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When It’s Time to Fire Yourself

A study by consulting firm, BlessingWhite showed that just 31% of employees are engaged at work.  That leaves a boat load of people who don’t want to be at work.  My experience is that a majority of professionals hang on to a job when they should be walking away.

Think about your current position.  Now think about you in that position—not just skill set, talent and experience, but also enthusiasm, attitude, motivation.  Now imagine that your current position is an open job post, and you are the hiring manager.

Baby with finger pointing Would you hire yourself?

If you answered no, it’s time to fire yourself. Photo by 28misguidedsouls.

I’ve been where you are.  

In 2002, I was in a job that made me miserable.  I didn’t realize how unhappy I was until I was in a leadership development program.  I had to assess how much I was in alignment with the organization—in terms of values, interests, goals.   After filling out the form, I remember thinking, “That bad, huh?”  I had been in denial.

But I still wasn’t willing to take action.  In my mind, I assigned a half-hearted timeframe of 18 months to leave my job.   Of course, there was no plan, preparing me for this milestone.

You're fired A few weeks later, a friend called at the end of the day.  She was a couple of levels up from me at the same company.  While she didn’t say it out loud, I knew she was giving me a heads up that I was on a list of people to be laid off.  I didn’t have the courage to fire myself, so the company did it for me. They took the choice away from me and guess what?  It was a relief.  Someone had the wisdom to give me my freedom, because I wasn’t brave enough to claim it for myself.  Photo by Sean MacEntee.

On my last day at work, my manager came to my office.  She said quietly, “You are leaving too soon.”  And I replied, “No, it’s not too soon at all.”

Many years ago, at that same company, I remember a VP who talked about his career as part of a career development program for employees.  He had recently arrived from a competitor and was known as a hatchet man at his previous company.  So it came as a surprise when he confessed to having gotten poor performance reviews during his career.  To him, a poor review meant that he had gotten stale in his job.  It was a sign that he needed to move to another job.  He fired himself.

Why is it so important to be able to fire yourself? 

As a career coach, it’s sad to see professionals who have stayed on the job too long.  The personal toll is significant, including:

  • Drain Energy drain.  A poor fitting job—whether it’s a mismatch in values, skills, talents, or interest—takes more energy than one that fits well.  It’s a constant uphill battle.  And these days, no one has energy to waste. Photo by sapiensolutions
  • Erosion of self-esteem.  Often, a poor fit includes an unsupportive manager, or at least one who doesn’t appreciate your contributions.  Over time, you begin to doubt your abilities.   You yearn for respect and dignity again.
  • Inability to produce your best work.  Sometimes, a poor fit results in a mediocre performance review.  If you are someone who has lots of experience in your role, you might be able to pull off good reviews.  But deep down, you know that you could be producing not just good results, but stellar results.
  • Walking dead Snuffing out of  life force.  In extreme cases, staying in a job that doesn’t fit can mean losing your mojo, the thing that keeps you healthy, resilient and vibrant.  You’ve seen people like this on the job.  These are the walking dead.   Their faces are lifeless.  It’s hard to get a laugh out of them.  They’ve been beaten down. Photo by PopCultureGeek.com

Still not convinced?

I know. You can’t leave your job.  You have kids to put through college, a large mortgage, and that expensive summer vacation to pay off.  Plus you’re due for a new car.   Not to mention that the economy is terrible.

This is called stonewalling.  It’s a tactic that a lot of people use.  In their minds, it’s a question of leave now or not at all.  But that’s a false dilemma.

It’s not a question of whether to leave.  It’s a question of when.

With adequate planning, most people have more financial options than they think.   One of the first things I advise someone in this situation is to create a financial plan.  Know the bare minimum you need to live on.  Develop a reasonable budget.  Figure out how long you can go without a paycheck.  Take stock of your assets.  And be willing to trade off short term income for your long-term ability to earn a living, not to mention having a satisfying life.

Once you make the decision to leave, you’ll notice an immediate spike in your energy.

That’s because you have something to work towards that’s meaningful.  This is energy that can go towards networking, upgrading your online presence, and attracting opportunities by building a body of work that is distinctive and valuable.

I once had a coaching client who decided she would leave her job in six months.  On the day that she made that decision, she took control of her destiny.  She stopped complaining about her work situation.  She became excited about the future.  And she showed up differently with others.  Several months later, she was approached for a COO position at a non-profit that she had volunteered with for over a decade. Within a week of her deadline for being in a new job, she accepted the COO position with the new company.

Sure, change is scary. 

And if you weren’t scared about the kind of change I’ve been talking about, there’s probably something wrong with you.  But I’ve never met anyone who felt they left a poorly fitting job too soon.  Have you?

The commitment to change is about valuing your self-worth.  It’s the first step to having a rich career, not just a job.  Things won’t change overnight.  But by putting one foot in front of another, you’ll soon find yourself in a much better place.

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