How to Know When It's Time to Go

Last Updated Oct 19, 2010 7:24 PM EDT

Sometimes it is coming back from vacation that does it. Sometimes the meeting that goes on too long finally tips you over the edge. Or you realize that you'd drink less if you didn't hate your job so much. But sooner or later the moment comes when you think: it's time to move on.

Then what happens?

Nothing.

Most people I've interviewed say that between feeling that it's time for a move and actually moving, a full year elapses. When they finally jump, they then all have the same reaction: why didn't I do this sooner? Why is breaking up so hard to do? Here are 4 things that often stand in our way:

1. Doubt. Inertia is a powerful force. So it's easier, after a bad day at work, to pretend it was a one-off, that things aren't really that bad. And anyway, in this economy, who wants to risk moving?
2. Demoralization. When you're in a job you've outlived, it's hard to be inspired. You're in a rut: you don't like what you do, so you don't feel great about yourself. It starts getting hard to find the confidence and impetus to get moving. This is a kind of soul death, when you lack the energy to imagine alternatives. It's a sure sign you should have left ages ago.
3. Hope. Sometimes the stuff that drives you nuts can be fixed. That annoying colleague might leave (even get fired!) A new boss might shake things up a lot. Miracles could happen....
4. Pride. I've known people to stay in jobs out of spite, not wanting to give bosses or colleagues the impression that they have won. I've also known people who stayed because they believed it was incumbent upon them to fix a broken organization.

These are all pretty bad reasons to stick around. But they keep armies of people in jobs they hate for months. What happens in the meantime is dangerous. You get bitter. You get angry. And you risk becoming a deeply unpleasant colleague. This is a terrible mindset in which to begin a job search.

What's the solution? When that little voice at the back of your head whispers that it's time to go: pay attention. Start looking around. Talk to people. Network. The very worst that can happen is you start to remember why you chose your job in the first place. The best that happens is you get a great new job.

Illustration courtesy of Flickr user twicepix, CC 2.0

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    Margaret Heffernan has been CEO of five businesses in the United States and United Kingdom. A speaker and writer, her most recent book Willful Blindness was shortlisted for the Financial Times Best Business Book 2011. Visit her on www.MHeffernan.com.