If you’ve ever had one of those moments where you just wanted to scream “I quit!” and clean out your desk, then you know what I’m talking about.
I recently got a LinkedIn connection request from the worst manager I ever had. He refused to stick up for me (or any of my colleagues) when we were being undermined, bullied, harassed, and prevented from doing our jobs by the manager of another department. Employee after employee asked for his help getting this other manager out of our way. Employee after employee begged him to intervene. Employee after employee quit.
There were so many times during this job that I just wanted to pack my stuff up and go home. The problem? I LOVED what I was doing. Everything besides the toxic leadership at this job was amazing. The work was great, my other colleagues were great… and of course I needed the paycheck.
During those long months before I finally handed in my resignation letter, I came up with a plan to make staying survivable. Here’s what I did when I wanted to quit, but couldn’t:
Start In Two Places At The Same Time
When you’re facing a frustrating situation, our brains tend to recognize two ways we can help ourselves feel better: fixing the problem, or soothing our emotions. Psychologists call these two strategies Problem-Focused Coping and Emotion-Focused Coping. Research shows that using coping techniques that fall into not one but both categories – simultaneously – gets us the best results. (So if you were one of those people who learned that successful people only use Problem-Focused Coping, it’s time to un-learn that bad habit!)
The Heart of the Matter
Emotion-Focused Coping in the middle of a bad job experience can be things like finding a friend or mental health professional to talk to about the stress. Leaning on other people for support is a coping mechanism that most of us take for granted, but it’s one of the strongest ones we can use. The only catch is that sometimes we may find ourselves “venting” instead of actually processing. Venting is when we just rehash our anger over and over, always staying at the boiling point. In a healthy conversation, you’ll want to use your listener as support to help you feel better and maybe even find some new coping ideas.
Another option is volunteering. When I was researching my book The Giving Prescription, I found that giving back to others is one of the best ways to help you get perspective even when life is challenging or frustrating. All through my initial cancer diagnosis, I was volunteering every week at a nursing home, doing singing and dancing performances with a group of other young women. I was scared and struggling, but two things happened during those evening performances: I could see I wasn’t the only one struggling in life, and I also recognized that despite my illness, I had the ability to bring joy to people’s lives.
Taking Baby Steps
Problem-Focused Coping is using strategies and taking action that will hopefully solve the root cause of the issue. Interestingly, though, studies show that just taking any action might be enough to help you feel better, even if the action doesn’t have a direct result, because action-taking helps us feel more in control.
When it comes to staying in a job where you want to quit but can’t, Problem-Focused Coping might look like coming up with ways to keep your boss happy and conflict at a minimum. In my job with the poor manager who let the other manager harass us, I started anticipating ways the other manager was going to “accidentally” sabotage my programs, and building in safeguards to make it more difficult for that to happen.
It might also mean starting to make a plan for when you can look for a new job. An important element that helps internal resilience is something called “future orientation.” When we make plans for the future, it helps us keep our drive up, even in tough situations. So tell yourself “I can’t quit now. But I can start job hunting in six months.” And then work backwards from there. “So I’ll need to start brushing up my resume in five months. Maybe I’ll hire a career counselor in four months to help rewrite the resume. So starting next month, I can start putting some money aside for that career coach…” And all of a sudden you’ve got something you can do right now to help plan for the future.
It’s More In Your Hands Than You Think
When you want to quit but can’t, it’s easy to feel stuck. But even if you can’t make the final move right now, you can set yourself up – both emotionally and tactically – so you’ll be ready to move on and be successful as soon as possible.