Are you feeling stuck in your career or you’re wanting a career change? Deciding if you should quit a job you hate or just stick with it can be tough. In this article, you’ll learn the five big fears that keep people from quitting a job, how to overcome your fear of change and how to take action to find a career and work you love.
The biggest reason most people aren't quitting a job they hate
If you type into Google any of the main words around work, career or a job, some of the first matches return have to do with quitting a job you hate and how to give two weeks notice in the best way. The phrase "i hate my job" is searched for over 12,000 times a month!
When SoulPancake asked 11,000 people what stood between them and where they want to be, they were expecting the usual suspects: time, money, health, stress, even laziness. They were surprised when the top reason was fear… but I’m not. Years ago fear is what kept me from quitting a job long after I knew it was time to move on.
Over a decade ago I had a high-pressure job at a major financial services company as a financial advisor. I wanted to be “the best”, so I pushed myself to earn the CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ (CFP®) designation in six months (it normally takes two years). It was an incredible amount of work, sweat and tears, not counting all of the hours I’d put into building client relationships and the responsibility I felt to them. So even though I was feeling dissatisfied, disillusioned with the financial industry and unfulfilled by my work, I felt stuck in place by fear.
People often wait until circumstances are unbearable until they make a change, but why? I talk about these fears in regards to professional work, but they also apply relationships and many other areas of life. When the change will be dramatic, whether simply perception or reality, it activates our primal brains (the amygdala), which is not governed by logic but by emotion. The primal or reptilian brain, as it’s often called, is responsible for keeping us safe and alive. It’s all about survival… and that’s a good thing if you’re being chased by a bear, but not so great if your primal brain is getting in the way of your happiness.
These five big fears about quitting a job can keep you stuck
Here are five of the biggest fears that people commonly struggle with when they think about quitting a job. I give you examples from my personal struggle so you can see how these fears may be showing up for you and keeping you stuck. Which of these fears can you identify with?
Fear of the unknown
I had no idea what would happen if I let go of what I had (a stable, well-paid job). I imagined all sorts of terrible scenarios: bankruptcy, homelessness, ostracism by friends and family chanting “I told you so”, that I would never be able get a job – or a “good” one – again.
Fear of the unknown can serve you well if you’re contemplating doing something physically perilous, like jumping off a cliff. But our brains can go on worry binges and elevate a concern or decision point that can be logically thought through to the level of primal fear, which compromises your ability to think clearly, make smart decisions or move forward into taking positive action.
What terrible things do you fear will occur if you quit the job that’s making you miserable?
Fear of financial disaster
I was leaving a well-paying job with no prospects of another. My mind offered up this association: No job + no income = financial instability = threat to survival. This fear is also a particularly deep pain point for me from childhood. In our society where money not only equals opportunity and status but whether or not you can put food on the table, quitting a paying job without the next job or income-producing path lined up can feel life-threatening.
But people are often far more resourceful than they give themselves credit for. You have the ability to discover what you are good at, look for work you love and find creative ways to make money when you’re really motivated (like creating an online course, digital product or consulting in your area of expertise). That might even mean you start an online business around what you're passionate about that will provide you with the kind of financial security and earning potential you want, even while you’re still in your current job.
(Read more about how to create the kind of money you deserve by fixing some not-so-obvious problems.)
What’s your worse-case financial catastrophe?
What are opportunities for you to create income right now that you haven't yet taken advantage of?
Which jobs or businesses that are in alignment with your values could provide you with the kind of income you want?
Fear of social criticism or backlash from family and friends
Quitting my job and profession seemed illogical to work colleagues, friends and family. I received a lot of negative feedback, usually sounding something like: “What?! Are you crazy? You worked so hard to get where you are and now you’re quitting?? You don’t have another job lined up? How will you support yourself?”
Family pressures and social norms can keep people from moving forward with change, even if current circumstances are painful, especially if you already struggle with self-esteem or feeling like you’re not enough.
Who do you fear a backlash from?
Who might feel threatened by your decision?
Whose love do you fear losing?
Are these fears real or mostly (or totally) unfounded?
Fear of changing how you self-identify and losing your sense of self-worth
I didn’t want to be labeled a quitter, much less feel like one. I’m very ambitious by nature. I drive myself hard to achieve my goals and quitting isn’t in my DNA. I had also identified myself as a financial advisor and CFP® and letting go of that identity meant I had to rethink who I was and redefine myself with no supporting structure to guide me.
Self-worth is closely tied to how you identify yourself. I admit that I derived a feeling of self-importance from making it to CFP® status and in record time. CFP®’s make up less than 2% of financial advisors because it’s a very difficult professional designation to get. I felt a bit special that I’d made it into the club and felt it gave me standing in a male-dominated profession.
And even thought that job and work environment was no longer in line with my personal values or the kind of life I wanted to have, leaving financial planning meant giving up my “special status”, which meant that the self-worth I'd attached to it would also disappear if I quit my job.
Where in your life do you define yourself by accomplishments?
What are your core values that aren’t being reflected by your current work?
What kind of work is in alignment with your core values and the kind of lifestyle you want to have?
Fear of making an irreversible mistake
I had an immense amount of fear that I'd be making a huge mistake by quitting financial planning. I was on a career path with a lot of promise, earning potential and that had some of the qualities I cherish, like self-direction and helping others in an area that is really important for themselves and their families well-being. I had to do a reality check and admit that I could go back to financial planning if I ended up regretting quitting my job, I didn't find another job I really loved or if I tried to start a business but failed. I would just have to start over with building my client list, but I’d done it before and I could do it again.
And the truth is that even if the shizzle does end up hitting the fan and the repercussions are really hard to get through at the time, you can overcome just about any failure in life and turn a defeat into success.
If you quit your job, could you truly never go back to it or never find another job in that field or a related one?
What would you do if you quit and you couldn’t go back?
Could you start your own business?
What is your Plan B?
How to overcome your fears and move forward with confidence
Now that you’ve pinpointed your fears around quitting your job or changing careers entirely, how do you move forward and take the leap into the unknown or what feels scary? If you Google “overcoming fear” you’ll come up with thousands of articles with techniques ranging from psychotherapy to envisioning your life’s purpose, but here is a quick and easy exercise you can do to take the first steps:
Write out your fears in order to get them out of "hiding"
Literally write (or type) them out on paper. Get it all out. What are the worst-case scenarios? Describe your Financial Armageddon, negative family reactions to your decision, the feelings you have around letting go of your old job, what it means to how you think of yourself.
Next, look for what's true or false about these fears.
Go back to each of those fears and ask yourself:
How realistic is it that things will happen like this?
Does this fear really have any basis or foundation in reality, or am I allowing my mind to make a mountain out of a molehill?
For example, will my spouse truly leave me? Will I really end up homeless?
Create a practical action plan that supports you quitting your job and taking steps in the right direction
For the fears that you identified as being unrealistic and unlikely to actually occur, you can probably easily let those go with some inner work.
If any of your fears got a “yes, this is a real possibility”, then you need to ask yourself a second question:
What could I do about this situation to make a positive difference?
Then list out the possible solutions and steps you need to take.
For example, if you feel you can’t quit your job because you have no savings and you could truly end up homeless, or you can't quit because you have a family to support, go ahead and calculate the amount you’d need to have as a financial cushion to carry you through. Then create a savings plan - or better yet, a "job freedom plan - to go from where you are to the place of enough financial cushion that you can meet your needs or obligations and still change jobs or careers.
Or, if you’re considering starting an online business, you can begin by doing it on the side until you have sufficient income to quit your current job.
Also, it’s a really good idea to give two weeks notice, not only from a personal relationships standpoint and feeling good about how you conducted yourself, but adhering to the rules of your employment contract also makes good legal sense, too. There’s no sense in burning bridges, creating ill will or creating more problems for yourself, if you can avoid it.
Envision and connect with the new career or possibility you want to have
Begin to envision yourself in your new job, doing what you love, feeling fulfilled by the work you do. If you, like I did, don’t have a clue as to what you want to do next for a profession, list the things you personally love doing. Do you love working with people? Being outdoors? Yoga? Coding? Then really connect with how you feel when you’re engaged in those activities - write out how you feel, what you’re doing, what makes you feel alive, what gets you excited about these things.
When I wrote out the “job description” for what I wanted to do next, it was all about how I felt, the connections I had with people, being of service to others, helping to inspire and empower others. I didn’t know the job title, but I knew the qualities of the career I wanted.
I got to the point where all the signs pointed to “leave now” and the stress of staying in a career I didn’t enjoy was taking a big toll... but it's far better to take action before you get to that point! Know that you can overcome your fears and move into a job that is fulfilling, supports the vision you hold for your life and is integrity with your core personal beliefs.
Share your thoughts!
In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you!
Have you ever felt stuck in a job you hate?
What kept you from making a change?
If you’ve already taken a big leap into another career, how did you overcome the fears about doing so?
Please share your thoughts in the comments.
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(This article was updated March 25, 2019)
Some of the links in this article are affiliate links, which means I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you if you choose to purchase a product. It helps support my health food addiction… so thanks! ;-)