Whether you have a job and a few side projects or you are a full-time entrepreneur, chances are you consider your work a part of your identity. “What do you do?” is one of the most common icebreakers when we meet new people. Certain jobs are thought to breed certain mindsets. Some are considered—rightly or wrongly—more creative, others more intellectual.
Because work is a big part of our lives, it may be hard to quit despite obvious signs it’s time to move on. How to know when it’s time to quit? And how can you go about it?
You are not your work
Associating your full identity with your work is a dangerous trap. It often means we end up associating other important parts of what defines us—such as our self-worth and personality—to an occupation which comes with its own externalities. This is why people who have recently lost a job have a higher risk of developing major depressive disorder, with symptoms such as feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, guilt, and self-hate. In fact, research shows that unemployed people are twice as likely as employed people to suffer from psychological problems.
This is also why I suspect many corporations invest so much into creating a work culture that shapes the identity of their employees through the lense of their work. Being a “Googler”, “Monzonaut”, “Intercomrade” or “Shopifolk” helps make your job a core part of your identity. It’s often an innocent and endearing way to help people feel part of a community, but—alongside all the perks—it does make it harder to leave.
“Apple doesn’t have a cutesy name for its people because it places value on everyone’s individuality. Having a common name can be uniting in some ways, but ultimately Apple values what makes each person unique.”Samad Siddiqui, former Engineering Technician at Apple.
When I left Google, leaving this part of my identity behind was one of the surprising challenges I didn’t expect. When meeting new people, I had become used to say I worked at Google, which was pretty self-explanatory. Maybe a follow-up question about my role, and we were on our merry way to other topics. After I left, it became a bit more tedious to explain what I was doing. I tried to find a quick one-liner because that’s what people expected.
Today, I work on many different projects that I wouldn’t be able to summarise under a job title. At parties, I often pick whichever I’m in the mood for. Sometimes I say I’m a writer. Sometimes I say I’m a neuroscience student. Other times I say I’m a consultant. Or that I’m learning how to code.
It’s okay to be passionate about your work, to have a sense of community, to feel close to your colleagues. Of course, work is going to be a part of your identity. But, whether you are employed or an entrepreneur, it’s dangerous to let work become your sole identity. Because it will prevent you from recognising the signs it’s time to move on.
Signs it’s time to move on
While everyone has a bad day at work now and then, there are six long-term trends you should watch out for.
- You have a gut feeling. You may not be able to pinpoint exactly what is going wrong with your current work, but you hear a little voice telling you it’s not right for you anymore. This can go from simply struggling to get out of bed in the morning, to actually dreading the idea of going to work (or opening your laptop in the case of employees and entrepreneurs working remotely).
- You are losing interest. Maybe you started this job or this project with excitement, but you are now procrastinating and you are struggling to engage with your day-to-day work. Calls with customers feel boring, fixing bugs has become a chore. You’re just not invested anymore.
- You don’t feel like you’re able to be yourself. Either because of a toxic work environment, or because what you’re working on is not aligned with your values anymore, you find yourself bending to fit into a character that is no you.
- You stopped trying to improve. You are able to do your job with your eyes closed. There’s no room for advancement, no opportunity to improve. Maybe you have stayed too long in that particular job, or maybe that project was not ambitious enough in the first place.
- Your health is deteriorating. You are feeling physically and/or mentally unhealthy. Whether it’s stress, long hours, lack of sleep, you are emotionally and physically drained. This may show through a decrease in your ability to concentrate or even back pain.
- You believe you’re meant for something better. You have a nagging feeling that there is another direction you could take—one that would bring you more joy and success. You may be scared to voice it for fear of sounding boastful, but you can’t help but think about an alternative journey.
How to navigate the change
Calling it quits doesn’t have to be a brutal process. As a founder, it’s hard to say goodbye to your baby. As an employee, it’s difficult to turn your back on the stability and genuine friendships you made.
- Figure out the actual cause. Even if you have identified long-term negative patterns, the cause may be something else. Try to experiment for a while to see if your mindset improves. Take better care of your health, sleep more, try to take on a new project, change your work habits. If these fail to have an impact, it may actually be time to move on.
- Make the transition easier. Do not put an abrupt stop to your current work. If you’re an entrepreneur, find another project to work on while in the process of transitioning out of your current company. It doesn’t have to be work per se—you could organise a trip, start a fun side project, learn a new craft, study a new topics. If you’re currently employed and want to make the jump to entrepreneurship, start your journey with a side project first.
- Talk about it. Whether it’s with a friend, your family, or your partner, make sure to share your thoughts and feelings throughout the process. Moving on can be hard, and there’s no need to try to appear stronger than you are to your loved ones. They can help you navigate the process, but they can’t read your mind.
There’s no magic formula to figure out when it’s time to call it quits and move on. But remembering that you’re not your job and listening to your gut feeling will go a long way. And the transition doesn’t have to be a lonely struggle. Make sure to reach out for help.
P.S. While doing research for this article, I asked you what other company nicknames existed beside Googlers. From Figmates to Kingsters and Uberettos, see the full list here.
Anne-Laure Le Cunff
I’m an ex-Googler (yes, I’m aware of the irony), entrepreneur, and part-time neuroscience student at King’s College. If you found this article useful, subscribe to my weekly newsletter about mindful productivity.
As a thank you for joining the Maker Mind family, you will receive a welcome gift: 30 mental models to add to your thinking toolbox.