Leaving a job can be the smart choice – whether you’re unhappy or not

An image showing a woman leaving

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You’ll never know what opportunities are out there until you start looking

January is a month for quitters. Whether you’re cutting out animal products for Veganuary, swearing off alcohol for Dry January or simply resolving to eat less cake this year, the message is clear: becoming a better person requires giving up stuff.

And yet our experiences in education and at work tend to present quitting as failure. Leaving a PhD partway through is often spun as something shameful. Even those who gradute with their doctorate can be made to feel like they’ve let down everyone who has supported them if they choose to leave academia. Job advice about how often you should change jobs often suggests that a CV filled with frequent job changes appears suspicious to potential employers, regardless of the reasons behind each move.

But when faced with tough circumstances, quitting might be the best option. Yes, it can be valuable to keep going through a situation that seems hopeless at first; you might surprise yourself with what you can achieve when placed under pressure. But once you’ve run out of options for how to improve a tough situation (or have come to realise that the factors that are making you miserable are out of your control), there’s little value in persevering. Not when you could be spending time on something more productive – which includes looking after your mental and physical health.

Quitting isn’t only for the bad times

Most of us can’t afford to quit a job or degree without having an alternative source of income lined up, no matter how unhappy we are. At least by making a firm decision to leave, you can start to prepare for your eventual exit. Committing to quitting can act as the impetus to finally update the CV, register on some job sites and perhaps even work towards some new skills that would support a career change. It might also add a little bit of hope – light at the end of the tunnel – that makes it easier to get through the difficult days.

But quitting isn’t only for the bad times. Even in an excellent workplace, it can pay dividends to think about leaving. After all, there could be something even better out there. If there isn’t, keeping an eye on the job market and being aware of what other employers are advertising can help you to keep your skills current and perhaps inspire new ways of working – bringing benefits to both you and your present employer. Plus, nothing lasts forever. Over time, company priorities change and supportive colleagues move on. Being prepared to leave can make it less likely that you’ll be left behind.