Ask Yourself These 3 Questions Before You Quit Your Job
Reasons To Stay: Learning, Loving It, Levelling Up.
Ten years ago, I began my career as a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed marketing intern at one of the world’s “big four” record labels. There, I was preoccupied with one thing and one thing only: growth. The legend of Sean “Diddy” Combs, an intern-turned-mogul, served as my inspiration. If he could go from the mailroom to the boardroom, so could I. With that mindset, imagine how perplexed I felt when the record label recognized an employee (let’s call him “Roy”) for 25 years of service (half of his career) in, you guessed it…the mailroom. Personally, I haven’t stayed put in the same company, let alone the same role, for more than five years. In fact, I often switched in two. And I’m hardly alone. In Workopolis’ report, Thinkopolis IV: Time to Work, researchers noted that shorter stints at jobs have become the standard. Only 51% of people now stay in any one role for under two years. In fact, only 30% of people stay in any one job for over four years. It appears as though job hopping is the new normal.
Of course, I know that there are a whole host of factors why Roy, the “lifer,” might’ve stayed. It could’ve been out of circumstance. It could’ve been out of obligation. For all I know, working the mailroom could’ve very well been his calling. Maybe he was happy doing it, or maybe he regretted it. I don’t have enough information. But what I do know for a fact is that Diddy was not awarded a plaque for 25 years of mailroom service. He had no intention of staying in the same company, in the same role. As evidenced by this quote, his eyes were firmly fixated upon (and beyond) a pantheon of music moguls.
“I think sometimes people may think that I have too much passion, you know? I think that you have to believe. That’s one of my biggest mantras, believe. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t believe in myself. I see these high mountains and they’re going up in the sky, and it kind of doesn’t scare me. I can’t wait to climb it, and go over the top and see what’s on the other side.” — Sean “Diddy” Combs
To be clear, I admire Roy for holding down a steady job and serving an integral role in the company. Until I learn otherwise, it’s my assumption that his job was fulfilling. But this is not a piece about the merits of career stability and satisfaction—it’s about how the growth mindset, exemplified by Diddy, should govern the decision of when to leave a job. However to understand why the mentality prompts people like the mogul to leave, you first have to understand why people like the lifer stay. In the aptly-named article Why Employees Stay found in the July 1973 issue of Harvard Business Review, researchers explored the titular question. The short answer is inertia. The idea that most employees are predisposed to remain with a company until some force causes them to leave. The force in question can fall into two categories:
- Satisfaction: Achievement, recognition, responsibility, growth, and other matters associated with the motivation of the individual in their job.
- Environment: Pressures within the company such as work rules, facilities, breaks, benefits, and wages. And pressures outside the company such as job opportunities, community relations, financial obligations, and family ties.
For whatever combination of reasons, many of us tend to overstay our welcome. I’ve got my fair share of times when I’ve stayed at within a role and/or company to the point of diminishing returns. Each time, I traced the answer back to complacency. Complacency is what happens comfort overrides the growth mindset for an extended period. What would help shake me up out of my stupor ever time was asking three simple questions:
- Are you still LEARNING?
- Are you still LOVING IT?
- Are you still LEVELLING UP?
If the answers to two of the three questions were yes, then I’d try to fix the third factor and/or push through. But if the answer to only one (or none) of the three questions was yes, then I knew it was time to leave.
Is it time for you to quit your job? First ask yourself:
1. Are You Still LEARNING?
If you’re no longer learning—if your learning curve has flattened—then perhaps its time to move on. The Yerkes-Dodson Law demonstrates the relationship between performance and challenge; with insufficient challenge, you’ll never do your best work. And unless you do your best work, you’ll never reach the threshold of what you’re truly capable of. You don’t have to be learning something new every day on the job. However, you should be honing your core skills and learning new ones. Most of the time, the onus is on you to create a learning path—ask to be involved in a new project, sign up for courses you’re interested in, attend a relevant conference, or seek out a mentor. It’s never been easier to create your own curriculum. With that said, if these opportunities aren’t present in your current job, then it’s a clear indication that the company is not serious about investing in your professional development.
2. Are You Still LOVING IT?
If you’re not emotionally connected to your work, then ask yourself: why are you doing it? As I mentioned earlier, I can completely understand circumstances beyond your control. As such, you don’t have to love everything about your work. You can love the brand, you can love your co-workers, you can love your role, or you can love the outcome of your work (the impact that it has on the lives of others). The point is, you need an emotional anchor—a reason for being—associated with where you’re going to invest some (or all) of the ~50 years in your career. You owe loving your job to everyone — to your customers, suppliers, partners, to your family, and most importantly: to yourself.
3. Are You Still LEVELLING UP?
If you’ve been stuck at the same company and/or in the same position, without any advancement or promotion for the past three years — and you want to continue moving your career forward — you’ve got to leave. Especially in larger organizations where promotions are competitive, you should be able to experience some sort of forward and upward momentum within this time frame. Don’t get comfortable; comfort is a slippery slope towards complacency.
Some people, upon a small taste of blood, make the short-sighted decision to quit altogether. Even if the answer to all three of these governing questions were yes, these people might get disillusioned by something as temporary as one bad quarter. When in fact, some of my most rewarding professional experiences were one where answers to two of the questions were no. And when I ran my own company, early on there was a point where the answer to all three questions was no. I believe that with enough resilience and creativity, anyone can push through momentary discomfort and then reconfigure their work to propel them towards their reason for being. Just stay alert and know when its time to pull the plug. Because if you’re at a job where you’re not growing—where you’re not learning, not loving it, and not levelling up—you’re potentially sacrificing a massive opportunity cost. A study of ~5,000 professionals by Glassdoor revealed that stagnating in a role for just 10 months raised the odds that people will leave by one percentage point—a statistically significant effect.