You’re thinking of jumping ship. Maybe it’s your job, a relationship, a degree, or some other commitment that’s both so hard to keep doing and so hard to leave. Should you stay or should you go? Here’s how to decide.
There are certain sure signs that quitting is better for you in the long run. While many of these are common sense tips, it’s often hard to look at the situation objectively. Change can be frightening, there are always some positives to hold you back, and quitting often feels like failure—especially if you’ve invested a lot of effort or time into an endeavor.
Still, if it’s come to the point where you know something has to change, take a step back and see how many of these ring true for you:
With any situation, you have take the bad with the good. But if your experience is overwhelmingly negative for a long period of time, you have to consider leaving or some radical change. One unmistakable sign: You breathe a sigh of relief and your life feels instantly better with the mere thought of quitting. Photo by Samuel Mann.
After trying to resolve the issues that have been dragging you down, you still have no confidence things will change. Maybe you’ve been promised a promotion (that’s always fallen through) for years; maybe you’re waiting on others to change their habits when it’s the last thing they want to do. For some situations, like when you’re stuck with a bad manager, you might not have any choice but to quit.
Ignore the fear of quitting and consider: Do you think you could achieve a better life for yourself if you quit? Is staying on with a project or social commitment causing you to over-extend yourself?
On a similar note, it’s a huge red flag if your current situation is taking a toll on your mental and/or physical health. Get out of toxic relationships where a partner, client, or boss doesn’t appreciate your value. (By the way, it’s not normal to lose all your hair or take up drinking at 10am because of your job.)
If your decision to stay is based more on fear than on faith, you’re probably in it for the wrong reasons, says Psychology Today in an article called Contemplating Divorce. Are you afraid to hurt someone’s feelings? Staying solely out of a sense of responsibility? Afraid to admit you just made a bad choice or start over (e.g., a wrong career move and now you have to quit a job you just started)?
Many of us have a hard time quitting. For others, change is everything and quitting comes probably too easily. Don’t stay or quit just for the sake of it. Photo remixed from an original by Ienetstan / Shutterstock
One thing that often holds people back is what economists call the “sunk-cost fallacy”: The belief that you can’t quit because of all the time or money you spent. Beware of falling victim to that kind of thinking.
Your friends keep telling you to quit. While others’ advice alone shouldn’t be what you base your decision on, your friends want the best for you and may see what you need to do more clearly than you do.
By now you may be nodding your head, ready to quit. While there’s an upside to quitting (especially if done often), you still want to make sure you’re making the right decision.
Sometimes it’s other areas of our lives that are making us miserable and affecting everything else. Maybe you’ve just had a series of bad days due to other causes like poor sleep. Or perhaps you’re just missing the right tools or skills to finish a job. Identify the real issues before you proceed.
Tools like the Career cheat sheet can help you figure out if this is really the right job for you. For relationship help, consult this problem-solving framework from UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center.
Many things, like diets, require time to work out. If you just started a job, don’t let the newness of it scare you off. If you’re an aspiring artist (or someone else who needs to be creative), know that it’s normal for your work to disappoint you. “You just gotta fight your way through it,” This American Life producer Ira Glass says. Or in the words of Pixar animator Austin Madison, persist.
Similarly, make sure you’ve tried several solutions. If you and your partner are always fighting over the same things, try looking at the situation from his or her perspective, try to communicate differently, read books on the subject, or seek help from a trusted friend or therapist.
Have a backup plan. Know what you’re going to do if you quit and what you need to do to prepare for that. The Quit-Your-Day-Job Checklist, for example, is a 7-point checklist of the stuff you should do before you take the leap to working for yourself.
After weighing the above, hopefully you can quit or stay on with confidence.
If you still don’t know what to do, find out what you really want with the coin tossing trick: Designate heads or tails for each of your two choices and flip the coin. What did you secretly wish for while the coin was mid-air or when you covered it?
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