A few days ago, after another discussion with my boss that set new standards in irony, I found myself sitting in front of my computer, unable to do anything productive. Open mail; close mail; open Facebook; close Facebook; check my calendar; get up to make another cup of coffee.
In my head, I was imagining myself doing something else— solving interesting problems, consulting with appreciative clients, mentoring an engaged team on achieving a common vision. I imagined myself believing in my work. I was picturing myself a happy, productive person in an alternative universe where the happy, productive people live. This was not that place and never would be. A few minutes later, I had quit my job.
I’d just committed the mortal employment sin of quitting my job without having gotten another first. Now, I should say that I’d been thinking about leaving my job for quite some time. I knew I had three choices: stay and pretend to believe our strategy, stay and complain about how dissatisfied I was to anyone who’d listen, or leave and do something else. I’d been trying the first two for months now. I’d also tried different configurations of responsibilities, talked to the executives about options, and engaged in side projects. Leaving was the only choice that made any sense anymore.
When you only have one choice, anything else is just stalling. So, I quit.
I did it because a job is a relationship, and once you’ve imagined yourself happy outside of a relationship, it’s nearly impossible to go back to it. That applies to marriages, and it applies to jobs. Only instead of picturing myself happily sailing down the Pacific Coast Highway on a motorcycle with a beautiful woman leaning on my back, I was imagining myself passionately engaged in my work, and it sounded just about as nice.
Still, I’ve always been told that I should never leave a job until I had another one. What would potential employers think? So, before I resigned, I looked up a few jobs that sounded like good fits and applied. Luckily, I was asked to come in for interviews for all three. All started with phone calls, moved on to in-person interviews, and for a while, things looked promising. I’d have a job, and it’d be a step up in my career.
Soon, though, reality set in. While one had promise because of a European connection— the possibility of interesting travel and cultural challenges– the interview process was discouraging. Another started strong with the team and went all the way through to the CEO before I learned that the executives have been unable to successfully fill the role for years due to issues of control and job definition. The last one went well all around, but the position was too junior for my taste, and we agreed to keep talking when something more senior came up.
So while all had promise, I’ve remained (luckily, I think now) unemployed for the time being. When you break-up after a long relationship, there’s a tendency for that rebound relationship or, worse, the affair. Fear of being alone leads us to jump in bed (sometimes literally) with the next person who will have us, but those relationships often end in ugliness or continue in a new, different kind of misery.
We need to take the time to stop and remember who we are. What are we really passionate about? What did we compromise on and pretend to like for our partner (or job). Stop and look at the world; it’s unbelievably huge and diverse. There are infinite opportunities if only we’ll open our eyes to them. You don’t have to date the first attractive person who asks you out and then spend your time trying to make it work.
Ultimately, I couldn’t really focus on choosing the right next job with my head stuck in the fog of the current one. As much as I loved the people I worked with, the reality was that, for me, it simply wasn’t the right job at the right time. I was starting to blame other people for my unhappiness. I’d compromised too much, and I was starting to forget why I’d taken the job in the first place and the feeling of being in control of my life.
The only way to remember was to stop, take a step back, and let go of all of those stories for a while. My job was great at first, but life is all about change. To be happy, we need to accept that and let it happen. I am not my past, my job, or my relationship. I am what I feel and do right now. And for today, I am just a man working in his garden, getting some exercise, and spending time with his children. I will find another job. Or write a book. Or start another company. And when I do, it’ll be the right choice at the right time.