Here’s what it’s like to quit a job you love—and how to make it easier

 

By Jandra Sutton

Quitting a job you love is rarely easy, even if you have another job waiting for you on the other side. On one hand, you might be leaving to accept a new role with a better salary or a new job title, which can make saying goodbye somewhat less stressful. On the other, you might be leaving a job you love because of something else—a difficult coworker, an impossible workload, or a toxic manager—which can sometimes make the situation hard to face and even harder to move on from. 

I’ve had to quit a job I loved multiple times. It can be a bittersweet and brilliant experience, like when a side gig outgrows your day job. But when you’re leaving for a less-than-positive reason, it can also leave you riddled with guilt and self-doubt. 

Anthony Klotz, an organizational psychologist and professor of management at University College London School of Management, coined the term the Great Resignation. He says quitting is rarely a desirable option, especially if you really love the work you’re doing or the company itself. 

However, “having [just] one really dysfunctional element of your job . . . will completely carry over into the rest of your work and well-being,” he says. 

If you have exhausted all of your options trying to deal with a difficult situation at work, whether by compartmentalizing, creating distance, or attempting to solve the issue, then quitting may be a necessary evil—especially if it’s significantly impacting your performance and your well-being. 

From an outside perspective, it’s relatively easy to see when quitting a job you love is the right choice. If you’re not happy, you should either fix it, accept it, or move on, right? But in reality, leaving a job you love can be incredibly difficult, even with clear indicators that it’s time to go.

For instance, I once had a job I loved but it was causing me to burn out. I tried what I could to make it work, but my mental and physical health started to deteriorate. While my friends, family, and mentor suggested moving on, I stubbornly stuck with my job. It was only when my doctor recommended I quit the role as soon as financially possible that I knew I’d reached a turning point. Even then, walking away was miserable. 

According to Klotz, this difficulty is because our relationships with our jobs are multifaceted. We form attachments with various elements of the job, whether to our bosses, our coworkers, our clients, or the work itself. Walking away from these attachments can be a challenge. 

“Detaching yourself from a toxic boss is going to feel good and improve your well-being, but at the same time you’re detaching yourself from [everything else],” Klotz explains. “One bad attachment can ruin the entire work experience and make it unsustainable, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be any easier to detach from those other ones.”

Plus, it’s easy for your identity to become defined by your job and by being a member of a given organization. That’s why it can feel like you’re walking away from part of who you are. This feeling can make the process of quitting even scarier. 

So how can you make quitting a job you love easier? Here are four techniques that may help. 

Reframe your identity

“When we love a job, usually it’s because it gives us the two things we often crave, which is pleasure and purpose,” says Gianpiero Petriglieri, an associate professor of organizational behavior at INSEAD. “We define ourselves by what we do . . . so jobs are really a very immediate proxy for who we are.” 

When you’re quitting a job that you love, try to reframe that identity. I found it helpful to focus on who I was outside of work and spent time rediscovering hobbies, passions, and friendships that I’d long neglected. 

If you’re someone who feels a strong connection to a given stage of your career, think about identifying yourself through the work itself—not through a specific role or organization. The job belongs to the organization, yes, but the work belongs to you. You can take your skills and find that sense of purpose elsewhere. 

Plan your next steps 

Some people might be able to quit a job without having another one lined up, but that’s not financially feasible for everyone. Do some research before you leave so you understand what you’re looking for, and what you don’t want, in your next role, because there’s no guarantee that starting at a new company will solve the problems you may be facing. 

If you can afford it, try to incorporate a transition period—whether that’s a few days or a couple of weeks—before starting a new role. Not only does this give you a little break to recover from any stress of leaving, but Klotz explains that healthy transitions can benefit from a proper goodbye. 

Here’s what it’s like to quit a job you love—and how to make it easier

“With remote working you can quit a job on Tuesday, power off your laptop, and then Wednesday morning you power it back up and you’re working for a new company,” Klotz says. “That just doesn’t give you any of the closure rituals . . . [to] have a proper ending to that job before starting the next one.” 

Leave on good terms

How you leave a job can be just as important as why you leave, especially if you really love the organization, your clients, or your coworkers.

“Try to control the resignation process,” Klotz recommends. For instance, you can ask your boss for an hour to tell people about your resignation yourself. 

Keep in mind that some companies might end your employment immediately, even if you planned to submit a two-week notice, so you’ll want to prepare for that as well. It can be even jarring when this happens, especially if you were hoping for a longer transition. However, it is better to prepare for the worst and expect the best than to be caught unaware.

Boomerang employment, when a worker leaves an organization but returns in the future, is increasingly common, so leaving on good terms can help you get hired again at the same organization. Plus, leaving on good terms can help you maintain the relationships you’ve built, which can bolster your career long term while making the transition less stressful.

Lean on your community

Much like experiencing a breakup, leaving a job you love can be painful, so it’s important to have a strong support system. There are a lot of emotions that might pop up—from relief to nostalgia, self-doubt, guilt, or regret. In fact, one survey found that 22% of respondents regretted quitting their job

“When you’ve been at a job for a while, you build up what we call social capital,” Klotz says. But “it’s not a foregone conclusion that you’ll develop that same level of social capital in your next role.”

However, having a clear plan and a strong network can help you make it through.

“Your resilience in transition is not a function of your skill or your willpower, it’s a function of your networks,” Petriglieri says, noting that your community can help reassure you and support you. “The stronger and more diverse your network is, the more likely that a transition feels like an opportunity for you rather than a burden.”

By reframing your identity, planning your next steps, leaving on good terms, and leaning on your community you can successfully and graciously quit any job—even one you love.

Fast Company – work-life

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