April 27, 2011 | File under: Advice and Lessons • Well-being
I knew it was time to leave my job when it became apparent to me that I had reached a dead end. In my professional life as a lawyer, I was no longer growing and had no desire or ambition to climb that next step to becoming a partner in my law firm. My tactic of hanging on to the status quo of being an associate and just going through the motions of my job was not going to work for much longer before I would be prompted to take on more responsibility than I desired. And in my personal life, I was beginning to feel the effects of many years in a job that wasn’t right for me. I was pushing ahead, but I wasn’t going anywhere either professionally or personally. In fact, I felt like I was falling behind personally, which was what really mattered to me.
There is much to be said for tolerating a job you don’t like because you’re able to appreciate its necessity or beneficial effects. Few people are fortunate enough to love their job or feel a passion for their work. Most people go to work every day because they need to pay their bills or feed themselves or their families. They may not like their job per se, but they may not mind it either. In the grand scheme of things, the job’s benefits outweigh its costs.
But somewhere along the cost-benefit continuum, there’s a tipping point. Your job provides some benefit, but not enough to justify the cost to your well-being, your future, your relationships and your state of mind. It’s the point when you realize pursuing other options, no matter how difficult they may be, is more attractive than remaining stuck where you are. You may face financial hardships for choosing to leave, but they are neither ruinous nor worth continuing on a path leading nowhere. It’s hard to predict where that tipping point lies, but from my experience, it’s like a moment when you find yourself teetering on the edge of a cliff. You’ll just know.
I could have stayed at my job much longer than I did. I was only 30 when I left, after all. I was being groomed to rise among the ranks to become a partner in a few short years and I was good enough at my job to do so without making any significant changes in my performance besides simply taking on more and more responsibility in the cases I was involved with.
But in the back of my mind, I knew there had to be an end. The money was pretty good, but money alone wasn’t going to make up for the fact that my career was beginning to take away pieces of me that I really missed. It left me feeling jaded, tired and negative in many aspects of life. Continuing along that path would result in professional progress, but at the expense of any personal progress and would most likely have just set me back in other things I wanted to accomplish in my life. It would have been years before I could hit a point in my career where I could easily take off time to raise children. Many more years before the pressure would subside a bit (if it did at all) and I would be allowed more time to take on personal goals that required a lot of my energy. And what for? More money? I was over it.
There are always other options. Many of them involve some kind of sacrifice —- money, time, location —- but when you’ve reached a career tipping point those sacrifices are much less costly relative to the prospects of remaining uncomfortably perched on the edge of a cliff for an indeterminate amount of time. It requires a lot of guts to jump and possibly face a less certain future. However, taking that step is sometimes the only choice when you reach a dead end.