Knowing When to Leave

By Scott Westerman
“Change the changeable, accept the unchangeable, and remove yourself from the unacceptable.” – Denis Waitley

This week, I talked with two of my favorite executives, both of whom are pondering a career change. Knowing when and how to extricate yourself from a job that doesn’t resonate with you anymore is just as important as finding a new one. Here’s an email I wrote to one of these exceptional people (some details have been changed to protect the innocent). If you are thinking of “removing yourself from the unacceptable,” I hope it’s helpful.

You and I temporarily associate our personal brands with other organizations for a mutual benefit. Whether it’s volunteering for your favorite charity, going to school or working a job, there needs to be a return on your investment that fulfills you.

Successful people tell me that making the money isn’t the hard part. It’s relatively easy to put financial points on the board. What ultimately makes us come to work every day is our belief in the culture of the organization, the quality of our leadership, the customers we love and the co-workers on the teams we serve.

You may be realizing that the culture your company is changing. Perhaps it was never really a very customer focused operation. But there people like you figured out that superb service was the quickest way to success and joined the organization to make it a better place.

The best companies walk the talk from within; in how you serve each other, in caring about the whole person and starting from the premise that what is most important for each of us is the pursuit of happiness.

If you live that inside such an organization, it’s impossible to keep it from radiating outward. The customers feel it and they return the love with financial support and loyalty. With the law of cause and effect firmly in action, success is nearly always assured.

But things change.

In publicly traded companies, shareholders demand value growth every year, even as the economy shifts, markets mature and product penetration maxes out. Leadership may decide that the only way to move the cash flow needle may be to cut expenses, finding the “just about right” spot where customers don’t hate you quite enough to take their business elsewhere.

In the governmental sector, it’s becoming clear that the taxpayers are much more sensitive to what they are willing to support. In just about every corner of this career field, cuts and reinvention are the order of the day.

Where these conditions exist, some may decide that it’s time to move on. If that’s your situation, Bravo for realizing that your happiness is worth more than your temporary company partner is willing to give you in return for your efforts.

The the best possible exit strategy is one where you are considered a star on the team and can seek your next passion from a position of strength. So keep producing and contributing, even as you start to sniff around. Too many people quit without a job in hand or languish through a severance deal as if it were an extended vacation. These unfortunates end up taking less fulfilling assignments because their lifestyle addictions demand it. Here’s hoping you don’t have to follow this road.

If you have properly prepared, you have built your network before you needed it. There will be a wide array of successful people who know you well, who you have served with distinction, and who would be delighted to help you jump to the next opportunity.

If your job feels tenuous, if you think you’ve hit a ceiling or just plain aren’t feeling the love anymore, go ahead and “activate your credentials”. As you move within the community put your antennae up. Share your desires with your most trusted friends.

In the end, good things happen to good people. When you have plowed the ground and sowed the seeds of service in your Network, it will likely bear fruit, even in the worst economy.

A career is an ongoing search for a brand with whom you want to associate your character, ethics, hard work and class.

Believe that happiness and success are your birthright. Work toward that end every day and you will find what you seek. Don’t settle for anything less!