In a perfect world, you’d have another job lined up before you left the bad one, but sometimes that’s just not an option.
Below, two-time career-changer-and-job-leaver Ashlee Piper tells us how you can leave a job without ruining the rest of your life. 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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
This guest post came to us via the lovely Ashlee Piper. Ashlee is a nationally-recognized eco-lifestyle expert. She runs the site, The Little Foxes, is a regular guest and co-host on a variety of national and local TV shows including FOX, CBS, NBC, ABC, The LiveWell Network, and others. She also writes for online and print publications, such as Refinery29, MindBodyGreen, NYLON, and Reader’s Digest on all things planet-friendly and chic (none of that crunchy stuff here!).