Have you ever fantasized about quitting your job? I’m talking about the kind of fantasy that puts Jerry Maguire to shame. Where you’re packing desk accessories into a stray Amazon box, flinging that company laptop across the office and storming out in a blaze of glory yelling, “See you losers later.”

I have. I used to hate my job so much I would pray for swine flu so I could have a legitimate reason not to go into the office. I complained about my coworkers to whoever would listen and left passive aggressive comments on social media about office politics. Looking back, I’m confident I stayed in the wrong position for way too long, but I never knew when to quit. How do we know when it’s time to find a new job or when to double down and reinvest in finding contentment where we are?

After leaving my job, I began consulting with people in this exact phase of life to help guide them as they decided on making a transition into a more meaningful job the way I did. Without fail the following four guidelines have helped me and many others find clarity around when to stay and when to hand in your resignation.

Decide whether or not your values are being violated.

Your core values are the principles and ideals you hold most essential to life. They are the CliffsNotes of your personal ethics and what you believe is key to your ability to show up with excitement, ready to engage in any aspect of life.

For example, you might believe collaboration is important and if you’re not working alongside someone else, the project isn’t worth doing. Or maybe you highly regard authenticity, and love moments when people are being vulnerable. Whatever your values are, they must be honored in your current job or you will eventually burn out and quit. The internal conflict of daily pouring energy into anything that violates what you most hold dear will lead you to long-term job dissatisfaction.

If you’re not sure of your core values, a great way to identify them is to ask yourself three questions:

  • Where do I continually experience conflict or disappointment in my job and in my personal relationships?
  • When I think of the person I most respect, which three qualities does this person have that I most admire?
  • When was the last time I really had fun and experienced a deep sense of meaning at work?

Look for five to seven principles to guide you. If your organization cannot better uphold the values you’ve identified, it’s time to start tidying up your resume.

Explore how closely your job honors God’s unique purpose for your life.

If your job passes the core values test, but you still feel unhappy in your position, your discontentment might be a sign that God is telling you to move closer to your calling. That was my situation. I was well compensated and empowered to work with integrity and the constant change I so deeply valued, however I had this perpetual sense that I was in the wrong place. It felt like the skills God had given me weren’t being used, and I could feel my talents atrophying while I climbed up the ladder getting accolades for things I was good but not great at doing. I simply wasn’t living the purpose I was meant to live.

And God has a harsh rebuke for those of us who do not put the gifts we have been given to use for His good purpose. In the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25 we see three servants given talents of gold by their master and asked to steward these talents until the master’s return. The first two apply the talents, making a small return on their investment, much to the master’s delight. Well, done good and faithful servant. But the third, the one who played it safe burying the master’s gold underground to avoid risk—maybe choosing a great salary, medical benefits and a 401K over fulfilling his life purpose—he was thrown into utter darkness.

If you don’t know your true talents or have not yet unlocked your life’s calling, ask, seek and knock until you find it. It’s that important. Yes, we live under grace, but we will be asked what we have done with the gifts we have been given. A good place to start is by following Andy Crouch’s advice in Culture Making to look for the intersection of grace and the cross in your life. By this, Crouch means that special cross-section where you experience a divine multiplication of your effort and where you feel a special burden for the world’s pain. This rare intersection might be a clue to your calling. Work with a mentor or coach to help you refine and flesh out your talents so you can move out of your rut of complacency and begin to live a meaningful life.

Address the other places of frustration or pain in your life such as family, church and community.

Still discontent? Maybe your job isn’t the problem at all. Maybe it’s you. Often work frustrations can be an easy target for displaced disappointment in other domains of our lives. Dissatisfaction in our dating lives can lead us to feel annoyed by happily married coworkers. Spiritual apathy from being burned by our last church community can lead to disenchantment with the institutional vibe of a corporate gig. Don’t mistake fleeting work annoyances for long-term discontentment when you have legitimate unresolved issues elsewhere in your life. Focus on whole-life health. Reconcile broken relationships, kick destructive personal habits and reconnect to God before you jump ship from a good job temporarily gone bad.

Determine if there is realistic hope for a different outcome.

If your values are in alignment, you are working according to your life purpose and the rest of your life is humming but you still feel miserable going into work each day, it’s time to call it. Henry Cloud’s Necessary Endings gives helpful criteria for when to say ultimately goodbye. He recommends cutting 1) anything that is good but not great and takes resources or energy from something with more promise, 2) anything sick that will not get well and 3) anything that is already dead and taking up space. This brutal process he calls pruning can be hard, but it’s nothing compared to the ongoing misery that comes from a job that is slowly killing you.

If you’re unhappy in your job, it might not just be you. Use these guidelines to help you discover if there are insurmountable issues behind the irritation. If there are, address those problems and move toward a more fulfilling life. Remember, God has a plan for you and His purpose is always good.

 

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