How To Quit One Job Without Having Another One Lined Up

Want to quit a job without another one lined up? Click through for career change tips your haven't heard before! #quityourjob #careerchange

Can you quit your job without another one lined up? Is that even a thing? Or is that just something headstrong twenty-somethings do in rom coms?

Today,  two-time career-changer-and-job-leaver Ashlee Piper tells us how you can leave a job without having another . She’s got great tips on creating an escape plan, making peace with this new stage of your life, and staying positive while you rebuild your professional life. So good!

It was a nearly nightly occurrence: I’d leave my office at such a late hour that the winter sky was as dark as it was when I’d arrived early that morning. I’d trudge home, sidetracked by the shops where I’d spend money on shit I didn’t need because I was stressed/sad/searching for something that can’t be found in stores.

I’d go home, zap a microwave meal, and spend hours obsessively fielding work emails, feeling frustrated, undervalued, and freaked out about their contents. Then I’d go to sleep, all wound up, preparing to do it all over again the next day. Sounds pretty rad, right?

Don’t get me wrong, friends: I had a pretty awesome career as a political strategist for a decade. But when I turned 31, something shifted. I was saddled with the unshakeable feeling that I could be doing something more, that I was living a life that was expected of me, as opposed to something that really lit me up.

Sound familiar? Such an existential professional crisis can be scary, especially if you’ve been building to said career for years, even decades, and at a time when having a job is something to be profoundly grateful for, questioning your trajectory can feel eye-rollingly self-indulgent.

I’m not here to tell you whether or not you should move on; There are plenty of resources for that. No, no. As someone who’s left corporate America twice to venture out on my own (and have happily landed to create a career and life that rock my socks), I’m here to share what you can do in the meantime to prepare to leave and make the most of your downtime after you do.

Let me be clear: Leaving a job without another one lined up is not for the weak or meek.

It will beat you up a bit, but with the following strategies, you can use this precious time to build yourself back up, stronger, clearer, and more successful than ever.

When you’re getting ready to quit:

Create an Escape Route

Okay, so you’ve thought about it a lot and you want to leave, but you’re not sure what you want to do next. Get in line, bro. That feeling is kind of like being in a dysfunctional relationship – you know it’s not the right situation, but you can’t exactly pinpoint why, and leaping into the unknown feels scary as hell.

You know what will make it feel better, even if you don’t know which way is up? Making a plan. Yes, as Tony Robbins (mad love for you, man) as it may sound, making a plan, or an “Escape Route” will not only make you feel pragmatic, which is a great way to combat depression and stagnation but will give you something tangible to work toward.

And hey, if you decide not to leave and make it work in your current gig, your Escape Route usually gives you valuable tools and insights to get you closer to that realization. Win/Win.

Action Item:

Choose your format du jour (I did MS Project, but that’s the consultant in me) and start thinking about milestones and timelines that, if completed, would give yourself permission to make the leap. To start, as yourself the following questions:

  • How much money do I want/need to save up to live comfortably for six months (or more)?
  • What do I need to complete before I leave? (Recommended: Pay off debts, handle medical appointments while you still have that rad insurance, revamp your resume)?
  • What can I do to make each day at this current gig more bearable, edifying, and joyful? (this is the secret sauce for making it work or determining that it’s time to shove along. Try it; you may surprise yourself. Sometimes a small shift in perspective and practice is all you need to make your current job your dream job).

Do the Inner Work

Yeah, I’m about to sound really new-agey, but this is the part that will throw you for a loop if you don’t get a handle on it stat. For years, I secretly relished telling people that I was a political strategist. You probably like having a tidy explanation of what you do to keep the lights on.

Well, when that went away, I was utterly freaked out about how to answer the age-old cocktail party question of, “so, what do you do for a living?” In order to make the leap real and get comfortable with that reality, you need to visualize it.

Action Item:

Visualize what giving notice, leaving, and post-leaving will look like, how it will feel, and whom you’ll have in your posse to support you. Hell, bust out a journal and tackle your demons around leaving. Are you worried what folks might think of you? Fearful you’ll never find another job? Scared-as-hell you won’t be able to survive?

Let it get deep and messy and face those fears. If necessary, engage the help of a professional to come to terms with and make the emotional elements of doing a career 180 less frightening.

Once you’ve quit:

Create Structure

Give yourself a few days – a week to enjoy the whole sleeping in, staying out late that only unemployment can afford, and then create an iron-clad structure to keep you motivated and sane.

Why is this important? Well, because unless you’re naturally blessed with being a morning person, you’re going to need a catalyst to get up, shower, and keep your shit together.

Inspirational story alert: I once attended the retirement party of a state commissioner. He was a military hero who was also blind and had been unfortunately ousted from a job at which he was very gifted due to a political change-of-guard.

In his farewell speech, he noted that he didn’t want to “become an old man who sits around the house in his pajamas all day.” Man, that resonated with me. There’s dignity in staying busy. Do it, even when you don’t want to.

Action Item:

Ask a particularly Type A friend to be your accountability coach and schedule regular check-ins. Tell them to be brutal and focus you on positivity and business.

Join a boot camp with an instructor so terrifying you’d rather do burpees at 5 am in the freezing cold than face his icy, disapproving glare.

Block off your calendar with activities and work so you’re never stuck ruminating on the past, worrying about the future, or wondering what you’re supposed to be doing.

Clear Your Life & Sell Your Shit

It’s almost a universal truth that “stuff” clutters your vision and mobs your life. SVB (that’s you, girl!) has talked about it a lot and you’ve probably heard me saying “amen!” in the background.

A home overflowing with items you don’t need or use is a recipe for life dissatisfaction. Now you have the time to comb through the crap, so get to it.

Action Item:

Set a time limit and clean your basement, closet, garage, purse, makeup bag, everything. Donate or sell all of the items that you don’t find useful, beautiful, or that make you money. A clear, clean, tidy space opens you up to all of the possibilities in life. No joke.

Reignite Self-Care

 I usually loathe the term “self-care,” but if ever there was a time for it, it’s now. You know all that stuff you wanted to do but said you couldn’t because work kept you “too busy”? Well, now that excuse is gone and it’s time to step up.

Action Item:

This “in the meantime” is perfect for reigniting a workout regimen, making nourishing meals from real food, getting back into your nightly bath and skincare ritual, reading those books collecting dust on your shelf, or doing volunteering at the animal shelter or senior center.

Connect with Real People

File this one under “no-brainer,” but going from 9-5/365 office culture to sitting at home can be jarring. Before I knew it, I was sitting at home, yelling at my computer while wearing the same PJs for three days straight like a crazy lady. Don’t be that guy.

Connecting with real people out in the world is essential for sanity during any time of life, but is especially important now.

Action Item:

Make standing appointments with friends. Schedule phone calls, Skype dates, and vacations with people you’ve been longing to see. Strike up conversations with people at coffee shops, in Ubers, and at the grocery store. While this may seem out of your comfort zone, having interactions will keep you vital, vibrant, and connected during this time.

But I want to hear from you! Have you ever left a job without another one lined up? What did you do and how did you cope? 

P.S. There’s a reason this is the best-selling career-change book of all time.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

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  1. casey

    Sarah! It’s like you’re constantly reading my mind! Seriously. I’ve been trying to figure out if I can do just this – now you’ve given me a strategy!

    • sarahvon

      Oh, I’m so glad you found this helpful! Isn’t Ashlee a gem?!

      • Ashlee Piper

        Aw, ladies. Thank you! So glad these tips are helpful. Sending you lots of courage and good wishes!

  2. Lauren Caselli

    Ashlee! Such an awesome post. I’ve been out of a 9-5 for a few years (thanks in no small part to stumbling across Sarah’s Yes and Yes blog in 2008!!!!), but it’s posts like this that remind me why I do it, and when I’m feeling “slump-y” in business, how to retrain my brain to remember how to be a bit more disciplined.

    Thanks for your insight! And thanks for sharing, Sarah!

  3. Janet Guerin

    This is also a good article and ideas for someone retiring in 25 more working days!!

  4. Kathryn

    I walked out of a corporate job with nothing lined up. One of the thing s that struck me later was just how much of an emotional toll that job had taken on me. I had trouble finding another job and I think mostly because I’d been so devalued for so long, that I had no confidence in my skills. In retrospect, I wish I’d taken more time to work on myself rather than rushing to find another job… with rejections that just added to low self-esteem.

  5. Stephanie

    Yup, I left my job of eight years in Dec. 2015 without having a job lined up. It’s a VERY long story, but a couple of the people in charge were so awful that even while looking for other jobs, my actual escape route was getting fired. Which I finally did. And I thank God every day for it. Three months later, I’m still looking for a job, but I’m writing again, and actually have been doing all of these things to keep some semblance of structure in my daily life and clean out the mental and physical crap. I’m feeling better about myself and life is SO much better being unemployed. So thank you for this article! It’s good to know I’m on the right track.

    • sarahvon

      Wonderful! Congrats on getting away from an unhealthy situation!

  6. Abby @ The Frosted Vegan

    This is resonating so hard with me! I’ve been wanting out of the corporate 9-5 for years now and know that I need to just get my shit together and make a plan, plus I really gotta clean out my basement 🙂 Two kick ass ladies giving great advice right here! xoxo

  7. Vanessa

    This post is insanely helpful! A couple of years ago I left a job that wasn’t working out and I didn’t have another job lined up. It all happened very unexpectedly and I didn’t have a safety net in place. I wish I’d read this post then, as it would have helped so much. It was a very difficult time but I got through it.

    One thing that I did that worked well was setting myself a Daily Task. Like, I quickly made a list of Things I Needed To Do To Get Another Job but that list seemed crazy huge and overwhelming. But breaking it down and making a conscious effort to do one task each day was much more bearable. And after just a month, I had another job . I’m still in that job and I love it, so everything worked out in the end.

  8. Mentos

    I’ve done this twice! Once 10 months after graduating college, and once again just last month – which I then coupled with a cross country move to a notoriously expensive city. Yup.

    The biggest thing I had to get over was the embarrassment of being unemployed. While, yes, it was by choice, being all sheepish about it gave people the opportunity to berate me about how irresponsible I am. When I finally owned up to it, people started responding in kind and I kept getting remarks like “wow, you’re so brave” and “I wish I could do that” and “you’re going to be just fine!”. Plus, once people knew what I was doing, they sent so many job referrals and references and people to contact… People can’t help you if they don’t know you need help!

    For me the keys were:

    A) have backup plans for your backup plans. I saved enough money to live almost a year unemployed if I had to. Thankfully I haven’t actually spent very much of my savings, but it’s a relief to know it’s there.
    B) get your support system strong. I couldn’t do this without family and friends helping me out the whole way. Ultimately, I could move home to my parents and start over.

    A and B are essential – they ease the pressure and desperation that might force you into an even worse job/situation than you trying to leave!

    To be clear, to be able to do this is totally a result of my complete and utter privilege. I could not have done this without so many things lining up in my favor – some that came from my hard work and a vast majority of things that came from the sheer luck of being who I am. But if you have the means and/or the desire to set yourself up to be able to do this, I say go for it! It’s less scary and way more fun than you might think! 🙂

  9. Laura

    I seriously did this yesterday. This is so timely and reassuring!

    • Sarah Von Bargen


  10. Sue

    I quit my high profile job and didn’t have another to go to. My friends said I was brave but quit honestly I was convinced that it was only a short period of time until I’d be coming home in a box if I didn’t quit. I was working long hours and the commute each day meant that I was falling asleep on the motorway. So to me I wasn’t being brave I was being extremely sensible. I have always had an emergency fund but never had to use it till now. I be never felt better, clearing all the clutter out of my home and in turn clearing the clutter out of my head and making money at the same time. I have a teenager to provide for and a mortgage to pay. I know I’ll get work because that’s who I am. Just do it! 🙂

  11. Brittany Renae

    I put in my 2 week notice last week and I’m sitting here at work thinking “what the heck am I going to do with all this free time?” I have spent the last 2 years complaining about not having enough time to clean my house, cook healthy food, or just watch a movie. The last 2 days I have been having severe anxiety thinking about my new life. I don’t want to sit around in PJ’s all day and this article has encouraged me to make a to-do list and set a strict schedule for myself to ensure that I don’t become a bum! I’m still freaking out but I’m slowly becoming more and more excited! Great read! Thanks!

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      So glad it was helpful, Brittany!

  12. Mz Fini

    I want to do this so badly. Convincing my husband is another story though. Some time to clear my head and figure out what I really want to do would be great.

  13. Anna

    I will soon be leaving my job for real estate, which is pretty much leaving without another job lined up, as it will take time to build up leads and eventually create income. This article has been a huge reassurance. Everything the article is suggesting I’ve been doing instinctively. It’s like a hug and encouragement to get out there and be happy, not a slave to a job that only rewards in grief and anxiety.

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      Oh good! So glad you found it helpful, Anna and best wishes on your new adventure! <3

      • Anna Papoutsakis

        Thank you! Can’t wait to share the journey!

  14. Sarah

    Thank you for this article, i just did this yesterday. I DONT HAVE another job lined up but I do have several interviews scheduled and more calls keep coming in. I needed to leave for my sanity. I have bartending skills so i can always fall back on that and its the holidays so i know part time work will be easy to find until i decide my new career path.

  15. AQ

    I have set a time line to quit on 3 Jan 2017 but I am scared shut because I have not left a job without one lined up since the first day I stepped into workforce. I’ve been in my current organisation for 10 years, the management gets from bad to worse and my boss is a super psychotic berating bitch. Whatever I do don’t seem to sit well with her and she wasn’t like that when she wanted me to join her. I made a bad choice and felt like what I’ve done to paint myself I to this shit hole. While my hubby and I have agreed that I should quit if it becomes so unbearable but I’m scared of the uncertainty and unknown of not knowing when I will get another job. I’ve no debts but there are some running costs which my hubby can cover for the next 12 months or so but in this economic climate is really shitty thinking about all this. Your plan is good and I’ve already started one on my own but still apprehensive. Thanks for hearing me rant. What can I do? What would you advise?

  16. Anonymous

    yes i did this. i am a nurse and left a position that literally was making me sick, and sucking the life out of me. however i have a new job contact, but still it is scary.

  17. Charlotte

    Hi Sarah! I’ve done a bit of searching and haven’t come up with anything… have you written a post about your decision to leave teaching… how you went about it?

    Thanks a ton!

  18. Emily Parduhn

    Yes and Yes-

    What an inspiration! Wow, everything that you are saying is everything I have been thinking about to the detail. Thank you for sharing. In the near future I will be quitting my job. The above gives reassurance that it will all work out in the end. I will come back to this article for reassurance. Many thanks!

    Emily P


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