It was a clear and sunny Monday morning in June 2018 and my heart was a jackhammer in my chest. I stood looking out the window of my office, steeling myself to follow through on my decision to leave a company behind that I had spent the last fifteen years helping to build.
It was my first day back in the office after a two-week vacation with my wife (and without kids!). We spent the time soaking in the culture, coffee, and croissants of France and Italy. The time we spent together was amazing and awesome, and the most relaxed I had been since we backpacked together almost sixteen years ago in Southeast Asia.
One essential ingredient of the whole FIRE recipe is that to retire you first need to quit. However, in my case I had every intention of working again to earn active income. Retiring was not in my vocabulary at the time and continues to be a word I grapple with. I just knew that I was done working at for this particular company and for this particular boss.
The Three Stages of Quitting
Making the decision to leave is the first stage, and if you’re like me it could be the hardest. Maybe it’s hard because you’re leaving behind friends and colleagues, or maybe it’s because you’re trading certainty for uncertainty. In my case it was because of the responsibility I felt to my team and the organization. Stepping into the unknown is tough, so having confidence in your decision to leave is critical. This post will focus on the decision-making process I went through, distilled down to five easy steps anyone can take. Subsequent posts will focus on stages two and three.
The second stage of quitting is preparation. This encompasses everything you do leading up to your actual resignation. Preparation includes activities like understanding your legal rights, researching health benefits plans, drafting your resignation letter, and strategically picking your last day of work. If you’re not planning to retire and you can’t afford to take some time off, preparation also includes getting ready for your next gig. This means networking, updating your LinkedIn, building your resume, and talking to recruiters.
The third and final stage is execution. Execution is when the rubber hits the road and when you have the tough conversation with your boss and submit your resignation letter. Execution also includes how and what to tell your friends and colleagues and how to leave gracefully. This stage usually involves the least amount of work but psychologically can be the most challenging. After all, until you execute you can always back out and change your mind!
For most of us, quitting isn’t an easy thing to do. It’s also not a decision to be made lightly, especially if your intention is to retire and never work again. That said, quitting is at an all-time high according to some recent reports. Here are five steps I took to make the decision to quit and to give me the confidence it was the right decision for me.
Step 1: Heed the Signs (Listen to Your Gut)
The first step on the journey to deciding to quit is to be sensitive to the signs that it may be time to leave. At this point quitting isn’t a certainty, but you’re starting to think about it. There are numerous articles out there that talk about the signs of when it’s time to quit, and they are usually obvious. Motivation is low, you don’t want to get out of bed in the morning, your work performance starts to suffer, etc.
What’s important is to be in tune with these feelings and ensure that they are consistent over a longer period of time. Everyone has bad days or even weeks at work. When those periods extend to months or even years, however, is when you know it’s time to make a change.
Step 2: Measure Your Motivation
If you’ve heeded the warning signs that it may be time to quit it’s time to quantify your feelings and measure your motivation. The science of total motivation (or ToMo) is discussed by Neel Doshi in his book Primed to Perform and he offers a free ToMo survey on his website, Vega Factor. When I first started my role as general manager of our division I did the survey. My ToMo was relatively high with a score of 81. When I first started to have those feelings that maybe it was time to leave I took the survey again and scored a 17 (that’s bad). That was when I knew I needed to start working toward a decision.
Step 3: Set a Time Frame and Deadline
Inertia is a powerful force and is often the main culprit when it comes to staying in a job we don’t like. We justify staying in our unsatisfying job, unmotivated and unhappy, simply because it’s easier than leaving. I know people who have stayed in their jobs for years, saying they’re going to quit and never doing it. This is where setting a deadline or time frame to make a decision comes into play. It should be long enough that you can look back and say it wasn’t just a bad day or week, but not so long that you look back and say, “wow, that was a bad decade”. I decided to give myself two months from when I took the ToMo survey in Step 2, so the decision day I settled on was June 1st, 2018.
Step 4: Closely Track Your State of Being
After I set my decision day deadline in early April I created a very simple but important Excel spreadsheet. I would update this spreadsheet twice a day, every day, for the next two months. The purpose of the spreadsheet was as a sort of diary or journal that I could use to track a couple of key things related to my well-being and thoughts:
- General energy level in the morning before work and in the evening after. I used a scale of 1-10, where 10 meant I was feeling superb and amazing energy, and 1 meant I could barely get out of bed. Using the powers of Excel I could then plot these twice daily energy levels in a graph, calculate averages, etc. (Yes, I have a bit of an analytical brain.)
- A brief summary of the high and low points of the day. For example, a high might be, “Had a great 1:1 coaching session with John Smith on my team”, or “Amazing pancakes this morning!”. Lows were often, “Stuck in another boring meeting talking about working capital turns,” or “Bread stuck to the sandwich grill today and made a big mess.”
Using the information I was collecting I could correlate energy levels with highs and lows and reflect back on those bad days and why they were bad. I could also examine the bad days and determine whether they were things I could change. For example, if most of your bad days are related to a boss who’s more robot than human, it’s unlikely you’re going to have much success changing him. Unfortunately, when I looked at my own data I found that 1) my average energy levels over two months were less than 5; and 2) the things negatively impacting my energy and attitude were things I couldn’t change.
Step 5: Make the Decision (Gut Meets Data)
At this point you’ve heeded the warning signs, checked your motivation, set yourself a deadline for a decision, and collected the data. The last step is when you take all these feelings and information and actually make the decision. This step is easy if the decision is to stay (and your gut and the data supports it). It’s the hardest if the data is pointing at you quitting. And it’s hard for good reason: this is a major life decision! But don’t postpone the decision. It’s easy to make excuses (“my next bonus is coming soon”, “I need to pay my car repair bill”, “I’ll never find another job”, “it’s not so bad here!”) and slide that deadline out. If you’re feeling that temptation look back at your State of Being Tracker and remind yourself why it’s time to go.
Stay tuned for the next post in this series where I’ll focus on the preparation stage to quitting.
Thanks for reading!