So you’ve come to the realization you’re unhappy with your career path. You can’t remember the last time you looked forward to a Monday morning. You’re no longer are proud of your response to the question, “What do you do?”
At first, maintaining a steady salary and avoiding a gap in your employment history was more important, so you tried to put your head down and make things work.
The problem is it’s exhausting—physically, mentally and emotionally—trying to tolerate your job when you know deep down you’re unhappy.
In 2013, I was 10 years into the world of marketing in the corporate world. I was on a huge global team, managing advertising campaigns being rolled out across the world. By this point, I’d marketed everything from trash bags to drain opener to luxury desserts.
Each day I spent marketing products to consumers left me feeling emptier.
Still, when you have a good job, it’s hard to walk away for a whole host of reasons: money, status, credibility, reputation, social validation, stability, investment, corporate incentives, or even just plain old inertia. Every single one of these factors has kept me firmly planted in jobs, even when I was feeling unsatisfied.
So how can you tell when enough is enough?
In every instance when I chose to leave a job, there was NOT an epiphany where the clouds parted to reveal that it was time to move on. Even when I was struggling, I was torn about what would be “right” for my career and life.
However, there are four common signs that suggest it may be time to make a leap—the same signs I’ve heard from talking with hundreds of people ready to make a career change.
1) You’re Absolutely Drained
One of the factors that led me to pull the plug on an unfulfilling career path is exhaustion. For most of my life, I’ve worked in office settings—not exactly physically demanding. Still, in the months leading up to resignations, I always felt utterly drained.
Work that isn’t fulfilling can really sap your energy. When I wasn’t happy with my job, my weekends were spent recuperating. I vividly recall struggling to keep my eyes open in meetings, and I had no energy left to take care of myself, let alone spend time with people I loved. This just isn’t sustainable in the long run.
2) You’re No Longer Serving Your Interests
As your career evolves, so do your interests. When I landed my first corporate marketing job, I focused on learning everything I could, and developing a strong set of transferrable, professional skills. The corporate world served me well in this context.
Over time though, my interests shifted. I got married, so family life became more important. My father also passed away, so caring for my own health became more salient. I also began craving work I found truly meaningful. My interests in a strong work-life balance were no longer being served by the corporate world.
3) Balancing It All Isn’t Realistic Anymore
The realization your job no longer fulfills you can mimic emotions you go through when dealing with loss. One of those stages is “bargaining”—highlighted by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her book On Death & Dying. I refer to this as the Mitigation Stage in my 7 Stages of Career Change Roadmap. It’s when you try to find ways to make your situation more tolerable. For me, this meant taking up a side project. In 2012, I enrolled in a professional coaching program while holding down my full-time job.
I began coaching people through career changes on evenings and weekends. It started as pro bono work, but I quickly began enrolling paid clients. I loved it.
The problem was, my full-time job was still my priority. I was regularly working 60 hours a week. I was starting to turn away coaching clients because I just didn’t have the energy, time, or mental capacity to do it all. At some point, I realized everything was only getting a fraction of my attention, resulting in a fraction of the results. I knew something eventually had to give, and I didn’t want it to be my growing coaching business.
4) The Timing Is Right Enough
The reality is, only you can know what timing makes sense for your situation. Maybe you need to finish a project so you can leave on good terms, or wait for your year-end bonus. Maybe you’re just not ready. People will try to push you to make a decision—if you have good reasons for staying, stay.
Still, no time will ever feel 100% ideal. It’s generally easier to convince yourself to maintain the status quo than to plunge into the unknown. At some point, when the conditions feel right, you just have to make your leap to the positive changes you desire, something I spoke about in my TEDx Talk. When you feel ready enough to go, when you’ve tied off as many loose ends as you can, just go.
No one likes to say, “I quit,” but sometimes, you have to let go of one part of your career to make room for something greater.
These four sentiments helped me clarify when my situation had become intolerable. However, only you can know when the timing is right to make a move. Leaving your job behind is a huge and deeply personal decision. No one else can make it for you.
Trust yourself and remember that everyone has limits. When you reach yours, you owe it to yourself to move on.
Where Will You Draw the Line?
To iron out how where you’ll draw the line in your own career, you can download my “Work-Life Scorecard” to help you understand the impact your work is having on your life. You can also define the steps you’ll take if your situation crosses over from bad to intolerable.