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I just resigned from my job and joined the millions of Americans that willingly left their jobs in 2021.
Is this an evolution of work-life balance in America? Is this a revolution of labor versus employers and management? For me, the most prescient question is: How do you make sure your next job will be better than your current one? Will it give you what you need both financially and in qualitative terms?
Quitting your job doesn’t make you a “quitter”
My next employer will be my twelfth full-time job since graduating from college. That list includes founding three companies and two stints as an independent consultant. You can call me a hypocrite, but I am not a quitter.
I like to boast that my biggest accomplishment besides my children is finishing what I start. I have started three companies and sold all three. I have started and completed over 100 running, cycling and triathlon races. While I have never won a race, I did not quit, even once.
Let’s call quitting what it really is: giving up. To belabor the point, I don’t give up. However, when I determine with unwavering certainty that either the company or I can’t achieve the specific goals and milestones set out, it’s time to move on. I start every job with an expectation of what I can accomplish that delivers value to the company. This is an economic value equation that is built on what I can do that will generate revenue and enterprise value for my company. Since my primary roles have largely been in sales and business development, it is easy to define. Then, in return for delivering stated performance, what will my company return to me in terms of salary, incentive compensation and equity. The financial goals have to align. Neither side should get an unfair return.
Even if your job and career are not directly tied to top-line revenue, you should always know the following going into a new job:
- What value are you creating for your employer?
- What are your job duties worth to the company and in the marketplace?
- Do you have clear and realistic expectations of how you will be rewarded for good or superior performance? They should be explicit, preferably in writing and mutually agreed upon with your employer.
Don’t “resign” yourself to a dead-end job.
We all need well-paying jobs to provide for ourselves and our families, but money isn’t everything. As my dear father-in-law once told me, “Money will not buy you happiness, but it’s sure good for the nerves.” The current phenomenon of mostly lowered paid workers in less-skilled jobs quitting their jobs is not just about money.
The noted Nobel prize-winning economist Milton Friedman laid out the maxim in a 1970 essay, “The Friedman Doctrine.” It holds that a firm’s sole responsibility is to its shareholders. Therefore, according to Friedman, the purpose of a company is only to make money to fulfill its fiduciary role to increase shareholder value.
Companies must make money to pay salaries, run the business and reward stakeholders. But as human beings, once we have taken care of the basic necessities of food and shelter, we are driven not by money but by finding meaning in our lives. Meaningful work sounds like a luxury, but it’s not. Particularly in Western culture, self-worth and social standing are driven by our jobs and careers. Don’t think you have to be a lawyer, doctor, or CEO to derive meaning and the feeling of accomplishment — any job on the pay scale can deliver it.
Former Best Buy CEO Herbert Joly talks about how companies need to “seek purpose, not profits” in his book The Heart of Business. Organizations are humans all working together for a common good. Joly’s basic premise is that by taking care of people’s needs and making them happy and fulfilled, profits will take care of themselves. This principle applies not only to your employees but to customers and other stakeholders. He argues that is much more effective than Friedman’s singular focus on profit and shareholder value.
For too long, too many people stayed in dead-end jobs and unfulfilling careers. They were literally “resigned” to their job. Sure, we all need to work. Not everyone has the luxury of just quitting a job, particularly during a pandemic, just because we are not happy. But I will argue that if you know what fulfills you and you strive to take jobs that deliver on that promise, you will be more successful in your career and of course, happier.
When I look back at my career choices, I don’t have any regrets. Throughout my career, I have turned down bigger opportunities and tendered my resignation at lucrative but unfulfilling jobs. I have never been able to “resign myself” to just doing my work and collecting a paycheck. I have done well financially, but my motivation and achievements were never just about making money.
Though I am pleased with my career and each of the twelve job decisions I made, I am not content. I am still driven to take chances and seek new challenges. The criteria for making a move are always the same. I ask myself, “Will the opportunity to challenge me and lead to greater fulfillment”? Don’t resign yourself to anything less.