In a perfect world, you could just walk away carefree from a crummy job. Well, technically, there would be no crummy jobs in a perfect world—but just go with me here.
The real world, however, is never so simple. If your family depends on your income or the insurance coverage your job provides, kicking open the exit and rushing through in a blaze of righteous glory probably isn’t realistic for you.
Or, maybe it’s not so much that others depend on you, but you’ve overheard your mom humble bragging about you or you’ve seen your significant other beam with pride when talking about the work you do. Or, maybe you’ve just busted your tail to climb the proverbial ladder, and you’re struggling with what it would mean if you forgo everything you’ve clamored for.
As the person who carries my family’s insurance, I completely understand the “I can’t just quit,” mindset. But no matter what dynamics are at play, it’s still your life, your career, and your peace of mind on the line. If you want out of your current role and the only thing holding you back is guilt, you have permission to be at least a little selfish.
That may bring to mind a dramatic scene, but putting yourself first doesn’t have to be this dramatic all-or-nothing situation. In fact, taking good care of yourself really isn’t selfish at all. When you’re at your best, you’re more productive at work and a better family member and friend in your personal life.
If you’re still not convinced you can do it, keep reading for a few tips that’ll make it a little easier to swallow:
1. Avoid Assumptions
Whether you’re assuming you can’t tell a loved one that you’re miserable for fear of disappointing them or assuming you’re stuck forever in a job you hate, you’re playing a dead-end game.
Instead, ask yourself, “Do I really know this? If so, how do I know?” You may be surprised when you force yourself to qualify your assumptions.
It looks like this: You tell yourself you’re stuck in your job because you need your paycheck to pay rent. But when you sit down and take a hard look at your budget, you realize that between your savings and picking shifts up at the coffee shop on the weekends, you could actually take three months off to find a new job.
Another approach that can help you shake harmful assumptions is to ask yourself, “What would change if this isn’t true?” This allows you to at least entertain alternate scenarios.
What would you do differently today if you didn’t need that paycheck for rent? Would you go back to school? Get a job in a different field?
When you mull over what you could do if your assumptions are untrue, you get one step closer to going after what you really want.
2. Clue Your Loved Ones In
If someone in your life’s deeply invested in your career, you may feel tempted to stay mum. You don’t want to cause your loved ones any embarrassment or disappointment. You certainly don’t want to upend their lives.
Time for a reality check: Think of the person you love most. How would you feel if they were suffering and didn’t feel like they could tell you? Right. Give your people some credit. Just like It’s your job as a friend to support your loved ones when they need you, it’s their job to do the same for you. Let them do their job.
Maybe they can only provide sympathy and moral support; that’s more than you had when you were pretending all was well and suffering in silence. They may also surprise you with an idea or insight you hadn’t considered, or even a professional contact.
3. Move Beyond All or Nothing
When it comes to a crappy job, it’s easy to get stuck in the belief that you must either endure your current torment or quit and ruin your life (and the lives of your loved ones). It’s rare, though, that we truly only have two options; life is simply too complex. Changing your language and thought processes around such scenarios can certainly help.
Try dropping qualifiers like “have to,” “always,” “never,” and substituting with “and.” “I have to stay in this mess of a job or I’m screwed because I lose my benefits” becomes, “I’m in a mess of a job and I need to keep my benefits.” It’s a subtle shift, but now you’ve moved away from “I have to do this or this” to recognizing what you need.
From there, you can begin thinking about how you might be able to make a change while keeping the benefits you need. That might mean you consider other options outside of your department, but still within your company that you hadn’t previously thought about.
Or it might mean you educate yourself about negotiating, particularly in regards to benefits, so you can consider a position with a new company without losing the coverage you need.
It’s not my intent to minimize or over-simplify a work situation that may be truly terrible or the reasons why you feel you can’t just up and quit. Rather, I hope this offers some hope that even in a complicated situation, you do have the right to care about your own needs, and that if you can make some shifts in the way you think about and approach the situation, you may find workable solutions. Because when you’re happy, that’s good for everyone.