Jobs & Unemployment

Quitting: The Sharpest Tool in Your Career Toolbox

Sometimes quitting can be the exact best move to make.

By Amy Elisa Jackson

The idea of giving up seems very antithetical to the American dream. We have been taught to chase, run, achieve and compete. However, sometimes quitting can be the exact best move to make. Quitting a job that isn’t a good fit can be the right choice, and knowing when to quit can improve our physical, emotional, and even professional health.

Forbes publisher Rich Karlgaard and author of Late Bloomers: The Power of Patience in a World Obsessed with Early Achievementis, perhaps, an unlikely advocate of quitting. After a mediocre academic career at Stanford (which he got into on a fluke), Rich couldn’t hold a job beyond dishwasher, night watchman, and typing temp throughout the majority of his twenties. It wasn’t until his late twenties that he finally found the inner motivation and drive that set him on his current career trajectory. Now, he’s an award-winning entrepreneur-turned-publisher, columnist, author, television commentator, private investor and board director.

“We can only reach our full potential if we’re on a path of discovery that leads, ultimately, to an intersection where our deepest talents and passions meet,” says Karlsgaard. And reaching that potential does not always happen in a tight timeline. “ As Oprah Winfrey says, ‘Everyone has a supreme destiny.’ Late bloomers are those who find their supreme destiny on their own schedule, in their own way.”

For late bloomers, quitting a job may be a ‘necessary evil.’ We spoke to Karlgaard about why quitting a job could be the best thing for you and the tool you need to leverage as you build a fulfilling career.

Glassdoor: Today it is almost viewed as un-American to quit. Quitting can be taboo and is synonymous with giving up, instead of pivoting. What is your take on quitting?

Rich Karlgaard: Ask Richard Branson. He’s quit many businesses, including Virgin Cola and Virgin Brides. Pop culture oversells the idea that one should never quit; that winners never quit and quitters never win, etc. While no one wants to be a serial quitter whose first response to adversity is to quit, there is a case for quitting. It goes like this: At any given point in time, there is an optimal use of our time, talent and treasure. If what we’re doing is not an optimal use, then perhaps we need to quit what we’re doing and find that optimal use. Especially if our current path is making us sick with worry and stress.

Glassdoor: How can quitting be an invaluable tool in a job seeker or employee’s toolbox?

Rich Karlgaard: Quitting is a tool only if we know when and where to use it. Serial quitting is bad. Never quitting sounds heroic, but that too can be bad. It can be destructive to health and wealth. You shouldn’t quit an abusive corporate culture? That’s silly.

Glassdoor: What are some of the signs that Americans can and should quit a job?

Rich Karlgaard: One, you are exhausted from work but can’t sleep. Now, maybe you need more exercise, a better diet, or nicer sleeping arrangements. But maybe you’re burned out at work because your job is poorly matched to your talents, skills and passions. Two, your employer tolerates a culture of abuse or dishonesty. Three, your company is not well led. The CEO’s focus on short-term profits alone has left the innovation cupboard bare, and competitors all around are beginning to steal your customers.

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