Tuesday, May 31, 2016

How to Quit Your Job and Inspire Yourself and the People Around You

Okay. That's a bit of a lofty title. But the intent is that quitting your job can be done in a way that inspires, is graceful, and above all: tells a story. I call this the List and Frame approach. It's an approach I've developed over the years based on my own experience giving notice* six times and experiencing others who gave notice. In the least, this approach is a useful way to organize your thoughts in what is usually a tumultuous time in your life.

 [* I'll use quit, give notice, resign, and other words interchangeably throughout, though none is perfect. "Quit" sounds defeatist to me. "Resign" is to close to resignation in the sense of accepting something unavoidable and undesirable. "Give notice" seems like you are disinterested in the whole process.]

I usually need to sort through the reasons why I am leaving. In my last resignation, it was particularly difficult because there was nothing driving me out, like an abrasive culture or lack of growth. On the contrary, it was very hard to leave. Nor, was there a new job offer coaxing me to resign. Instead, it was a life choice that was the driver: we had decided to take time to travel and explore for an extended period of time.

Back to the List and Frame approach. It's pretty simple. You create three lists to organize your thoughts and then use them to frame your story about why you are leaving.

Let's get started.

1. Create List A, the :-) list.

This list is all the reasons why resigning is a good next step in your career and life. List positive and aspirational goals. Maybe there are a lot of questions and not much data on this list. That's okay. Some examples might include:

  • Take time for a sabbatical to write a book, volunteer.
  • Spend time with family.
  • Pursue personal interests, get back into a hobby or interest.
  • Take extended time off to travel, explore.
  • Detach to recharge

List A is positive, opportunity-focused. 

A word about word choices. Words like reboot, decompress, rejuvenate, might be tempting to use, but should be used with caution because listeners may hear the opposite. For example, reboot might translate in someone's mind to "oh, she's in a corrupted state here."  Similarly, decompress becomes "wow, it's too compressed here," and rejuvenate could be interpreted as "this place wears you down". While these might be true, think about the impact you leave with words.

2. Create List B, the :-( list.

This is all the things you'll miss about the job. Be open and magnanimous in this list. This list is useful when you talking about leaving and thanking people for helping your out or just being there.

3. Create List C, the :@ list.

Let it all out in this list. Allow yourself the freedom to create this list. It includes rants about the work culture, the people, the process. It includes perceived slights and insults. Be honest about if the items in the list are generally true or just a feeling you get, sometimes, all the time, or only during review time. Your feelings are valid, make note of them. The reason for a feeling may not be what you think. Be honest if you think you are generalizing, if the problem is you or one of job fit. This is all fine. Just capture the ideas. This list may dredge up negative emotion or behaviors that extend far beyond work. Emotions and behaviors that you've carried like tchotchke, job to job, and set up on each new desk you occupy.  All this is fine, just get it captured.

List C is negative, sour, and petty. It's all the things about your job that bug you, in particular, on those dark days when it seemed like you could just walk out the door and never turn around. List C can also be insightful and useful, but, it shouldn't be the focus of why you are leaving. In fact, not much on this list should see the light of day when telling your story. If you think that your List C has some insight that could help, then 1-1 talks with manager or HR may be the best venue, not as your story of why you are leaving.

4. Frame you story.

First and foremost: positive trumps negative when it comes to why you are leaving. So what list do you think you are going to use the most? Think of all the times when a coworker left. What did you remember? Probably positive, life-changing transitions. Negative transitions don't inspire and are quickly forgotten.

So, think of framing and delivering your story to an audience (your manager, your coworkers, the guy who works in the cafe) as if giving a presentation. It has to be positive. The audience has to believe your story. Some of the best advice comes from How to Give a Killer Presentation:

  • Take the audience on a journey.
  • Frame the talk as a journey.
  • Explain why you care so deeply about what you're doing and why they should too.
  • Don't go too broad, prefer deep.
  • Maintain eye contact.             

Translating this for leaving your job:

  • What is your big next step? Rehearse it to yourself, practice the 1 sentence delivery over and over until it sounds natural, and you believe it.
  • Why are you taking this next step and how does it fit into your larger journey? Get your audience engaged and rooting for you. Anyone who hears the story should walk away with a message of opportunity, that this is the best next step for you.
  • Leave questions and intrigue your audience's mind. You don't need to explain every detail that led up to your decision. Listeners will fill in their own romantic details. Don't deny them that.
  • In general: keep it positive and forward-looking.

That's it, the List and Frame method. 

Now for a couple of questions you might have:

Q: So why do I care about what people think?
A: Because, you may work with these people again. If you won't, then why burn bridges?

Q: Who cares if I go negative framing my story?
A: You should. It's a big world, but we run in small circles. Maybe the story will inspire someone who will remember it and help you in the future.

Q: My story really is negative, what should I do?
A: Sorry about that. Stick with the simpler message of change and call it a day.