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Why is it so Hard to Leave?

Fear kept me from leaving the company, until my health deteriorated too much to stay. The passion had gone from my job and I wanted, not just to leave, but an entirely new career. I had no idea what that new career would be and, of course, I couldn't leave without a 'Plan'. A low-risk, t's crossed and i's dotted 'Plan'. Unfortunately, it didn't look like the universe was going to provide one, so I carried on, for another entire year, in a self-induced bubble of discontent. Later, I had the cheek to say "I wish I'd left sooner". The thing is, I should have and I could have. So why didn't I?

If you had one word to describe what is stopping you from leaving your job, what would it be?

I meet a lot of architects who wish to leave their present job or change their career path. I see that making that definite decision - to leave - is something that we all struggle with. For me, it was "having no plan" vs having a good income and benefits, flexible hours and good colleagues. I no longer loved my job, but it was still a good job.

Do any of these scenarios sound familiar to you?

"I need the stability". The timing isn't right. You need the money for one thing. You haven't got any funds to tide you over whilst looking for a new job. You've got family and dependants, a mortgage to pay, a trip to fund. And, if you wait long enough, this job might just improve?

"I do need to leave, though I am very scared to do so. I like the stability, flexibility and pay."*

"I'm safe here". This job sucks but it's not that bad. You know the people (even if you don't get along with some), you have friends here, plus you know your place in the system (even if it's not where you think you should be). Who’s to say that it's going to be any better elsewhere?

"I go back and forth with work, as in moving to another practice. A part of me thinks just stay."

"If I left now it wouldn't be fair". The project is at an important stage and it's under-resourced. It wouldn't be fair to the team to leave now. Plus, there is a new project that could be crucial to your CV. If you could just get a bit more experience, then you'd be set.

"It all depends on how this project moves forward! I need it to happen so I get the experience I need before I leave."

"I've lost my confidence". There is nothing that says 'stuck' more than feeling under-valued and unappreciated at work. Contributors to falling confidence and motivation are not getting the projects you want or being passed over for promotion. As your confidence falls, anxiety increases. It's no longer just the job that sucks, now you start to question yourself. The longer you stay, the less you feel able to articulate your strengths and aspirations.

"Maybe if I gain the confidence I need and gain a bit more leadership responsibility at this practice, I can then consider going to another practice. Maybe by then I will be able to know exactly what I am looking for and be able to better define it?"

"Everyone else thinks I'd be mad to leave". Your Mum and Dad think you're the next Norman Foster. And if you left this company (for what?) they'd think you were crazy. Your friends would eat their hat to work here and your colleagues think it's great. Not only that, your inner-critic thinks that if you quit now, well, that shrieks failure!

"I think I want to resign. Do you think I'm a loser to do this?"

"I'd like to start my own business, but..." You want to ditch the commute, more flexibility, a better family life and more control over the work you do. But you're also in no doubt that you need to be versed in management, marketing, sales, finances, IT, HR and admin, on top of being the designer. What if you fail?

"I don't know what the next step looks like". You want to move sideways, up, across, as long as you don't go backwards or do what you are doing now. A new company? Another sector? Consultancy? A career that allows you to work on the beach in Thailand? The possibilities are endless. That's the trouble. You've been doing one thing for so long you have no idea what else is out there. You haven't really got the time to find out either, with all this work to be done right now.

"Could I make something or provide some sort of other type of design service or consultancy?"

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I like the see-saw analogy. The teetering sway between staying and leaving. There isn't quite enough momentum (desire, need, motivation, a plan, money...) to see-saw fully over to the leaving side. There isn't quite enough wrong with your current set-up to make a full commitment to leaving. Staying put is by far the easiest option when there are uncertainties surrounding your future and your brain will, quite unhelpfully, give you lots of reasons to stick with where you are.

If you can't make a firm decision to stay or go, the mental, emotional and physical toll can weigh you down more - a lack of enthusiasm, a defensive attitude, general unhappiness and all-round low resilience. This descent can be a slow process. Over time, these feelings can creep up on you till they become a shroud. Some people will get to breakdown point, others will get pushed out. Ultimately, you can make the decision to leave or you can have that decision made for you.

"I do feel more compelled than before to find something asap but I am completely shattered and on the verge of depression."

Making the decision to leave is the first major step in tipping the see-saw. It may be enough to set you on a new path of action. But for a lots of people, it takes longer - a big gap between the decision and the actual leaving. Through Coaching, I've helped designers untangle their thoughts so that they can make firmer decisions. We remove the assumptions, establish the facts and reduce the fears. Confidence is built back up by re-establishing your purpose and values and by giving you accessible and tangible actions. Having the right support means you can face a more certain future. It might not be without risks, but it will be one with less ambiguity.

"I did it. I gave my notice and that's it. I'm scared. And excited."

My Four Top Tips to Help Teetering Leavers:

  1. Get your CV, portfolio & LinkedIn profile up to date. Whether you stay or go, it's an ongoing record of your career achievements and strengths. The act of reminding yourself of your strengths will boost your confidence. Get help writing if you are feeling down on yourself. This is a good way of using our connections for editorial help and perspective.

  2. Get to grips with what's important to you in your career: stability, recognition, money, variety, competition? Getting clear on your values will help you make better decisions and find a practice that is a good "fit". If you'd like to receive a Values Worksheet to help with this, then please drop me a line.

  3. Soothe the inner critic. This voice pops up to keep you safe, but can very often limit our thinking and behaviours. Try these 3 steps: 1. Acknowledge what your critic is saying: "Thanks critic, I'll keep that in mind." 3. Invite another inner-self (e.g your nurturing self, or your adventurous-self) to also comment. Acknowledge this too. 3. Separate yourself from the two, consider the points of view and base your decision on what's right for you.

  4. Get some help. You have a network - who, in that network might be best placed to help you look at options? Who are the best listeners? Who are the best encouragers and supporters? Who will help you assess the risks? A bank manager may help you with the facts, a mentor may be able to give you insights based on their experience, a coach may help you rediscover your purpose and values. A wake-up call may be what you need: ask your friends for some honest feedback on your situation.

A friend of mine, Bernhard Sterchi, founder of Palladio.net, told me about his journey:

"It took me two years after deciding to leave to actually choose to found Palladio. The two most important triggers were a self-employed friend, who told me I looked like a car with the handbrake on, and a person of authority – top manager of a big consulting company who interviewed me for a job – who told his assistant when dictating the letter of refusal: “I can’t understand why this man doesn’t found his own company.”

I can relate to that. Are you in a car with the handbrake on? If you need some clarity of direction, or help to move forward, then please get in touch for a chat.

*Quotes (minus Bernhard’s) are courtesy of SleepingGiant clients - who are now firmly ‘leavers’.