THE BLOG
07/02/2015 01:11 pm ET Updated Jul 02, 2016

Declare Your Independence: Why Quitting Isn't Losing

Here at HireArt, we think a lot about jobs. Particularly about helping people find new ones. Sometimes the first step in finding a new job, though, is realizing that you need one.

In LinkedIn's #IQuit series, Robert Herjavec (of Shark Tank fame) writes that "people have a funny relationship with quitting. The way I see it, quitting isn't losing. It's simply changing direction." From my own experience, I've learned that quitting your job can sometimes feel like you're giving up on a relationship that you've nurtured for months, even years.

You put in time, emotional effort, creativity, you build bonds, you work through issues... generally with the hope that something about this job (money, skills, or experience) will advance you toward your long term goals. But sometimes, you just have to accept that it's time to dump your job.

Taking this step can be difficult for a number of reasons. In an era when a glance at Facebook makes it seem like everyone has a perfect life, it's hard to admit to yourself when you're unsatisfied, and nearly impossible to admit it to other people. This is especially true of high achievers right out of school. People expect you to graduate from university and find a fun, interesting, rewarding, and well-paid job. Quitting, then, feels like a public admission that you failed. You didn't find an awesome job. In fact, you were unhappy, an emotion that has been seemingly banned from social media.

A few friends recently opened up to me about how unhappy they had been at work. We realized that 1) dissatisfaction with work life is far from uncommon and 2) you don't have to accept it. You have the ability to start anew. With their encouragement, I'm sharing these stories because if simply realizing that you're not alone gives anyone even a fraction of the courage that it gave them, then this will be worthwhile.

(All names have been changed to protect people's identities.)

Mari: Stick With the Pain for the Right Amount of Time

Mari worked as an associate producer and then assistant editor for a production company. She was one of three female employees in a firm of 20. You might know where this is going.

The office culture, from the CEO to the production assistants, suffered from overt and pervasive sexism. Every day, the head of the company would make comments on how she looked or what she was wearing, from her looking good, to her looking like crap.

Her coworkers would often overstep the bounds of good taste. Mari gave an example of the type of dismissal she would deal with an a daily basis:

"Some of the boys were talking about their recent favorite movies, and someone brought up Foxcatcher, so I spoke up and said how much I loved that film. My boss said, 'Yeah, but that's just because you're such a big wrestling groupie.' I think he meant it as a joke but he wasn't making jokes about anyone else's opinions, nor did he follow up with a serious statement. So that was the end of my contribution to that discussion."

Other times, they crossed the line more obviously: One Monday morning, Mari came in with a cut and bruise on my nose. Her boss asked in front of everyone if she'd "had a bad date that weekend," and then someone else chimed in, "Yeah, was it Ray Rice?"

Mari's male coworkers made comments like this every day. They disrespected the female workers every day. They even knowingly stole credit for work done by the women. But Mari reminded herself that the credentials she would receive at the end of the show would allow her to move on to a much better job, so she stayed until the end of the project and then quit on good terms.

Isabel: If Your Job Is Taking You Off Your Desired Career Trajectory, Quit to Get Back On Track

Like Mari, Isabel works in TV production, but in a large network corporation as opposed to an independent production firm. She was attracted by the myriad options available for career growth, the training seminars offered to employees, and the variety of projects available.

Isabel worked hard and was quickly promoted to segment producer, but for one reason or another, the segments that she had earned with her promotion were constantly assigned to a newly hired assistant. And while the assistant did the segments that Isabel was supposed to do as segment producer, she was asked to take extra hours and cover for his work (including filing and washing dishes), which he was neglecting.

Isabel regularly addressed this issue with her boss. She talked about her career goals, which included more video production and more writing. Still, she was assigned extra work outside of her official job position, with no extra pay.

At her mid-year review, Isabel reiterated her goals: more video production, more writing. Her boss responded by noting that he’d “been thinking about her future.” He mentioned that operational skills (setting budgets and schedules) were useful for any producer to have (which they are), so he offered to have her shadow a position in the control room. When the day came for her to start shadowing, the producer being shadowed told Isabel that she was applying to other shows in the network, and that their boss probably wanted Isabel to take the job full time.

Anne Dillard in The Writing Life notes that "how we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives." Isabel realized that by setting a precedent of accepting work that she didn't want to do, she wasn't able to spend time doing the things she did want to do: video production and writing. If you find yourself filling a gap that the team needs filled, but where the work is taking you off your desired career trajectory, then it might not be worth doing.

Jenna: You Have the Right to Quit

Jenna's first job out of college was on the product team of an early-stage startup. After 18 months, the product was ready to be sold to clients, but because the company had no salespeople, Jenna was asked to take over lead generation.

The new role was a poor work fit, and Jenna quickly realized that she didn't have what it takes to thrive in a sales position, but she perhaps naively believed that the product would really "help people," and so she chugged away, willing to do whatever it might take to see the company succeed.

Then one day, she forgot to attach the hyperlinks to a marketing email, and was resigned to sending one of those "Oops! Here are the links," follow-ups. Her boss exploded.

"Are you on drugs?! Only someone on drugs could make a mistake of this magnitude. Are you on drugs?!! Anyone else would be fired immediately for making a mistake like this, but since I'm much more indulgent, and I don't want to ruin the life of a young person, I'll let this be a learning experience..."

In the following weeks, Jenna struggled to gain back her boss's trust, never fully succeeding. In hindsight, she wishes she'd taken a note from Isabel's book and had an upfront conversation about how she was feeling, and how certain behaviors from her boss, like insisting on watching her send every email, were affecting her productivity.

Jenna struggled with the decision to quit because she was the fourth employee at the company, and she felt as though her position and responsibility should be repaid with her loyalty. She continued for five months in a role that didn't suit her skills under a manager that frightened her because she failed to question that assumption.

After talking with Isabel, Mari, and myself, Jenna came to the conclusion that loyalty should be a two-way street. And because in her case it wasn't, she needn't feel obligated to stay at her job. She realized that she had the right to quit, and so she did.

Next Steps: Liberate And Evaluate

Now that you've heard their stories, maybe some of the anecdotes resonate with you. Maybe you just want to know how to avoid ending up in a similar spot.

Step 1: List and prioritize your values. Do you value humor? What about your sleep? If you have loans to pay off, don't feel embarrassed to admit that you value money. The answer is different for different people.

Step 2: Make long term goals that align with your values. These can be anything you want to achieve long-term. If you want to start your own company, are you prepared for the instability and lack of sleep? If you want to be a journalist, are you prepared for the low pay?

Step 3: Evaluate your job (or prospective job if you're on the hunt). Does this job really help me reach these goals? Will I be able to live in line with my values? Is what I'm realistically getting out of this job worth it? If not, then dump your work situation and find a new one.

Step 4: vet your next boss and company with the same scrutiny that you'd vet a romantic partner. Talk to people who work there, and if you can, people who used to work there. Ask yourself: will I be respected here? Will I be excited to come to work each day? It's worth the effort to talk to ten people to find out.

Some might argue that expecting happiness from your job is another example of how we millennials are so entitled. It's true that sometimes you just need a job that pays the bills. Even so, it's worth periodically re-examining whether a job suits you. And there's never harm in seeing what other options you have.

And if you do quit, share your story with others so that they can feel confident enough to leave their negative work situations as well. Sometimes it just takes an afternoon with a friend, or some words by Robert Herjavec, to realize that quitting isn't losing.

If you quit when you need to, you're actually placing yourself closer to success.

Cyndi Chen works at HireArt, where people can go to find new jobs. Job seekers use video interviews and work samples to show off their skills and personalities to startups in NYC and California.

Twitter: @cyndithinks.