Quitting Your Job for “Passion” is Over-rated

I used to hate my job.

It was a desk job and I’d hover between falling asleep and trying to look busy for most of the afternoon.

Now don’t get me wrong, I loved my boss and my co-workers. The nature of our job was both inspiring and purposeful. At least on paper. But in practice I knew it wasn’t for me. And it is at this point that it seems like everything was telling me to make the leap.

The Timeline

You tell yourself you’re being bold and courageous. At least you’re not one of these worker drones stuck inside their cubicle. Instead you’re breaking free. You’re building your own ladder out and when you finally get out, you’ll love your next job. You have visions of it. What you’ll look like doing the job. How you’ll feel every day you arrive to work. The stories you’ll be able to brag to your friend about as you dream of your incumbent success.

So the day comes. You’ve saved up enough. You’ve talked to your wife and family and convinced them to be in your corner. You’ve made your exit strategy clear to your boss. More than likely they’ll end of firing you before your planned last day even comes.

Then starts to roller-coaster. You get your job you want (hopefully soon-ish and not months down the line). Maybe you have to move. You definitely have to take a pay cut. You’re continuously hemorrhaging money. But that’s okay! You’re starting from the bottom again so you understand this. Hopefully you made a plan for this. But like you keep telling yourself, it’s a little effort now but success is not only possible, it’s probable. This is your passion after all!

A couple of years pass by. You’re identified as a “go to” guy. People love you because you love your job. So they start asking more of you. Because you love your job you’ll say “yes”, thinking it’s just a small sacrifice now for hopefully guaranteed future success. The demands start to mount. And you find yourself falling more and more out of love with your job with each passing month.

Finally that day comes.

You’re too good at the job you have. And the organization needs managers. It comes with a pay bump, which you need because you’re getting older and your significant other is tired of living in an apartment. You tell yourself that it’s just a little more work. But it’s for an job your passionate about. Sunk-cost fallacy sinks in and suddenly you’re doing it for the organization than for the job. But this should be easy! It’s just telling people to do the same things that you were doing before, but instead your supervising now instead of being in the trenches.

But then you realize that this job is totally different. There are people skills. There are logistical nightmares. There is a level of complication there that you’ve never had to deal with before. Suddenly you find yourself incompetent in a job that you never really wanted in the first place, all because you were too good at the job you actually wanted to do.

Pressure mounts. Tasks mount. You want to still be the happy-go-lucky guy you were when you first started the job. But the stress eats away at you. Your home life starts to suffer, either because you’re not home enough or you’re not present/active enough with the family once you get home. The weeks start passing by. And your to-do list keeps getting longer and longer.

It is at this point where you miss your last job. At least you got paid better. Yeah there were things you didn’t like. But now you’re doing stuff you hate even more in a job you were once passionate about.

Finally you quit. Or you get fired. Or maybe the oh-so-ceremonial quit-fire where your boss moves on from you without really telling you, you quit out of frustration due to the lack of communication, and you get thanked “for your efforts”. Now you’re back to square one.

The Takeaway

I’ve never been a “do it for the money” guy. I’ve always tried to stay magnanimous with my time and my demands of others. But the steady realization is that a job will always be a job. There’s a reason why it’s called “work” and not play. Yeah, you can try to reframe it all you want. But the solid truth of the matter is that you will invariably be forced to do tasks you do not like. Especially if you’re good at your job. Especially if you’re bad at your job.

And because you’ve tied up so much of your self-worth in your occupation, you’ll begin to take your failures at these tasks (that you never wanted to do in the first place) personally. Failure is never an easy thing to confront, especially when it seems that all you have to blame is yourself. And it’s a vicious cycle that just keeps on giving.

I used to believe that every single one of my professional failures could have been chalked up to; “well, he just didn’t work hard enough”. It’s the porridge we’ve all been spoon-fed since we were young. Work hard, make enough money, live the easy life. Step 1, step 2, step 3. And just like a math equation, you do it right and you put all the pieces together and you’ll have a great life! So easy!

The thing though is that there is no “hard enough” point in life.

The treadmill never ends. The to-do lists only get longer. And you only have so much time/energy/mental capacity to deal with the near constant deluge of tasks left undone. It’s not that you haven’t worked hard enough. It’s that it’s impossible. When you get to the point where you’re working 12 hours a day that’s when you know you’re in over your head.

(And don’t give me that “delegate better” bullshit. We all know that certain tasks fall better into some hands than others. But at a certain point there are things that only you can do. You can assign the tasks but you’ll get to the point where you have to double check them. Either you get blessed with a true leader who is willing to learn and help you hold the everyone and the organization accountable. Or you’re stuck at the end of the night double checking work that should have been done right but invariably ends up wrong.)

The Conclusion

So here’s my answer.

Just say “no”. If you have a job you want to do, then do that job. Don’t let anyone else convince you of anything else. Just like you did when you convince your parent/spouse/kids that you were moving up and out for your personal well-being and mental health, so to do you need to elucidate to you bosses that sometimes you just want to stay right where you are and not take the position above. Even if they impugn you duty it is equally important to stay where your strengths lie rather than move up in a position that you’ll be unsuccessful in solely based on experience, knowledge, and time in the organization. A good boss will recognize and leverage your honestly. If not, then it may not be an organization that you’re willing to continue with.

Work on your candor. As they say, it’s the child of courage. And just because you don’t take a leadership position doesn’t mean that you can’t still be a leader from exactly where you’re at. In fact it may be better that way. That way you can still do your job and perhaps alleviate some pressure from your boss. But at the same time you don’t tie yourself to the ball and chain of managerial expectations. Do what you can from where you stand. But be wary of taking on more unless you really, truly feel ready. If you have to convince yourself that you’re up to the challenge, then you’re not ready.

In the end, a job is a job. And I’m won’t to dissuade anyone from pursuing their passions. But at the same time there’s a whole lot on the other side that most people don’t expect. And don’t follow that “side hustle” bullshit. You can wade into the waters of a career gently or you can jump in directly, but the quicker you make that decision and not give yourself the option of backing out, the sooner you’ll discover where the faults and weaknesses lie in your supposedly “dream” job. And it ain’t all sunshine and daisies.

The only thing you can rest in is knowing that at least you’ll never have to deal with the pain of regret knowing that you never made the leap. You may regret the leap. You may never be able to go back. But at the same time, you’ll never wonder what could have been. If anything you’ll just regret not having stayed in your now apparently cushy last job, no matter how boring it was.

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