Will This Be the Year That You Quit Your Job?

A framework for deciding if you should stay or go

Larry Cornett, Ph.D.
Jan 2 · 11 min read
Woman looking thoughtful
Woman looking thoughtful
Photo by AllGo on Unsplash

The new year is here. Whether or not you believe in making resolutions, you are probably thinking about changes you’d like to make in your life.

You may have things that you’d like to do differently in your personal life. However, I bet you have ideas for improving your professional life and career too.

I think we’ve all entertained the thought of quitting our jobs and finding something better. Your current position may no longer be meeting your needs or supporting your long-term goals.

Perhaps you’ve endured too much conflict with your boss. Or, you’re tired of working with negative coworkers in a toxic workplace. You can’t imagine spending another year dealing with any of this.

If you are considering quitting your job, you may be asking yourself some of these questions:

  • Should I stay and try to make it work?

I’ve quit so many jobs that I’ve lost count. When I was younger, I sometimes stormed out in the heat of the moment. However, most of my resignations came after weeks or months of internal conflict.

Quitting a job is rarely an easy decision. You can’t see the future, so how can you fully understand the consequences of your actions? You don’t know if long-term career success will be more likely if you stay vs. quit.

In most circumstances, you should not quit your job until you have landed your next role (i.e., accepted the written job offer). There are many reasons that it’s better and easier to find a new job while you are employed.

Even if you do decide to quit after working through the following framework, line up your next job first.

The only time you should quit before you have another job is if your current work situation is so bad that it’s harming you in some way. You should leave if your employer is damaging your reputation and hurting your chances of finding a better job (e.g., they’re planning to demote you).

Scully from the X-Files saying I’m not going anywhere

If you decide to stay

Your first option is to stay in your current job and try to work things out. Take a moment to imagine a scenario where you don’t quit, then ask yourself the following questions.

1. What is the immediate impact?

If you stay, what does that mean for you right now? You will need to address the issues that are bothering you. You may need to change the way you are performing your work, interacting with your boss, and engaging with coworkers.

Perhaps, you need to have a serious discussion with your manager about your career development. Maybe you’re ready to ask for a raise or promotion that you deserve.

It also may require that you confront your boss or a hostile coworker. Otherwise, nothing will change or improve. Are you prepared to do that?

2. What will the next 90 days be like?

What will the next 90 days of your life be like if you commit to making things work in your current job? The actions you plan on taking could be ones you know are necessary, or they may be part of your manager’s ultimatum (e.g., a performance improvement plan).

Regardless, define what this means for you. Will it require even longer hours in the office? Will it require a radical change in your working style?

Will you be asking others to make a change (e.g., asking your boss to stop being verbally abusive)? You will need to decide if all of this is worth it.

You will also need to define what success means. What indicators are you looking for that will make you decide to stay? Set a specific date and choose a goal.

3. What will your life be like a year from now?

If you stay in your job, you probably have a good sense of what life will be like in a year. Of course, you’ll still be trying to improve your work situation. When you visualize remaining in your job, how do you think you’ll feel about that decision in a year?

Perhaps you’ve made good progress on that, but change does take time. You should assume that things won’t be perfect at work, but it had better be moving in the right direction.

4. What’s the long-term impact on your career and life?

I frequently ask my clients to create a long-term vision for their careers. Then, we engage in reverse planning. Once you have a long-term goal in mind (e.g., Where do I want to be in my career in life in 20 years?), what steps do you need to take to achieve that goal?

In this case, you are facing a fork in the road. One path means that you stay in your current job and try to make it work. The other route means that you quit and take a new opportunity.

Unlike reverse planning, you aren’t starting with an end goal in mind. You’re facing a choice that will have ripple effects that determine your future. I know that this is an exercise in ideal outcomes, but it can help inform your decision.

If you stay in your job, given the current situation and what it will require of you, what happens next? You’ve thought about the next 90 days and even what your life will be like a year from now. Extend that to map out your potential career path from here until the end. Where do you think you will end up, and how do you feel about that?

5. What are the benefits of staying in your job?

Make a list of the pros of staying with your current employer. What are the positive benefits that you’d lose if you quit?

Some of these benefits could include:

  • You’re familiar with your work

6. What are the risks associated with staying?

Now flip things around and make a list of the cons of staying in your job. You may be unhappy, but things could also keep getting worse.

Some of your risks could include:

  • Damage to your emotional well-being

7. Probability of success

What is the likelihood of you turning things around at work? This depends on what you are dealing with right now.

Did you have a massive argument with your boss? Have you been put on a performance improvement plan? Are you hoping to change the culture of the entire company?

In some cases, you’re not dealing with a huge problem or an endless list of issues. There are a few things that need to change, but you would be happy to stay if you are successful in making those changes.

8. How will you feel if you do this?

Picture spending another year or more in your current job. What is your immediate reaction to that image? How does it make you feel?

Sometimes you will feel a sense of relief that you’ve decided to stay. Your work is familiar. You probably have some friends at work. Searching for a new job is hard work and stressful.

However, other times you feel sick to your stomach when you imagine another year in this job. You immediately have a sinking feeling or your body tenses up.

9. How will you explain why you stayed in this job?

If you’re in a bad situation at work and you decide to stay, how will you justify that to yourself and explain it to others?

When people are unhappy in their jobs, they often talk about things with their friends and loved ones. If someone asks, “Why are you still there if it is so terrible?”, what are you going to say?

10. How will you explain this course of action if you fail?

This is the follow-up question to the one above. There is no guarantee that you’ll be able to turn things around at work. You may try and push for change, and the result could be that you get fired.

Or, you may be placed on a performance improvement plan (PIP) and fail to meet their expectations. The result is the same; you are let go.

If you stay in your job and you fail to turn things around, what is your next step? What will your story be?

As I’ve said before, you should control the narrative of your life. Have an honest answer about what happened. But, you should tell your story the way you want it to be told.

Matt LeBlanc saying I Quit

If you decide to quit

Your second option is to quit your current job and look for something better. Now, imagine the scenario where you’ve made up your mind to leave, and ask yourself the following questions.

1. What is the immediate impact?

If you decide to leave for something new, the immediate impact will include starting a job search. You’ll want to get your resume, portfolio, and interview presentation materials ready.

You’ll also need to start refreshing your network connections. Building a powerful network is one of the best ways to find new opportunities.

Also, you could face a financial impact when you quit your job. Some people have savings for situations like this. Others do not.

2. What will the next 90 days be like?

If you do decide to quit your job, then what will that 90 days be like? It may mean that you’ll spend all of your free time networking, updating your resume, applying to jobs, interviewing, etc.

If you already have a new job lined up, then your next 90 days will be focused on starting at that company and ramping up in your new role. Getting settled into a new job is always a bit stressful.

3. What will your life be like a year from now?

If you leave to take a new job or start your own company, it will be hard to predict what life will be like a year from now. But do you have a sense of hope?

Can you envision your work environment? How do you think you will spend your days?

One way to answer these questions is to talk with someone who has already been down that path. If you plan on working for a new company, talk with people who already work there. If you want to start a business, meet with some business owners and ask about their first-year experiences.

4. What’s the long-term impact on your career and life?

Map out your career if you decide to leave for a new opportunity. What path does that put you on? Where will you be likely to end up?

How do you feel about that destination? Is it better or worse than staying in your current job?

Of course, this exercise is a bit theoretical, but try to model the long-term impact. Calculate the changes to your earning potential. Envision your long-term happiness and satisfaction with your work.

5. What are the benefits of quitting?

Make a list of the pros of quitting your job and moving on. What are the positive benefits if you leave?

Some of these benefits could include:

  • You take a job at a more exciting company

6. What are the risks if you quit?

Make a list of the cons of quitting your job and moving on. We all know that the grass isn’t always greener.

Some of your risks could include:

  • You damage your professional reputation

7. Probability of success

Be honest about your likelihood of successfully landing a great job at a company that makes you happy. Some people leap out of a bad situation only to land in an even worse one (i.e., out of the frying pan and into the fire).

You can improve your odds with a detailed plan and rigorous preparation. Rather than quitting immediately and hoping you’ll find a better job, start looking for a job while you’re still employed.

Dial-up your networking efforts right away. Update your resume and portfolio. Increase your professional presence online and at relevant events. Start practicing your interviewing skills now so that you’re polished later.

8. How will you feel if you do this?

I distinctly remember one time when I was frustrated with a job and played out the quitting scenario in my head. I visualized writing my resignation letter, meeting with my manager, saying, “I quit,” and walking out the door. An immediate wave of relief washed over me.

No stress. No second thoughts. No regrets. I just felt the relief of an immense weight being lifted from my shoulders. It made me smile. I knew that it was time to quit.

Picture quitting your job and take note of how that makes you feel. Do you feel a sense of relief? Did you smile? Or do you feel stressed and worried?

9. How will you explain why you quit your job?

I believe that everyone should own their story and control the narrative of their career choices and moves. Don’t let someone else define it. Don’t let your boss or company describe it.

Be prepared with your story about why you left your job. I tell my clients to describe this moment as a pull instead of a push. They didn’t quit to escape a bad situation. They left to pursue a more exciting opportunity.

10. How will you explain this course of action if you fail?

Quitting your job is only the beginning of making the change you want in your career. Your next step is to find a better job, or perhaps even start your own business.

However, the whole process can take a long time. You may even feel like quitting your job was a poor decision.

How will you feel if you’re still out of work later in the year? What will your story be? What will your plan be?

Finally, what is your gut feeling?

After working through all of these questions, what is your gut telling you? Your instincts are often correct, especially when you’ve taken the time to consider the potential outcomes of your decision.

Quitting a job is never fun. Ok, sometimes it is fun.

However, the decision should never be taken lightly.

I hope this framework will help guide you the next time you have to decide if you should stay or if you should go.

Read more of the free career advice that I share with over 2,000 smart job seekers every week. Check out my leadership and career coaching at Brilliant Forge.

Larry Cornett is a Leadership Coach and Career Advisor. He lives in Northern California near Lake Tahoe with his wife and children, a Great Dane, a chicken, and a stubborn old cat. He shares advice that helps you become an opportunity magnet, so the best things in life come to you! You can also find him on Twitter and Instagram @cornett.

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Larry Cornett, Ph.D.

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I help you become an opportunity magnet so the best things in life come to you! | Fast Company

Invincible Career

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