4 Questions to Ask When You Want to Quit Your Job

Quitting in the heat of the moment is probably not in your best long-term interests.

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When you’re up to your eyeballs in frustrations with a job you don’t like, it can be tempting to give the whole thing the heave ho, and go running from the building. But as Alison Green noted in her recent post, "5 Things to Consider Before You Quit Your Job," quitting in the heat of the moment is probably not in your best long-term interests. So what do you do?

[See 11 insider tips from the HR department.]

Take a deep breath, step back, and take an objective look at what's really happening. When your frustration level is running on high, it's easy to start seeing things in black and white. When the steam is coming out your ears, your job can seem like a 100 percent premium-grade pile of crap with no redeeming qualities.

Resist the urge to paint it all in bitter black with big, broad brush strokes. Because the truth is, very little is all good or all bad. And if you get sucked into that flawed either/or feeling, you lose your ability to do anything about your situation. You’re stuck with the “all bad” version of the story. Not only that, you add to your misery by creating a downward spiral, because you won’t let yourself acknowledge the positives. What’s worse, the heaviness of that black stroke makes it feel like nothing can be done to improve the situation.

[See 8 ways to overcome perfectionism.]

Instead of taking that broad-brush perspective, set your frustration aside for the moment and look for both the good and the bad. It’s not about trying to whitewash a crappy situation. It’s simply about trying to breathe the light of reality back into the situation. Here are some questions to ask.

What do I like about this job? What is positive about it? Regardless of how bad the job is, or how out of alignment it is with who you are and what makes you tick, it's unlikely that you can't find something positive about it. Maybe the job bites, but you really enjoy your coworkers. Or, maybe your coworkers drive you nuts, but there's that one thing you get to do that you have always enjoyed.

There might also be more practical positive aspects, like good insurance, or a program to pay for job-related education. The point here isn't to say, “The job sucks, but the insurance coverage makes it worth it.” It is simply to help you get an accurate picture of the situation. The more you paint the picture with a broad negative stroke, the harder it becomes to cope. Identifying the things you do like about what you do lightens the load and helps you realize that perhaps–even if it’s still not exactly good–the situation isn’t as bad as you thought.

[See 8 questions to ask when your career derails.]

What do I dislike about this job? Be careful not to let this one turn into an unproductive rant. Simply take stock of (a) what you dislike about the job you’re in and (b) why you dislike it. The intent isn’t to pour your energy into a big, circular gripe session. It’s to identify in detail the source of your dissatisfaction. The more you can understand the details of why you’re unhappy, the more potential you have to make use of the next question to improve things.

What can I change? After you take stock of the good and the bad of your situation, follow it up by exploring what you can change. Can you build on any of the positive aspects of your work, bringing more of it into the picture? Or are there any changes you can make to reduce or eliminate the aspects you dislike?

This isn’t going to create miracles. If the source of the dissatisfaction is fairly surface level and easily remedied, great! But if it is truly the wrong job for you, no amount of finessing the details will turn it into the right job. But asking this question and acting on the answers will at least make the situation less draining while you start taking action to move towards a longer-term solution (i.e., changing jobs).

How can I shift my perspective? Finally, you can look at the sources of your frustration and ask, “How can I shift the way I look at this?” You might not be able to change the situation, but you can shift the way you perceive it and the way you choose to respond.

Taking stock of both the good and the bad puts you back in control. It gives you something concrete to take action on, rather than just sitting and stewing. If you really are in the wrong job and you realize that it’s time for something new, then dramatic and immediate change (i.e., a new career overnight) might not be an option. Identifying what you like and dislike about where you are can help you make your current situation as positive as possible as you move towards that new path. And the more you understand about both the positives and negatives of your current job, the less likely you will be to jump out of the frying pan and into the fire when you finally do make that change.

After years as a professional malcontent, Curt Rosengren discovered the power of passion. As speaker, author, and coach, Rosengren helps people create careers that energize and inspire them. His book, 101 Ways to Get Wild About, and his E-book, The Occupational Adventure Guide, offer people tools for turning dreams into reality. Rosengren's blog, The M.A.P. Maker, explores how to craft a life of meaning, abundance, and passion.

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