I’ve been thinking a lot about how someone is supposed to know when to jump ship. There are currently a lot of these questions floating around in my family and friend group. Relationships and careers are similar in this way. At some point you wake up two years into it and realize that something has changed. So, you do what everyone does in 2019; you secretly change your status on a few apps (Tinder or LinkedIn), pack a bag, change your number, find someone new, and tell all your friends about how much better you are now that you made the change and you just really got to “know yourself” through it all. But really the jump ship/ghosting culture leaves us with one really important question. How do I know when it’s time to leave?
“I’ve stopped growing.”
This one is really important. I’m starting here because it really is the most critical. In relationships this is when someone stops challenging you and the option to coast means you’re wasting time. In careers it means the company has stopped challenging you and the option to coast means you’re wasting your time. This is the type of realization that feels like it pops out of nowhere because it so slowly creeps in that the only way to catch it is to basically have it pointed out. This feeling shares a flat with comfort. But complacency and comfort are two different things. It’s also important to ask yourself,
“Do I feel like I’ve stopped growing only because nothing is new?”
I had a dear friend challenge me once on this. I’m a habitual goal setter. She questioned if just because I had accomplished all my goals, was I really done being challenged? She was right. I wasn’t done.
So what are your options when you get here? In both relationships and careers, speak up. If you want to be challenged sometimes you have to ask to be challenged. The world around you might be viewing the partnerships as comfortable while you’re feeling complacent. If, and only if, you’ve asked your counterpart to give you more and they can’t, then it’s time to look elsewhere.
“I have nowhere to go from here.”
Sometimes a job or relationship simply runs its course. It was never going to be anything more than a year or two. In relationships, this is when the person definitely doesn’t want to get serious. In careers, this is when the company can’t get more serious. There is no upward mobility. You’ve maxed out earning potential. You’ve maxed out promotion tracks. And in order to get the types of experiences you need, it requires you to jump ship.
This is subtly different than not having room to grow. You can not have a promotion opportunity but still have room to grow. You can possibly get promoted to a role that theoretically teaches you nothing new. The missing question here must come from you. What are you trying to do?
“The house is on fire but everything is fine.”
The most obvious reason to jump ship is when the toxic work environment seeps into your skin and can’t be washed off. In relationships, this is when nothing seems to go right, you’re walking on eggshells, and you’d rather be at work than in the relationship. In careers, this is when nothing seems to go right and you’re rather be working from home. What’s most fascinating about our human psychology is that we’re really resilient creatures when in toxic scenarios. We all of a sudden turn into really forgiving and trusting people. We give more time for change. I like to use the Steve Jobs quote from his famous 2005 Stanford commencement speech. “For the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: ‘If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?’ And whenever the answer has been ‘No’ for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.” So if the sight of your coworkers or boss makes you ill, it’s probably time to jump ship.
Here’s the thing about jumping ship though; the origin means deserting one’s post. It meant to abandon the ship, not because it was on fire, but because you find out that the sailor’s life isn’t for you. We often think of quitting our jobs as abandoning our post and leaving our friends to sail off into the unknown, a person down. But we’re not at sea. Another person can fill your spot. This is about your pursuit of happiness. And if you’ve stopped growing, the relationship has run its course, or you’ve simply need to leave, then it’s critical that we make sure we know how to swim to shore.