How to Quit Your Job With Your Dignity and Career Intact

I’m going to sound like your mother for saying this, but you probably shouldn’t quit your job in a blaze of glory.

Blazes of glory don’t buy you groceries two weeks later when radio programs have stopped wanting to have you on the air via telephone and your internet fame has been eclipsed by a video of a zoo animal using a Blackberry. (Remember all those babies dancing to “Single Ladies”? So 2008. Being a meme is not a career path).

It was, of course, the inflatable-slide-based departure of Steven Slater from his job as a JetBlue flight attendant that prompted this column. Opinions are mixed: is he a working-class hero or an “unstable diva”? He will certainly never work as a flight attendant again; as he’s been charged with felonies, he may have a hard time working in many industries. (See previous column: Not all publicity is good publicity). Remember the guy in Office Space? He ends up working on a construction site, which is not an option for everyone.

Need to quit your job? Obviously, it would be good to have another offer in place, or to have been maintaining a low-level entrepreneurial presence (a few freelance clients, some consulting) on the side during your stint in the straight world. (I wrote about this topic in the column How Business Is Like Dating: if you’re already unemployed, you’re simply not as desirable as if you’re someone else’s woman/employee who could conceivably be stolen away). But especially if you’re young, haven’t settled on a single career, want to see the world, etc., plenty of resume gaps are explainable, forgivable, and can be spun into something that makes you look more awesome than all the 9-to-5 drones around you. So, if you think your job just might pound the last ounce of joy out of the overkneaded bread dough of your soul, here are some ideas.

Make a plan for what you’re going to do after you quit, even if that plan involves taking a couple weeks off to drink beer at noon, absconding to Berlin, etc.
If your plan involves some odd jobs like dogwalking, offering yourself on Craigslist as an assistant, babysitting, etc., keep in mind that these, too, take planning — lots of people consider these things their primary occupation and have professional websites, referral systems, etc. in place. The economy is a bit gloomy; there are MBAs out there walking dogs with ruthless efficiency.

Much of the value of making a plan is to keep you sane during the last few weeks of your horrible job, allowing you to eke out another couple of paychecks for your Berlin fund. Apparently, it’s easy to be a broke expat in Berlin (and you don’t particularly have to speak German). Buenos Aires is also a good option for living well while stretching out a meager savings. One friend said that $2,000 and a tourist visa made him feel like a rich man in India for months. So, make a plan, any plan, and allow office politics to recede into the distance while you imagine how far today’s pay will go when you’re in Argentina or Chennai, or at Mom and Dad’s, or in a communal living situation in Bushwick.

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    • toonmonk

      Great points! I left my job recently and found having a plan of action the only way to stay sane and not burn all my bridges.. Keep up the great posts!

    • Eileen

      This blog needs a ‘like’ button. I loved this post – it always feels better in the long run, I think, to quit gracefully. No matter how much your boss sucked.

    • MC

      This article perfectly sums up my view on Steven Slater. I’m sure it looks cool to quit like him. However, the consequences are totally not worth it. Currently, I’m dissatisfied with my job and if possible, I would love to just hand my resignation letter in to my manager. But, after thinking about it thoroughly, is it even worth all these dramas? Plus, I totally have no back up plans if I do quit.

      Hence, I’m so glad you wrote this article. Now, I really seriously need to think about a backup plan. Thank you for another great article!

    • eEv

      Agreed… you never know who knows who. I heard a story from a casting director once about how he’d been sitting in on an audition– this girl gave a great performance, and the director seemed very pleased with her. The guy telling the story went out to go to the bathroom and when he came back, there was a big red X on the girl’s resume because someone in wardrobe had said she was “difficult to work with.” Best not to piss anybody off.

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