolution. But unlike at 23, when I thought your career was a straight ladder up, and maybe you skipped a couple of rungs, if you were ambitious, but it was mostly a straight up trajectory … now I recognize that all the choices and steps are okay. Even when the steps feel lousy because maybe they are new and unusual, and the learning curve is steep. Or when you didn’t listen to your intuition and chose a shittier job than the one you had before. Or you start at the bottom of an entirely different ladder. It’s all part of the development of your best self.
With every change, there will be fears to reckon with. And learnings.
If this particular fear-based refrain haunts you and is keeping you in a job that makes you feel like your soul is dying a little bit each day, I’m living proof that …
You can quit a job without a job and you will be okay. TWICE.