Quitting Your Job Without Another One Lined Up: Fierce or Foolish?

November 11, 2015  |  

I abruptly woke up late one night; my sleep was cut short by an unyielding attack of thoughts about all the things that I had to get done at work in the next few weeks and months. My thoughts quickly escalated into panic. I felt my heart beating wildly in my chest, echoed by a pulsing whoosh sound in my head, and then finally, I felt the sting of tears in my eyes. I burst into ugly, uncontrollable sobs – overwhelmed by the crushing weight of helplessness. “This is not normal! This is not normal!” I repeated out loud to nobody but myself.

That indeed was not normal. All the signs were there: my job was killing me — literally. I knew that I had to do something to take back control of my health and my life, but to quit my job so unexpectedly without another one lined up would be insanity. Or would it? The thought of handing in my resignation petrified me, but a nagging part of me longed for change. I pondered over this problem for a few days following the night of my emotional outburst, and asked myself these six questions:

Can I afford to quit?

The money thing was a big deal and probably my biggest source of apprehension. I looked at my finances and calculated that I could last three to four months without having to dip into my emergency savings. I figured three months would be long enough for me to get myself sorted and if things did get really tough, I could always pick up temp work or casual employment to supplement my savings while I looked for a new job.

Can I afford to not quit?

Some quick research online and talks with recruiters informed me that in my industry there were employers out there willing to pay 30% – 50% more than what I was currently making for someone with skills similar to mine. It would be a shame to leave that kind of money on the table.

Aside from money, there were other important factors I had to consider such as my mental and emotional health. I had been descending deeper into a dark place: I had become easily irritable, slightly paranoid and had developed a strange habit of repeatedly tapping my foot while I worked. Negative emotions are vital to our survival in this world – they serve as crucial signals of things that are not right in our lives. My heart was desperately pleading for me to quit.

How’s the hiring market?

The economy was not in recession. I had a good amount of work experience under my belt and, objectively, I was a very employable candidate. If push came to shove after three months, I could easily go work for a competitor.

Can I sacrifice the security of the job that I’d done for so long and knew so well?

Part of my problem was that I’d been doing my job for so long and knew it too well. I wasn’t learning new things or deepening my skills in a significant way. The job had become challenging for the wrong reasons – more administrative BS, unreasonable deadlines, etc. — nothing that added any intellectual value. I was plagued by a feeling of being underemployed so much so that unemployment looked like a better prospect; at least I’d have more control over how I spent my time.

Who depends on me?

I’m as single as a dollar bill and have no kids or other dependents. If there was ever a time to take a risk, it would be now.

How would I explain the gap in employment on my resume?

I was really concerned about this one and so I turned to a friend who had just gone through quitting her job without another in hand for some advice. She had told interviewers that she had been travelling (which was a true fact) and would “regale them with stories of [her travels].” What her insight taught me was that I am in control of the narrative and how it’s told. All I had to do was decide what that story would be, speak confidently about it and not share unnecessary details with the interviewers.

After thoughtfully going through these questions, the risk of quitting didn’t seem quite as risky as I’d initially perceived it to be. In fact,  it appeared that the cost of staying put in my old job had surpassed the cost of quitting. So I resigned and shortly after got scooped up by another company that paid me more and had better working hours and flexible arrangements.  

While things certainly worked out for me, I will add this caveat that leaving a job without a plan B might not be for everyone. A wise friend of mine pointed out that unemployment looks like different things to different people: for some it might mean homelessness, for others it might mean backpacking in Europe for a few months. It depends on what you can afford and what you are willing to risk. I think the important thing, however, is to honestly and objectively assess the risk because sometimes we tend to err too much on the side of caution when it might be more beneficial to try something new. If you’re still unsure after that, follow your instincts – they’re usually right.

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