Johnny Paycheck (That is not his real name. Ironic if it was, huh?) made the song popular back in 1977. There’s been a meme going around that reminds me of that song, kind of, in a way. And of course now that I want to see it, I can’t find it anywhere. But it says something along the lines of this–live your life in order to be happy and if you’re not happy, don’t make excuses, make changes. For instance, the meme specifically states, “If you don’t like your job, quit.”
We’ve all had moments at work that have made us angry enough to want to walk out the door and never look back. But how many of us can actually just quit? Really? I know I can’t. I’m not working out of the goodness of my heart or in order to keep busy or because I think I should. I’m working because I need the money and benefits that come with my job. Would I give those up in a huff over a dispute or because I’ve not been treated fairly or because of other circumstances beyond my control that affect the environment in which I work every day? In a word, no.
I always hesitate to write about disgruntlement in the workplace because I don’t want to give the impression that I am dissatisfied with my employer. I make a fair salary, have good benefits, and can come to work every day with the knowledge that I’ll be treated with respect by mostly thoughtful, considerate coworkers. That said, I’ve made it loud and clear that I am not happy being a cataloger and never will be. I’ve asked for a different position with different responsibilities and a different structure to my day. That’s just not possible right now. Am I happy about it? No. Have there been circumstances and decisions made over the years that have created tension and difficulty for me? Yes–anybody could probably say the same thing. Would I ever quit without having another job lined up first? Again, in a word, no.
That’s just not possible, not in the world that I live in, anyway. My husband owns a small business, and it is too expensive for him to carry health insurance, so I carry the insurance for the entire family. My salary helps to pay for the 12 years of college our kids will collectively complete. I know I’m lucky to have full-time work, health insurance, and a retirement account, and I never, ever take that for granted, which is why I would never just quit a job no matter how much I may not like it.
That’s not to say that I don’t like my current job. Well, technically, I don’t–I don’t like my specific job as a cataloger even though I know that the work I do is important. But I do believe very strongly in the mission of my organization. And I believe in the value we as a team bring to our community and our customers, the member libraries. I believe in our future and our potential, and I’m excited to be a part of moving our organization forward. I believe that I can continue to find ways to contribute in and beyond my role as a cataloger until (if) someone empowers me to make decisions that will effect the kinds of changes that I would like to see. But even if I didn’t believe those things, I still couldn’t quit.
The other day I read this article about managing a career in a negative environment. Again, I’m not saying that I work in a negative environment now, but I have worked in negative environments. They can be stifling and toxic and even detrimental to your physical and mental health. And you can complain and fight for change, but when things don’t change and you’re told, “Hey, if you don’t like it, quit.” You can’t. Most people cannot just quit their jobs. I think that’s why many of us try so hard to enact positive change and do what we can to make things better. But if the powers that be or the people around you are not receptive to that, then you actually end up making things worse for yourself. And you’re still stuck.
Jobs are hard to come by, particularly library jobs. I’ve heard of so many instances of dysfunctional library workplaces that I know along with legions of unhappy, unemployed library workers, there must also be legions of unhappy, employed library workers. Please don’t tell them to quit their jobs because they probably can’t. I guess you can tell them to suck it up, but that’s not very nice, either. Sometimes the reality is, though, that those are the only two choices. And in most cases, one of those is not a realistic choice.
I have had more than one person say to me, “If that had happened to me (whatever “that” may be), I would have just quit.” My question to them is this: What would you do the next day when you still have all of your bills to pay? What would you say to your family? How would you justify putting your pride before your responsibility to provide for others or at least sustain yourself? What if you couldn’t find another job?
There are many reasons to become dissatisfied with a job. I’m lucky that my dissatisfaction is related to my specific job duties and not to my work environment. I would rather be out and among people, having conversations and building relationships than sitting at a computer all day. But that is not sufficient enough reason for me to quit my job, especially because my job is only part of my relationship to the organization. The real relationship exists between me, as a person, and the organization. And that has nothing to do with my specific job. I will continue to reach beyond the parameters of my job description because I strongly believe that everyone is responsible for keeping an eye on the big picture. Focusing on the big picture helps me maintain a positive attitude instead of concentrating on the negative and reflecting that negativity in my work.
What reasons are sufficient enough to justify quitting without having another job waiting in the wings? Would you, could you, have you ever quit your job without having a backup plan in place? Did the risk pay off? Or did you regret your decision?