I have a friend who’s a manager for a small company that has multiple locations around Birmingham. She’s been with the company for 15 years and is really good at her job. There’s only one problem.
She’s absolutely miserable at work — but she won’t quit.
Every time I see this woman and her husband, the primary topic is the dysfunction in her company. For the last five years or so, there’s been a new owner and he’s a nightmare. She says he’s a “trust fund baby” who’s never worked or made his own money, but he keeps buying small businesses with inherited money and running them into the ground.
Her company is constantly on the verge of shutting down. The power has been turned off for non-payment. Equipment has been repossessed during the work day. Payroll checks have bounced multiple times.
Her husband wants her to quit. She’s been offered multiple other jobs. I’ve suggested over and over that she needs to get out. But she refuses to quit.
Her reasons for not quitting keep changing, but she always has a new excuse. She needs to wait until her child graduates from college. She can’t leave her co-workers to fend for themselves against this terrible owner. It’s never the right time of year. There’s always a reason.
She admits she’s miserable. About a year ago, she actually talked about quitting at the end of 2018. For months, her husband and I were just reminding her that she only had to make it to the end of the year. Then the nightmare would be over.
But now that the end of the year is a month away, everything’s changed. She’s not talking about leaving — only about her many reasons for not leaving. I saw her tonight and started probing for what her real reasons might be for staying.
After going through each of her normal excuses — each of which her husband and I shot down as bad reasons to stay — other things started coming out.
She admitted that she has a problem with confidence. Even though other companies have approached her and offered her jobs, she’s afraid they might not like her after she made the change.
She admitted that she’s scared of losing the few good things about her current job, simply because going to a new place would mean stepping into the unknown. She knows how to deal with being miserable where she is, because she’s been doing it for years. What if she hates somewhere else, too, and it’s a worse kind of miserable?
A good part of her job is based on commissions and she admitted that she’s scared she might not make as much commission on those other jobs. (She also admitted that she has no particular reason to fear this.)
Many of us stay where we shouldn’t be long after we know we should have gotten out. We do this with jobs. We do it with romantic relationships. We do it with all sorts of things. We stick with what we know — and we make up excuses to stay.
About a month ago, a young woman I know broke up with a man she had been living with for five years. She had hidden the problems from me, so I didn’t know until after the breakup that there had been so much unhappiness. The first time I got a good chance to talk with her about it, I asked how long she had known she wanted out.
“I’ve known for more than three years,” she said. “I stayed because I thought he needed me so much. I mean, that’s true, but I really used it as an excuse. He told me all the time how much he needed me and how I couldn’t ever leave him. I was scared of being responsible for him doing something terrible and I was scared of him taking it out on our daughter. What I didn’t know until after I left was how much happier my daughter was. I thought she would be miserable without her dad, but she’s happier without him yelling at both of us all the time.”
When I was in college, I had my first serious relationship and it lasted three years. For the last year of that relationship, I wanted out. I tried to get her to break up with me. We almost broke up several times, but never quite ended things. It was a miserable year.
But then she had finally had enough, so she ended things. It was the right end for us, but it was a terrible way to end. Not only was the ending messy, but my indecision and lack of action wasted a year for both of us — a year we could both have spent with people we were more suited for.
I’ve also stayed in jobs I hated for too long. In several cases — pretty much every time I’ve ever worked for someone else, actually — my happiest day on the job was when I finally got fed up enough to stop being scared of losing what I had. To quit the job I hated and get away from the boss I hated.
No matter what your situation is, you can find a reason to stay. Your co-workers might need you. Your company might be in worse shape if you leave. You might take a temporary pay cut (or even have a temporary lifestyle change) until you find the right place to be. There can be a short-term price for any positive change.
But the truth is that you get to live this life only once. If you’re spending it in a job you despise — or with a boss you hate or with a spouse you only tolerate or with any situation that doesn’t allow you to be your best — you’re wasting your one and only chance.
Your years and months and days are ticking away. The clock is moving faster. If you don’t fix what you need to fix now, when will you do it? Probably never.
I doubt my friend will leave her job unless the company collapses. In the meantime, she will be miserable and I’ll keep listening to her stories about how bad things are — but inside, I’ll always be thinking, “Please do what you need to do. Get out of there today.”
Is there something you need to quit today?