How To Quit Without Ruining Your Career
The way you do anything is the way you do everything!
This applies even to the way in which you end things. Even when you want to quit, you have to do it the right way.
Be honest. How do you start to feel when you know you will be quitting your job or ending a relationship soon? How about when you are about to finish a project and you only have minor details to adjust?
Do you take ownership of these situations and strive to end on a high? Or do you do the least amount of effort because you are already thinking about the next step?
As human beings, we have been made to not be comfortable with uncomfortable so we can survive. We need to preserve energy and dealing with change and uncertainty require a lot of energy.
This is exactly why the few of us that are able to get comfortable with uncomfortable are ahead of the pack.
We are wolves, not sheep.
Most often, we don’t know how to deal with these gray areas of change. We want it to be black or white because that is easy to understand. Yet, it is in that gray area where growth, learning, and wisdom are hidden.
Not being comfortable with those transition phases (changing jobs, ending or starting new relationships, going back to school, etc.) could lead to a waste of our time and to impacting our future in a negative way.
Ending on a high will put you in the best position for your next challenges.
The value of ending on a high can explain what happened to Jenson Button during the 2009 Formula One season. Spoiler: He did end up winning, yet he was considered one of the least gifted champions ever.
All because he didn’t end on a high.
Button won the first 7 races of the season and then he was never able to win again. He gained some points here and there with some mediocre finished and no other driver was able to catch up with him.
Headline: “One of the least gifted champions ever”
Now, imagine if he would’ve done it in a completely opposite way. Not winning any of the first couple of races and only getting some points here and there with mediocre finishes. Then he starts winning race after race and ends up winning 7 races in a row to win the championship.
Headline: “Greatest comeback ever, most gifted champion”
The difference is made by the way you end.
Today, we want to share with you some steps you can take to be sure you are always ending on a high. Doing so will allow you to take your career to the next level by defining and achieving success on your own terms.
Trust Your Gut
Endings are difficult. Sometimes we hold on longer than we should, other times an end comes unexpectedly, and it is only rarely where transitions are smooth.
- Maybe you are keeping that job because you think it is what you need to do, even though you have been miserable for years.
- Maybe you are let go from a job even though you thought it was going well.
- Maybe you are part of a team and decide to not try hard and let others finish up the last steps.
Whatever the case, life throws us curveballs and we are caught off guard by endings even though we should be prepared. Seriously, one of the fundamental aspects of existence are beginnings and endings, i.e. birth and death.
Even with the intellectual understanding of endings, most of us don’t react well to quitting, being fired, or completing projects. Finishing is one of the areas I strive to improve at because it’s one of the easier ways to stand out as others are normally terrible in final stages. Below are two action items for you to master the art of endings.
Know When It’s Over
First, you need to know when a job, school project, hobby, volunteer project, etc. is coming to an end. Some people hold on for too long. Ever met someone who stuck with a job for years or decades when you know they should have left? Or how about the people who say you should never quit and grind out obligations? Forget that! Knowing when to quit is one of the most valuable skills possible.
Trust me, as someone who has worked with multiple start-ups. Quitting is always on the table, we just use a different phrase - “exit strategy.” BTW I am focusing on knowing when to quit as other endings are obvious, i.e. if you are fired then it’s time to leave. If a project has an end date, you know when it’s over - more on that in a few sentences.
Back to quitting, it really comes down to the practical rationale and visceral feelings. On a practical level, you should say it’s over if your business is losing money or you find yourself in a physically/emotionally damaging relationship/position. There is absolutely no shame in quitting if you are experiencing abuse, or on the job-front, are hemorrhaging money with your business.
On the visceral side, you know yourself better than anyone else. You know when you are miserable, and I don’t mean small inconveniences at work or school. I am talking about daily misery where you do not want to get out of bed because you are in a dead end: job, degree, relationship, or something else. As Steve Jobs said:
“I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: "If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?" And whenever the answer has been "No" for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.”
Notice the most important part of that quote is, “too many days in a row.” We all go through tough stretches. Major life changes like quitting a job, changing careers, or dropping out of school should occur only when the bad days disproportionately outweigh the good days. Again trust me, this is easy to talk about as I am experienced in quitting. I dropped out of Law School and quit teaching high school. Both are long stories, but were the best things for me at the time and in the long run.
Once you know when it’s over, move to the second step.
Have you ever been fired? I have, it’s a terrible feeling, especially when you don’t know why you are being let go. Oh, I know why I was fired at 19 from a restaurant, apparently drinking with your co-workers while underage at the restaurant was a company violation. Fast forward 14-years to 2017. I was fired from a client, the first time it’s ever happened with a client. There wasn’t even an explanation. I was told my services were no longer needed.
I was then asked to train my replacement. STOP! It doesn’t matter if you quit, are finishing a project, or are fired. For any ending, you have to make a decision.
Will you be humble?
Let’s say you quit your job, offer to train someone, hand off materials, create a handbook, or other ways to make the transition easy. When you finish a project, give the credit to others even if you did a majority of the work, that’s humility.
Back to me being fired. I was actually humiliated by the firing for many reasons which I won’t get into, but in a moment I realized I could leave with my integrity if I trained my replacement. During our training, I showed him where all the files were located, how to log-in to platforms, provided tips on navigating the organization, and gave him my phone number to text or call if he ever needed help. He ended up leaving after a couple months, but that’s another story.
The above example is not meant to make me look good, it’s to help you. Humility will let you leave any job, campus, or project looking like a rock star and, more importantly, you will have a clear conscience. Let’s say you have an option to train your replacement. You could say no, and then 10-years down the road, you will likely feel regret. Or you could say yes, and spend a few days training them. 10-years later, a few days won’t matter, but you will look in the mirror knowing you did the correct thing.
Stay humble in your endings and you will be welcome to new beginnings.
Recently, Tim Ferriss released an excellent podcast episode addressing the question “When to Quit?”. He got responses from world-class performers such as:
- Seth Godin
- James Altucher
- Debbie Millman
- Chase Jarvis
We can summarize most of the responses by focusing on these things:
Pay attention to that visceral side Matt talked about because your intuition is one of the most powerful decision-making algorithms out there. Also, if what you are doing is making you grow or you are having fun, then keep doing it.
Don’t quit even if you are not seeing results. Growing and having fun will lead to bigger things later on. Yet, this only talks about when to quit, and now we should address how to quit.
Remember Jenson Button’s story? If you do, then you know that you have to quit on a high.
An easy way to explain the best way to quit is to “always leave everything better than how you found it.”
This is something my mom always told me and I strive to do so constantly.
Always think long-term. You never know where life will take you and your reputation is one of the most valuable assets that you have.
What will people from your old job say about you? What will your classmates say about you? What will your ex-girlfriends or ex-boyfriends say about you?
Your reputation, or brand, is what people say about you when you are not around. Yes, you cannot control what other people do. There will always be those that don’t see the world the same way we do and may not say good things about us.
But you can do your best to make it hard to believe when people say negative things about you. The way you can make your reputation bulletproof is by always doing the right thing.
Always leaving everything better than how you found it means doing the right thing, even when no one is looking.
In fact, it is more important when no one's looking because you are looking. If you don’t hold yourself to the highest of standards who else will? If you let yourself down you could fall into a vicious cycle of self-defeating thoughts.
Yes, it is an investment of time and energy to always do the right thing. But going that extra-mile, every time you have the opportunity to do so, will create a habit of excellence.
How Can We Appreciate the Struggle?
You are quitting a job where they treated you bad and didn’t appreciate you? Great, leave a thank you card to everyone you worked with highlighting what you learned from them or what you appreciated about the experience.
In a situation like this one, where you are being humiliated, the sheep will complain. The wolf will take the higher road.
Are you a wolf or a sheep?
There is always something you can appreciate from every situation. No matter how bad it seems. You can always be positive a take the higher road no matter what.
Being a wolf is a choice that you have to make every single day.
A great way to train yourself to do so, which is a habit that I have been working on for over two years, is to journal every morning by writing 3 things that you are grateful for. It is important that every day you write different things.
Doing so will push you to always find things to be grateful for and it will create a habit of finding the positive side of everything.
Quitting is Not The End
There are a few things to consider.
- Trust your instincts, there is no exact formula to intuition, you just know when it's time to quit.
- If you are having fun but not seeing immediate results, keep going! All masters failed over and over but continued on their path to mastery because they found a small amount of pleasure in the growth.
- When you do quit, do so with humility and leave the job, project, or relationship better than you found it.
You will quickly realize quitting is just another part of our journey and one we will encounter throughout life. We all know the person who didn't quit properly, they went out cursing, doing something unethical, or simply by not finishing their obligations. Don't be that person.
Be the person that leaves on a high. Years later, you will see the benefits as other remember you fondly and new opportunities arise.
We would love to hear your stories of quitting below in the comments and make sure to sign up for our monthly resources below. The monthly resources are filled with free tools to help you are your path to define and achieve success on your own terms.