I worked for a start-up company selling desktop graphics equipment to corporations and dealers. I enjoyed interacting and selling to my clients, but the technical talk was definitely not my thing. I learned as much as I could but it never came naturally to me and it was actually fatiguing. My territory was the Western US and Canada which meant I spent more time in the air than on the ground. It was great at first, but the hours were grueling and after a while the job became lonely and stressful. It was especially challenging when after a difficult week, I’d be on a flight home only to sit next to a middle-aged guy anxious for conversation who’d ask, “So, honey, what do you do?” I had no energy to talk about my work so I’d reply, “I’m a sex therapist.” You should see how quickly they’d drape a magazine over their laps or put the food tray down and pick up a book to read!
It’s no fun to work where you know it’s not really a fit, but I convinced myself to stay. It was a start-up and, hey, I might make my millions when they went public. At least, that was the hook that kept me there. The longer I stayed, the more miserable I became. It was as if I was in a bad commercial and I couldn’t escape.
We grow up in a culture that tells us if we quit we’re losers. You buck up and do what it takes to ace that geometry class, learn the viola, or get on the baseball team. No one ever dare ask if you’re any good in math, music or sports for that matter. You just know you’re supposed to persevere to be a winner because no one likes a loser. So, you learn not to quit even when your work or environment is not a fit.
Our schools teach us to be well-rounded, to at least get a C, so we learn to stick with tasks or assignments until we become at least adequate performers. We do the same thing with our work. You take a position with high hopes only to discover that mortgage lending or product research isn’t for you. Instead of saying “this is not where I’ll flourish,” you convince yourself you can make it work; sort of like that bad hairpiece someone said would help you get dates …so you kept it.
Okay, so how do you know if you should quit (or even start)? I wrote a newsletter once about Colin Kapernick, the 49ers quarterback. Colin was at one time headed for a brilliant career as a baseball pro, but he had a dream of playing football. It was an unpopular and risky decision, but it was his dream and he took the risk. With multiple baseball scholarships available to him, he took his one football offer from the University of Nevada. Against the odds, he persisted and the rest, as they say, is history.
So, do you know when to quit? You quit when you know you won’t excel or don’t have the passion to perform at your very best. It might feel risky to leave, but consider the heavy price of staying. You will spend your time learning skills or knowledge that might not be useful outside your company, and probably not for the work you really want to do. So you waste more time, energy and resources spinning your wheels in a dead end situation for short-term gain but neglect your long-term potential.
“Is it worth it to stick with my job or company?” That is the wrong question to ask. The right question is, “Will I be able to use my talents and passions to make a contribution here?” If you rely on what you do well and love, in the long run you will succeed. Quit before you get to the point where you hit burnout and stress and can’t climb out of the slump. Winners do quit. Colin Kapernick knew when to quit and it made all the difference.