Know When To Quit
Updated: Feb 2
I didn’t know when to quit. Quitting with no other job lined up is risky and frightening, and there seemed to be so many reasons not to. But we should all know when it’s time – to quit.
I had good reason to stay. It was a small town with few comparable positions, and I had come there to spend time with my aging parents. I didn’t want to pack up and leave for the last years of my mother’s life.
But I should have known when to quit anyway.
It probably should have been when my manager was interviewing me for a promotion and told me, “I don’t care how you think.” Or when the same manager, debriefing after a different interview, told me she had no interest in anything I did outside the last 18 months because corporate interview guidance prioritized recent experience. My senior staff experience and management training meant precisely nothing, because it was more than 18 months in the past.
I definitely should have quit when I asked for more responsibility, was denied, and two months later the same manager asked me an interview question requiring an account of how I had displayed that exact responsibility.
What’s For Dinner?
“Honey, what’s for dinner tonight?”
“There are carrots in the vegetable drawer.”
Um…….what? Do you mean I should eat a bag of raw carrots for dinner? Do you mean you’re thinking of making something with carrots? Do you mean the carrots are going bad and we should think about how we can use them up? What do you mean?
I should have recognized after four years of conversations like the “dinner analogy” that I should quit. Ask a question. Get back…indecipherable bafflegab. I should have quit when I knew the answer to every question would be a perplexing convolution of illogic, syntactically correct while completely devoid of meaning.
No Goals, Zero Metrics
Crafting my resumes now, showing prospective employers how I can be the solution, I’m struck by how little I can prove I accomplished. I should have recognized that an organization with no definable goals and zero metrics was a problem. Even when we did great work and increased efficiency substantially, it wasn’t measured. I’ve got some numbers on my personal performance because I value metrics, but on what the team accomplished in the eight years I was there I’ve got nothing because the department measured nothing. (Except for customer satisfaction surveys designed to return the answers management wanted. See my article explaining why satisfaction surveys with scores of 95% or more are probably not useful.)
I Should Have Known When To Quit
I should have quit when I proposed changes to reduce manual labor in a process by 50% and there was no interest.
I should have quit when a reorganization of divisions made some tool menus incorrect and nobody changed it for two years. I should have quit when I recognized I no longer had the will to fix it myself, for my own satisfaction.
I should have quit when a new contract rendered parts of a process non-functional and it was jury-rigged with manual labor instead of being fixed. I should have quit when that “new” contract expired five years later, and the manual jury-rig was still in place.
I should have quit when I dug into the program code producing a repetitive data error, found the fault, documented the solution, and was told it couldn’t be implemented because, even though I was right, it “wasn’t my job” to be right about that.
I should have quit because after writing the department’s first automation software on my own time saving $900,000 in labor and operating above my pay grade for eight years I was laid off anyway. Because in an organization with no measurements and no values, nothing counts but the union’s seniority rules and it doesn’t matter who goes and who stays.
I should have quit because I lost my job, we moved and I was thousands of miles away when my mom died anyway.
I should have quit because the most useful takeaway from 8 years is that there are “carrots in the vegetable drawer”.
But that’s something – I’ve learned when to quit.
Quitting when there are reasons to stay, or quitting before a new job is even on the horizon, is hard. Having a job seems infinitely better than not having one. But is that job telling you, over and over, that it’s simply the wrong place for you? Is having that job keeping you from the one you should be doing?
We need to be open to knowing when it’s time to quit.