Why We All Need to Quit
The Great Resignation is an opportunity to live your life on purpose.
Posted November 8, 2021 | Reviewed by Davia Sills
- It’s past time to give up on hustle culture.
- Work from anywhere has led to work from everywhere, diminished boundaries, and increased burnout.
- We all have the choice to quit what’s not working for us.
The concern over the Great Resignation—the idea that everyone is quitting their jobs right now—has reached a bit of a fever pitch in the media. News outlets are running regular pieces asking why it is happening, analyzing whether it’s a good or bad sign for the economy, and what, exactly, we should do about it. As Derek Thompson noted last month in The Atlantic, “Americans seem to be done with sticking it out.”
If they haven’t already quit, many are considering it: as many as 41 percent of all workers and 54 percent of the youngest, newest employees. Additionally, while the majority of employees say they want more hybrid options, and many employers have committed to creating them, one of the unintended consequences has been increased burnout and stress due to digital overload.
Of course, many of those who are quitting right now are in service roles: food service, travel and hospitality, teaching, and health care among them. And the reasons don’t require in-depth study. We might call them “essential workers,” but these are the roles with low pay, long hours, poor benefits, and, let’s be honest, poor treatment by the rest of us. Who wants to show up to work to stand for hours on end, for minimum wage, only to be yelled at, harassed, and in many cases actually attacked by the general public? I’d be quitting my job, too.
But while there seems to be a great wringing of hands over why this is happening (see above) and what we can do about it to keep people in these low-wage, terrible roles, there is, I think, a greater lesson to be learned here for the rest of us. Because the Great Resignation doesn’t have to just be about quitting your job. Maybe it’s time for all of us to quit: quit hustling, quit working ourselves to exhaustion and burnout, quit saying yes to things when we should be saying no, and quit living our lives like we have an endless amount of time ahead of us. What can you commit to quitting in order to live your life on purpose?
Giving up on hustle culture
The pushback on “hustle culture”—this idea that you need to outwork everyone around you in order to be successful—certainly didn’t start during the pandemic, but there’s nothing like the real fear of death and long-term health impacts to bring some things into sharp focus. We’ve known for quite a while that working to exhaustion and burnout has serious ramifications for our health and well-being, not to mention diminishing returns on our work productivity. And yet, the concept of “work hard, play hard” hasn’t gone anywhere.
We talk about “busyness not being a badge of honor” and then constantly talk about how busy and tired we are. What’s the end result? Who is benefiting, ultimately, from your mental and emotional exhaustion?
Not everyone, of course, gets to choose their hours, their work environment, or what “good enough” might look like. But if you’re in that position, it’s time to ask yourself some hard questions. What would happen if you quit working an hour earlier? What would happen if you quit working on the weekends? What would happen if you quit aiming for “perfect” and settled for “good enough?”
And managers, it’s time for you to take a hard look at your work culture, too. Just because your people aren’t quitting their jobs, it doesn’t mean their jobs aren’t killing them. Are you lifting up and privileging a “hustle culture?” Do you reward the employees who always go above and beyond? How are you defining success, both for yourself and your people? It’s time to quit uplifting and upholding unreasonable expectations for work.
Saying yes to the right things
We know, by now, that boundaries are important. We also know that upholding boundaries is hard and has gotten even harder to maintain in our always-on, digital world. This is the problem with the move to hybrid and work-from-anywhere lives. How do you say no to answering that email or sending that text when it’s right there in front of you while you sit on the couch? And what about sick days? A recent survey found that “66 percent of Americans working remotely believe that taking sick days for anything less severe than COVID-19 would be looked down upon by their employer.” And “nearly six in 10 (57 percent) feel that working remotely through their illness actually enhanced their credibility with coworkers.”
Saying yes to everything sends a strong message: not that you are super-human (you’re not), not that you are better than everyone else (you’re not), but that you actually don’t trust anyone else you work with to be good at their jobs. What a fantastic colleague you must be! It’s time, instead, to start saying no more often so that you can say yes to the right things.
A few years ago, the book Yes, And came out, describing how to use improv tactics from the famed Second City comedy theater to improve collaboration and innovation at work. The idea is that instead of shutting down ideas with the phrase “no, but,” you instead always try to build on them with “yes, and” thinking. Perhaps it’s time to flip the script on that, and try, instead, for “no, and” responses. “No, and I’d like to help you find someone else who could take that on.” “No, and I would be happy to have this conversation later when I have more capacity.” “No, and I know someone who would be great for this project or idea.” “No, and I appreciate you respecting my boundaries.” It is possible, in other words, to say no and still be helpful and kind so that you can say yes to the right things.
Living life on purpose
Finally, if we’ve learned nothing from the past two years, it’s time to quit acting like we have unlimited time on this Earth. It’s time for each of us to recognize that we get this one life, and only we get to decide how we are going to live it. For some of us, that means that the Great Resignation really is about quitting our jobs, finding a new path, going somewhere that we feel valued. But it doesn’t have to mean that, and for most of us, it can’t.
While many of us may dream of telling the boss to “take this job and shove it” and move to the beach for the rest of our days, there are bills to pay and other people to take care of and health insurance and retirement plans to think about. But that doesn’t mean you can’t and shouldn’t start to live your life on purpose right now. Ask yourself:
- What is my vision for a dream life? How would I describe it? Where am I living, who is with me, how am I spending my time?
- What would it take for me to get from where I am now to that dream? What steps can I begin to take to get there, and what is my goal date to make that dream a reality?
- How can I incorporate aspects of that dream into my daily life now? What are one or two small things I can do in the next six months?
- What is missing from my life right now? What could I do to start to fill those gaps?
Notice the common word in each of these questions: life. Your work, your career, is just one aspect of who you are. But your life is so much bigger than that. What you choose to do, and who you choose to be, are daily intentional choices that you get to make.
The Great Resignation is an opportunity for each of us to make intentional choices about our lives and our work. It’s time to quit waiting for it to happen or to magically show up for you. It’s time to quit complaining that your work and your life aren’t what you want them to be. It’s time to set some intentions, to make a plan, and to start living your life on purpose.
Leonard, K., & Yorton, T. (2015). Yes, And: How Improvisation Reverses “No, But” Thinking and Improves Creativity and Collaboration. NY: HarperCollins.