When I tell strangers about my upcoming plans, I’ve noticed that some of them assume I’m some spontaneous free spirit, like one of those nutty-but-wise female characters from movies like Forces of Nature or Sweet November. I totally understand, I mean it does sound cool in that “you’re wild and crazy” way. Quitting your job and moving to the opposite coast on a whim! Nutty! I wish I was that awesome, but the truth is this decision was totally not off-the-cuff. It seems like no one ever really quits anything completely off-the-cuff, right?
Or maybe I don’t know. People have a lot of different opinions on quitting: quitters are bad, quitters are brave, quitters are emotionally or physically lazy, quitters will die alone. Based on its recent article about my generation’s tepid relationship with employment, The New York Times seems to think that quitters are mostly just young and dumb. I would take offense, but I think twentysomethings have been getting accused of laziness and unrealistic expectations for several decades now.
My friend Mariko sent me a really great episode of This American Life about Quitting. It opens with an interview with Evan Harris, who started a zine (yay 90s!) with her friend Shelley Ross called Quitter Quarterly. Evan has a LOT to say about quitting (she filled a zine for two years and wrote two books), including an awesome outline of “The Anatomy of a Quit”:
- The Quitter thinks about it.
- The Quitter thinks about it some more.
- The Quitter quits.
- Post-quitting stuff.
I love the accurate vagueness of “post-quitting stuff.” And quitting anything totally does require at least two phases of “thinking about it.” For example, I’ve been talking about leaving New York since November 2006, and I’d been talking about leaving my job since… earlier than that.
It’s that transition to phase three that’s definitely the toughest. How do you know when you’re just fantasizing vs. when you really neeeeeed to make a change?
Seth Godin, a marketing/business guru of sorts who has a pretty popular blog, recently wrote a book called The Dip that aims to address this question. His basic argument is that any career/life situation at some point hits a weeding-out point, or a “dip,” where if you just stick with it, then when you come out on the other side you’ll have way fewer competitors and you’ll be happy and in great shape. Of course, that means you have to stick with it even when it sucks, but you should only do it if it sucks in the right way. He explains it pretty well in this interview with BusinessWeek:
I find him pretty annoying, and I have some major issues with his education reform suggestions, but I think he brings up a really great point that quitting something FORCES you to build something new. Maybe the panic of completely and permanently tearing something out of your life that you put work into and got used to can push your brain into brand new thought areas. Sounds pretty painful to me.
So finally: pondering a major change? Below are some handy internet guides that the internet is offering up to help you out:
Should I Quit My Job (For me, the consensus was: yes, I probably should. Check.)
The Relationship Assessment Test (They suggest a former relationship of mine might’ve had more of a chance if we had “improved how we connect, particularly our level of problem-solving.” Yeah… we decided to go for the quit, thanks.)
What’s Your Signature City (I got Seattle – SCORE.)
Big changes are great (mostly scary), but I realize I’m also a big believer in small-stakes quitting. For example, in college I quit recycling after deciding that I didn’t believe in it, and in New York I quit worrying about germs. I think maybe it’s not about destroying everything important in your life, but more just making conscious choices?