On Knowing When To Quit


Sometimes it seems like, in our current economy, “quit” is the ultimate four-letter word. When you tell people you’re even thinking about quitting you get a variety of responses, mostly negative, from “You shut your mouth!” to “Why, do you want to be unemployed?” But sometimes, quitting your job is necessary for your life, your mental health and surprisingly enough, your career path.

I recently quit my job as an assistant editor at a reality TV company where I’d worked for a year and a half after graduating college. Since then I’ve been working/volunteering for a theater company producing an alternative play in lower Manhattan and job searching. I haven’t been this happy or this on track to my career since I graduated college.

Not surprisingly, everyone’s jobs tend to drive them up the wall sometimes and they seem to always be interfering with what you feel is your real or important life. We’ve all been there and we all know what that’s like, but when your job obstructs you from actually having a life outside of it, it’s time to take a step back for a moment. I was working nights—8 p.m. to at least 6 a.m.—every day and rarely interacting with anyone outside of my family and my two to four co-workers. Most of my friends thought I dropped off the planet, a few were concerned for my sanity but all sympathetically agreed, “Well, if that’s what you have to do for your job…”

Obviously sacrifices were made, but I was horrified to discover myself turning into Andrea (Anne Hathaway) from “The Devil Wears Prada.” Most times people would ask to hang out I would have to apologize with “Sorry, I’m working,” or even worse, “Sorry, I can’t meet you at 2 in the afternoon, I’ll be sleeping then.” I was putting my job ahead of my friends, my family and my own life, and truly, from the past six months, I cannot remember anything except work, going out to see one movie and the two weekends when I visited friends upstate. I can’t remember a single other thing I did, because my lonely, nocturnal weekends were filled with sluggishness on the couch, watching TV and taking naps, barely mustering up the energy to do anything more than type.

Another symptom of needing to quit your job is when it starts interfering with your health. My mental health slowly went down the tubes as I became more and more depressed with my situation, which started leaking into the rest of my life and my interactions with people. One of my coworkers detested me because I was so pessimistic—about everything—that he claimed I was bringing everyone down with me. Well, sorry, but not getting sunlight for a year and a half will do that to you. And while normally I’m inclined to be Daria-sarcastic, when I reached the point where the scale tipped more towards “Eeyore” than “Rabbit,” I knew there was a problem.

Any sort of drastic changes in your mood or personality over a relatively short timespan aren’t good, even if they may seem positive. If you start going into hysterics, unwarranted bursts of cheerfulness or severe mood swings, it’s again time to take a step back. Yes, however you make money in this world, your job is going to be stressful at times and it’s probably going to be hard, unless you’re an underachiever, but it shouldn’t be driving you so insane that you don’t even recognize the person you’ve become. Even though it’s been three weeks since I left my job, I’m still repairing the mental health damage. While I recognize that sunlight has a lot to do with it, I’m also glad I left before it was irreparable.

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The final reason I quit was because, while my job was making me money, it wasn’t advancing my career path at all. Worse, it was prohibiting me from pursuing other opportunities that could possibly advance it. We’ve all been there, working at Starbucks or as a pilates instructor, waiting for the career as an actor or social worker to take off, or making sandwiches while subbing for teachers, but that’s not what I’m talking about.

I’m talking about a full-time job as an accounting assistant when you realize you actually want to go into corporate media finances and your current position says nothing on your resume other than “I can hold down a job.” If you can do this though, and still job search and find time to interview and hold the rest of your life together, great! If not, it might be time to consider making job searching for your career with a possible side at a retail store. Otherwise, you’re going to wake up when you’re 55 and feel like you’ve been hit in the head when you realize, “Frick. I never got into book publishing when I was able to and now I’m stuck as a soulless journalist for the last page of the real estate section of The New York Times until I retire.”

So maybe quitting your job shouldn’t be looked at as such an evil in today’s society. Maybe instead it should be looked at as a positive step towards improving your life, embracing change and the unknown and taking control of your situation and doing what YOU want, and not just what society tells you to.

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