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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Getting Ahead

The True Secret to Success? Quit

Do you feel guilty every time you quit something?

Are you still in social organizations where you don’t enjoy socializing? Volunteering someplace where you doubt you’re really helping? Worse, are you in a job you don’t like—and staying, because, well, hey, that’s your job?

The adult working world is not like high school band, where you don’t really like playing the oboe, but you keep doing it out of obligation because your parents bought you the oboe. Nope. Winners get out early and often.

If you aren’t on a path to advance at your company—or your company just isn’t where you want to be—you should be job hunting. Job hunting is easiest when you are employed.

Winners quit all the time. Here are a few times when winners usually quit first—and you should, too.

Company Got Bought?

If your company gets bought and it looks kind of bad—like the fashion blog you edit is bought by Bro Body Douche—either get some of the spoils, or get out.

While buyouts are usually associated with layoffs, sometimes they create a few new jobs. As in, “Now that we are integrating Company X and Company Y, we need an ultra-boss of the advertising department to tie together the bosses of the smaller advertising departments.” If this is the case and you’d like to stay, you can angle for such a job, or pitch a new role or area of responsibility for yourself that would come with a raise either now or at your next review.

Mergers also almost always cause some superstars to leave. Sometimes, because the job they thought was next for them will no longer exist. Sometimes, because the manager from Company Y got the ultra-boss position instead of them. Sometimes, superstars leave just because they can see everything’s going to start to suck—for instance, when an exciting new startup is bought by a large, boring competitor.

So either be the superstar who leaves, or take that person’s job when they leave. Use the move to get yourself some kind of step up.

Whatever you do, do not just sit back and watch what happens. Times of turmoil are times to push your way in through the cracks.

Toxic Workplace?

Say you have a terrible new boss who is now running (and ruining) everything. Or worse, the company expanded your team of four people to include seven new people all hired directly from the hiring manager’s terrible fraternity! What’s got 14 thumbs and LOVES jokes about hazing? ALL YOUR CO-WORKERS.

Get. Out. Now. Maybe a move within the same company is possible. Maybe there’s a right-minded boss you can talk to about the toxic work culture. But maybe not.

Here’s the thing. If you leave your job because of sexism, or because of a bullying boss, or just because of a bad culture fit, it will change how you answer the inevitable interview question: Why did you leave your last job?

If you’re leaving your job after a month of toxic awfulness, you can answer this question while remaining above it all. “The company is going in a different direction with its leadership, and I really prefer working in a supportive, collaborative environment,” you might say.

But if you endure emotional abuse in a toxic hellhole for a year and a half, you are going to have a hard time answering this question without it getting a little personal. You might kind of want to cry, which is generally not the best in interviews. And your work performance for the last year and a half probably wouldn’t be so impressive either. And your references? Doubtful.

You’re not the captain, so don’t go down with the ship. There’s no prize for suffering more than the people who got out. It is not virtuous to stick it out. It will not get better. It is a slow death. Do whatever you can to stay above it all.

Life in General Getting a Little Stale?

It’s a big world. You have more choice than most people (and especially most women) have ever had at any time and in any place throughout human history.

So start hunting for a better job even if the one you have is ”okay.” And the same approach works for a lot of other things—like those clothes that worked for old you, but not for new you.

You’re allowed to quit a volunteer position or a club. You don’t need an excuse—try, “I’ve really gained a lot from working with you, and I hope I’ve contributed some value. I’m going to prioritize my degree / an important cause / my new career for the rest of the year, so I’m leaving my position here. Thanks for everything!”

Quitters never win and winners never quit? Sports metaphors in business are usually stupid. Life is not football. Life would be a little more like football if there were a football game happening on every block, and you could quit playing one position in one football game and go apply to join other football games until you found a football game where you’d fit in well and be respected and get a lucrative contract and be seriously considered for quarterback.

But here in this non-football world? Quitting is allowed. Quitting is necessary for moving forward.

Photo of man walking down road courtesy of Shutterstock.