Know when it's time to quit your job

Twenty years is a long time to work in a job that doesn’t turn you on anymore.

Ask Dave - Dave Conrad column mug
Ask Dave - Dave Conrad column mug

Dear Dave: My job pays well, but I don’t get excited about doing it like I used to. I do enjoy most of the people I work with, and my manager pretty much leaves me alone to do my job. My manager rates me fairly highly in my performance reviews, and I believe I do my work well. Maybe I am just burnt out in my job and I need something else. I still have 15 to 20 years before I retire. What advice do you have for me? — N

Dear N: My first thought is that 20 years is a long time to work in a job that doesn’t turn you on anymore. And it appears that you know this is true, too. When we just go through the paces of performing our job, and we are not being challenged and motivated by the work to a state where we just don’t get anything out of the work any longer, it may be time to vacate it and land something more inspiring.

If you like what you do and you’re good at it, you have to set time limits for yourself regarding how much longer you can stay in your job before you start making mistakes and possibly start doing inferior work. Because your heart is just not in your work any longer, it is only a matter of time before your boss realizes that fact and your freedom to work as you please may turn into close monitoring by your boss.


Just picture the opposite: What if you hated your job from the very beginning – or realized that it stunk after a few weeks or months – and you felt stuck with nowhere to go? I have been there. And I learned that the only way for me to work my way out of that mess was to make myself more skilled and more employable in new and better work. It wasn’t easy, but it felt good working my way out of my position with a new purpose and new career promises.
There are various surveys and inventories you can take to figure out what you do best and what you should be doing long term. Interestingly, you may learn that the work you should be doing is far different from what you are doing right now. For instance, a person who has graduated from college with a degree in psychology may find that working in a psychology profession is a big mistake, and the fulfillment and satisfaction desired will never emerge.


I taught an MBA student who graduated as a nurse but wanted nothing to do with her nursing job. She wanted to work in marketing, and she was building her knowledge and skills to ready herself for a marketing or sales position. Quite a change! However, with her nursing degree and her newfound marketing skills, she was positioning herself to land a job in marketing for a drug or medical equipment company. In short, she “unstuck” herself from a profession she just did not want and built her resume to enter the business side of healthcare.

Questions to ask yourself

I think if you want the right answers to your job – and possibly your career – satisfaction, you need to lead with the right questions. There are probably people in your life who can help you and mentor you in your search for new work, but it is totally up to you to make things happen. So, ask yourself the following three questions.

What would I rather do? Work for a nonprofit? Teach? A business role? Do a fearless and searching inventory of your strongest skills and how they may relate to a new job. Also, think about how much control you want in a new role. Determine if you can afford a change in your work and what it may do to your family in terms of hours, income and your emotional wellbeing.

Whom can you talk to? Realizing it is time for a fresh perspective on your work and career, who will help you sort things out and ask you tough – and possibly humbling – questions about the value you may bring to a company and a new job. And remember, “the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.” Don’t “jump ship” if your current role is actually the best one.

How you can prepare yourself? If you have determined what work you want and what career path you should take, you need to find out how you can prepare yourself for the new role and what gaps exist between your current state of readiness and your most desired state of readiness. Simply, if you are not prepared for the hunt, you are just “walking in the woods.”

Contact Dave Conrad with questions or comments at . Conrad is an associate professor of business at Augsburg University in Rochester.

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