If you’re thinking about leaving your job, you should know that there is a wrong way, and a right way to do it.
I’m going to review what I believe is the right way. We will explore not burning bridges and some other advice you’ve probably heard before. But I have a bit of a different slant.
Sure, you want to preserve your bridges and be kind and respectful to your soon-to-be former colleagues and bosses. However, you do this for yourself. And I’m not talking about the obvious reason: so you can cross back over those bridges should you need them again.
No, it’s because how we do one thing is how we do everything. Leaving the right way preserves your relationship with yourself. When you leave right, you start to become the person you want to be in your new endeavor. This is vital because you don’t want to bring any resentful, screw-you energy to your new gig.
I’m a Two-time Corporate Refugee
I’ve left six-figure corporate jobs twice to go do my own thing. The first time, I did it the right way. The second time, for a variety of reasons, I did not.
The same thing fueled both of my departures: I’m not the best fit in large organizations. I prize values like independence; developing fast, creative solutions to emergent problems; being nimble and innovative. The organizations I’ve been, by contrast, value coordination; forging large-scale widely accepted solutions; moving deliberately and methodically in rolling out change. Not that the values of large organizations don’t have merit, just I didn’t really belong there.
Another issue related to purpose. I’m not turned on by driving shareholder value. I enjoyed improving the experience for people, whether employees or customers. By having meaningful conversations with leaders who listened, I managed to slant my career toward jobs that focused more on employees and customers. But it was not enough to overcome the larger misfit that I experienced.
The second experience was a bit of a dumpster fire. I’m not proud of a lot of it. I had become disaffected for several reasons. By contrast, in my first corporate experience, I had been a bit of a Stepford Employee.
The Stepford Employee
Remember that old 70s movie, The Stepford Wives (they remade it in the 00s with Nicole Kidman). A couple moves to a community that is populated by these women who seem perfect—if your idea of perfection is a 1950s housewife who gives great sex, that is. Well, turns out there is something really dark beyond all the utopia. I’ll try not to spoil it too much.
Anyway, by Stepford Employee I mean I was pretty perfect (no sex given, though!). I lived and breathed my job. I was dedicated to it and delighted in blowing away the expectations of my bosses. I got all sorts of awards and high reviews for my efforts. The cost was that I was cut off from anything I really wanted. In fact, I didn’t even know what I wanted or realize that I had been lulled into some trance where I performed tricks for prizes and was satisfied with that limited world.
There’s a Right Way…
But when it came time to leave (to start a doctoral program), I gave plenty of notice. I took part in the decisions about who would replace and how my departure would impact the team. They gave me a huge goodbye party with cool parting prizes. My boss gave me a high performance rating even though doing so would hurt him on a key metric.
…and a Wrong Way
The second time I worked at a big organization, I was more engarde about being lulled to sleep. For a while, I succeeded at bringing a very different vibe to the workplace, but I couldn’t sustain it. My new enlightened approach didn’t survive the 2008 financial crisis. From then, I just felt like I didn’t really belong.
I had actually fallen into a state of pretty deep depression when I glimpsed a way out. The company was going through a downsizing. They had this plan where they wanted to (because of some technicality) offer me a severance package. But, in a weird twist, they wanted me to turn it down. My job would be somewhat changed, and I’d have a new boss. I didn’t really care about any of those details, however.
Package! I thought. Hell, yeah. If you offer me money to leave, I’m outta here. Sayonara!
Thing was, I now I had a pretty pissy attitude. I didn’t give my boss a head’s up about my plan.
That was stupid. I really liked my boss. He was a great guy — never part of my problem, the opposite really. I don’t know why I was so inconsiderate and duplicitous.
So, that was my crucial mistake. Then I felt terrible about what I had done. For the next month, I completely kicked ass. I rebooted my Stepford Employee persona. I elaborately documented everything I did and did whatever I could to make sure that my successors would succeed.
The worst part was that this whole episode haunted me for years. I saw my whole employment at that company through the prism of my betrayal. It’s like I have a damaged, contaminated memory. The depression lingered for a long time, fueled by a shame about how I’d acted. The way I left poisoned the things that I did after my departure: writing my dissertation, earning my Ph.D., and starting my business.
6 Things to Do Before You Quit Your Job
OK, so that’s my horror story. I’m not worried about you burning bridges. I’m worried about you torching your self-concept.
So, with the benefit of hindsight, here’s how I would recommend leaving your job. These tips are in no particular order, and indeed, many should happen concurrently.
- Create Your Vision/Mission/Values
For your vision, I encourage you to give yourself at least one hour. Pretend it’s three years from now. You are doing what you love. Address these areas: Health and Well-being; Social/Relationships; Vocation and Financial; Lifestyle.
Be specific and go deep, although some details might remain undefined. See the work you will be doing. You might not know your job title or even industry, but what kinds of things will you be doing every day? Where will you live? What will you do for fun? Who will you do it with? Aim to write about 1,000 words.
Likewise, get clear on your values and your mission. What are the five values that you want to live by? What’s going to be non-negotiable to you? Why are you here on this earth? What’s the broad thing you want to accomplish during your time here?
- Set Goals
Using your Vision/Mission/Values as your guide, set some specific objectives and milestones. Rather than using SMART goals, think more in terms of intentions — the pieces of that Vision that you want to work toward first. Get crystal clear about that next step along your journey.
Include some goals about how you’re going to leverage the time left in your current role. Then set goals for leaving and for your destination. Focus on how you will get ready for and find your new work. Who do you want to show up as that will help you land the perfect situation?
When you get there, how do you want to contribute? Identify the activities you love that you want to fill your day with.
- Decide Where You are Going
How will you best fulfill the vision and intention you’ve been painting in the short term? Maybe there’s a way to do that where you are right now. Maybe you just want to become more engaged at your current gig. Maybe there are ideal opportunities within your current organization. Maybe there’s some job out there (but don’t think about looking at job listings, think in terms of how you will manifest the perfect opportunity through connections, through talking and thinking that new opportunity into existence). Or, (my personal fave) maybe you want to create this new thing by yourself. Maybe you want to hang out your own shingle.
Whatever it is, get clarity on it. Decide that it’s what you are doing. Deciding is an under appreciated art. The etymology of “decide” is to “kill off”. When you decide, you kill off the other possibilities. Decide on the one thing you’ll cultivate. It doesn’t help to keep lots of possibilities alive and wait and see what shows up. When you decide, you are telling the Universe your aims, and she will conspire on your behalf if you’re clear about them.
Get Straight With Where You Are
Did that make you groan? I used to hate this kind of advice, but clearly I was an excellent candidate for this piece of wisdom. If you feel resentful, if you feel wronged, if you’re feeling at all salty, knock that shit off. It WILL NOT go away when you change your job. It doesn’t work like that.
I know it feels like your job is making you feel a particular way. You feel undervalued, ignored, exploited. You can probably even point to the facts. Your workload doubled when Joannie left and you had to absorb her workload with no additional resources. That’s a fact. Maybe, but inheriting Joannie’s workload doesn’t make you feel exploited. Your thoughts about inheriting Joannie’s workload are what make you feel something. Your thought. Nothing else.
That’s good news and bad news. The good news is that how you think (and hence feel) about your job is 100% under your control. The bad news is that we almost all do this unconsciously all the time. We’ve been taught to think this way. It’s an insidious pattern and if you don’t stop it right now, you will bring it with you to wherever you are going.
Get straight with your current situation before you try to leave it.
Consider What You Need from Your Current Situation
Make a list of what you’ll need from your current job. Do you need a list of contacts? Do you need to accrue more funds? Do you need a few accomplishments or good stories to relay in interviews? Do you need references?
Think about all that you’ll need and start making plans for gathering it now.
Think About How You Want to be Remembered
What would you like people to think and say about you when you are gone? Focus on that and then think about what you might want to accomplish before you leave to help build your legacy.
Next, think about three colleagues or bosses that you really admire. Then, write a letter from them to you. This letter will be written in the future, about a month after you’ve left. It might say something like:
I just wanted to drop you a note to let you know how much we all miss you.”
Then list all the stuff that they are thankful to you for. Think about the legacy of things you created and how they still impact people, even after you are gone. If you have to, make this shit up.
Make up their fondness for you if you have to. Maybe this was a boss who didn’t always appreciate your insights. Now, in retrospect, she suddenly realizes how clever you really are. It doesn’t matter whether any of this is real. Imagining that it is real will begin to shift the nature of your thoughts about your past work experiences, and that will influence how you feel.
I’m not advocating that you ever misrepresent your experiences to another person. This is just an exercise to raise your vibration. When you engage in this kind of positive mental rehearsal, the brain doesn’t distinguish fantasy from reality. You’ll be faking out your subconscious and that will pay huge dividends.
So, these are my hard-earned tips. Please trust me that everything is better when you choose to leave your job (or anything, really) in a thoughtful and gracious way.
I’m Dr. Kira Swanson and I’m a Life Coach for people who dread Monday. I work with corporate misfits who feel unfulfilled in their work. Together, we tune into what they really want, find new perspectives, and summon the courage to take bold action. Whether it’s striking out on their own, landing in a new job, or thriving right where they are, I help my clients to Love Monday.
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