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You don’t quit because you are a quitter

According to a recent Deloitte Survey only 21% if the overall workforce (this includes people who are working for themselves) are passionate about their jobs. Which means the rest of the 79% of us are toiling in a job that we no longer love for one reason or the other.  Why is that?  Why are we unable to break the shackles and go after what makes us happy?

I’ve been trying to understand why recently.  I used to love my job but it doesn’t inspire me anymore.  Between constant traveling and unnecessary bureaucracy, I want out.  Yet I still hang on for some unknown reason.  After some serious soul searching and research I’ve identified 7 reasons why we behave in this irrational manner.

Why is it difficult to quit/change my job and pursue something else?

Why wont we quit Premature optimization

Of job seekers who gained employment in the second quarter of 2009, nearly one in 10 — 8.7% — did so by launching their own businesses Source : Challenger Gray & Christmas’ quarterly Job Market Index

  • Premature optimization : I have a good life, or in geek-speak I’m at a “local maxima”. I earn a good amount of money, have an above average life and don’t feel deprived of anything. It is a great life that a lot of people want. So I continue to optimize around this point.  But if I’m  not happy, I should be heading out to find that “global maximum”.

Why wont we quit Premature optimization

Personally, I have delayed changing jobs by saying that I will do it as soon as I get a promotion, that will make it easier for me to find another job or I have stayed this long let me stay until my 401k vests or my next bonus,… you get the point. We try to squeeze all the small wins before seeing the big picture.

  • I am a well trained rat : In 1948, B.F.Skinner, a psychologist designed a famous experiment to study operant conditioning – it means roughly changing of behavior by the use of reinforcement which is given after the desired response.  Skinner identified three types of responses or operants that can follow behaviour – neutral, reinforcers (to strengthen behavior) and punishers (to weaken behavior). In his experiment, one group of rats were given a food pellet after pressing the lever a random number of times, another group of rats received food pellets by pressing the level a fixed amount of time. When they stopped giving the rats food pellets, the fixed schedule rats stopped immediately, but the random schedule rats kept trying.


Skinner Box

We are the same way. We would like to think that every unexpected bonus we get or spontaneous praise is due to our performance. But the business folks are trained to give us these “pellets”. So even after we stop liking the job we keep going, we are already conditioned.

Among the self employed 45% are passionate about their work, where as only 19% of firm employed are passionate about their work. Source : Deloitte Survey

  • Quitting is actually doing something : This reason triggered the title of this post.  This might be a little counter intuitive, but staying the course is passive. Quitting/changing my job means I actually have to do something.
  • It is a big leap of faith : To do my current job, I have been training all my life. I know I am good at it. I know what is expected of me in my job. But going on my own and starting something new from the scratch requires a lot of faith and confidence in myself.
  • Winners never quit : It feels like if I quit my job, I am quitting. So what if I don’t like it anymore? Can’t I work even more efficiently and finish the parts of my job that I don’t like and spend more time doing the things that I used to like? Winners never quit right? When the going gets tough, the tough get going, right?
  • Confusing passion with escapism : This goes along with the winners never quit thought. Am I quitting because I have passion for something else or do I just want to get out of the current difficult situation? If I quit because of escapism my new venture will never be successful as I will lack the passion to take it to its maximum potential. Am I absolutely sure that I am not quitting for escapism?

It is easier for some people to take the entrepreneur path than others. It also depends on how much I have to lose. Personally, I wrestle with two arguments:

  1. When I think about how much I am earning now, how much its taken to get to my current career level and how difficult it is to get back  my job if I take a break, I fear of losing everything.
  2. On the other hand, I have nothing to lose and I am in the ideal life stage because we don’t have kids yet, we don’t have any debt or a mortgage, I have a wonderful family who will support me no matter what, my husband works so I don’t have the pressure to bring money from day 1 and I am also fortunate to have insurance through my husband’s job.  This makes me think I’m a coward for not going for it.

I always thought that quitting would be easy, however, throwing in the towel, even on a dead-end job is quite difficult. It always seems that if we could stay just a bit longer then the time would be perfect.

I understand that the only way to create the future that I want is to start living it right now, not waiting for it to present itself on a golden platter, but man, its tough making that call.

Which of these do you think holds people back the most?

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{ 32 comments… read them below or add one }


I can relate. I worked for 25 years before I retired for a couple years. I flirted with a few other opportunities but did not pour myself into them as I thought I lacked the knowledge and skill level. Now I find myself working in the same career field as before. Nice post.



I am one of the 21%! I love teaching, although nothing is perfect all the time. I constantly work to improve what I do.


John | Married (with Debt)

I’ll bet some of the most successful people in history are good at quitting. Think of stock trading; to make money you have to quit (owning the stock).

Knowing when to get in, get out and move on are skills that transcend all jobs and will lead to a happy life.



Great post!

I like the well-trained rats idea. We’ve been brain-washed by our parents and earlier generations that “normal” is to get a job, work there for 30 years, retire with a pension and a decent retirement fund.

Unfortunately the world no longer works that way. Business start-ups are happening at an all-time rate and the average length of stay for a worker 24-35 years old is something like 3.2 years.

We are all Quitters! We just quit one job we hate and go to another one we don’t like.



I put off self employment because I did not want to mess with the status quo and I feared failing at home. Now that I actually have been working for myself for more than 6 months, I feel WAY less scared of failure and I cannot believe I was perfectly content with trading 2000 hours of my life every year for $35,000. And I was planning to do that for 30 years…whoa. I feel like I dodged the dullest bullet ever.


Amber Seba

I beleive the lack of faith keeps good people in jobs that they hate. We must take some risk in life and get off the safe path every now and then. Good post and thanks for sharing.



Whoa, local and global maximums! That brings me back to college math!

I have made the choice to quit soon (although I’m not sure it’s permanent), and I’m a little worried about failing and being broke. I don’t feel that way in that my life is ruined if I do fail, but it’s still worrisome since I feel like I’m really going against the status quo. I don’t like the feeling that I’ll be behind in life somehow if I waste this time and money for giving it a go without a job.



I believe that your job is just a means to an end. If money wasn’t an issue in life, would you still want to “work”? We work to make money so we can live our lives according to what we desire. That’s why people look forward to retirement because they don’t have to work anymore. So to me, 79% not happy with their jobs make sense.



Wow. Great post. I’m going to think on premature maximization. So many thirty five year old people I know are afraid of changing careers, even though they are already miserable.


Kris @ Everyday Tips

Count me in the 79 percent. I only keep my current job because they allow me to work part time and exclusively from home.

Does the economy affect your decision? For instance, if the economy was rocking and you had several great opportunities, would you be more inclined to leave?



I think you’ll have a lot of success in whatever you decide to do and like you said the timing is pretty good now since your husband is working and your family is supportive. With your skill set I think you will be able to find full time work again if you decide in 6-12 months that you want the stability of a full time job again. Best of luck with your decision! -Sydney



Suba, I feel your pain existentially – I love what I do but I have come to dislike the conditions under which I am expected to do it (the timed toilet breaks cracked me up; this is what I say about my situation). And for me it is fear of losing it all that stops me. My situation though is slightly different from yours – my husband is the one who is freelancing and any couple needs one steady earner is what I believe.


American Debt Project

In the premature optimization chart, are you at that first peak, when you could be leaping to the second peak? I think the reasons you provide all make sense for your situation and it’s true, although you do deal with the micro-management BS, you know you have a lot of advantages and a salary most people don’t! But you know what? You didn’t tell us what you want to quit for. And if you don’t know exactly what it is, or you do and you’re not sure how to verbalize it, maybe that’s what is holding you back from taking the big leap.



Confusing passion with escapism is a huge factor. If the job is terrible, any outlet looks better, no matter if there’s actual passion or not. Great write-up!


Jenna, Adaptu Community Manager

I really like my job, however, I think I could easily fall into “Confusing passion with escapism.” No one likes being uncomfortable and most people like dreaming…


Financial Samurai

No kids, no mortgage, and a declining lack of passion means you should definitely engineer you layoff. Please try this first before quitting.



Tie the Money Knot

That’s a good way to get some time to explore new directions while getting paid via severance. Kids and a mortgage change the equation, but without them – it’s actually viable.

I’ve heard some people say it was “liberating”, and know someone who had no kids, no mortgage, and was single – who got 7 month severance from a job. He traveled extensively for a few months, then found another job he liked better. Was it an amazing job he dreamed about? Maybe not, but better than before and brought more happiness – at least I think so because he didn’t complain about the job anymore:)


20's Finances

Suba, you seem to be on the same wavelength as me. My wife works and I can get by without my dayjob income (or will be able to after this calendar year). The more I read from Yakezie, the more people I meet wanting to quit their day job and the more I am convinced that I want to do the same. I can’t wait until I can do it!


Shaun @ Money Cactus

Great article! Fear is a huge influencer as is comfort. That saying about ‘better the devil you know…’ is completely true and hard to break away from. Sometimes you just have to take a leap and trust your instinct, so the sooner you let go the better. If you build in a few contingency plans, there is every chance that you will succeed.


Super Frugalette

My husband always chuckles at posts like this…we have 3.5 kids, so he cannot just “quit” on a whim or take a major pay cut, etc. Thus people stay at jobs because they receive some other trade off….



This post is well done! I think if it ever got down to the point of timed bathroom breaks, I’d be looking for a new job as well. I think you really hit on a lot of good questions you need to consider. I’ve seen too many people quit their job not because they didn’t like the job but because they just hated work. Ultimately, they just traded one prison for another when they switched jobs and were no more happy. I think before quitting any job a person really needs to dig deep and ask whether it is the environment that is driving them crazy or just their attitude towards the whole situation.



Taking that leap of faith is what leads to happiness. There’s no insurance for success but taking a risk is a heck of a lot better than toiling away forever doing something you hate.


Dr. Dean

The list of reasons people don’t make changes long after their ‘done’? I think that whole list rolls its self into a ball, figuratively, and it’s difficult to point to one thing-at least for me it is. SF’s comment says a lot too. At different points in our lives the motivators change.


Marie at FamilyMoneyValues

You obviously have a lot of talent and are in a good position to do what you desire. No matter where you work, whether for yourself or for others, there will be some aspects of earning a living that you don’t like. Before you leap, think about what you could do to influence change in your environment (if for no other reason that to eliminate timed bathroom breaks for others!) – you might be surprised at your influence!



I love my job, but I’ve only been in it for a month and a half :) Oh, the benefits of being a temp (boo).

But seriously, I’m not sold that people have to love their jobs to be happy. In fact, I know I’ll probably not love my job once I get settled in, because once it becomes work, it’s work! Like Marie, there are going to be things you don’t like. I think many of us North Americans have the “grass is greener” syndrome – we all think that life would be better if we quit our jobs and went for something we would love. And we would, for the first few months. And then it would turn out to be work, once again. So that’s my two cents :)



Great post! That’s why I left being an investment banker for my true passion….real estate income property investment.

Too many are afraid to make a career change if they are over the age of 30 and that’s sad. I would rather make less and be happy than make more and hate what I do.


Dustin - Financial Knowledge Online

The fear of failure has never really bothered me much. The fear of success, however, is a completely different story.

It is often much easier to simply keep the status quo instead of taking a risk on something better. I am a workaholic as it is; I cannot imagine how bad it would be if I actually owned the business.



Someone once told me of a thing called Change Equation. Now I am pretty sceptical about these so-called equations where dissimilar things are added together and equated so something also unlike. But the crux of the matter was that you change things when the pain of staying where you are is greater than the discomfort/pain of changing. The problem is I think that we have been increasing our pain threshold by a creeping nastiness in employment – measuring the toilet time is a typical example – and after a few months you don’t notice it. So then the discomfort is ratcheted up again. It leads of course to dissatisfaction and poor productivity – so the employer, not being very intelligent, repeats the exercise until one day everyone leaves. In today’s climate this is also less likely – but if you jump before you crack at least you have something to take with you – your integrity.



I think it’s much more of the well-trained rat. Jobs come equipped with security — health insurance, retirement benefits, etc — and the unknown doesn’t. Also, if you’re a highly paid well-trained rat, then your new business needs to bring in truckfuls of cash to be “worth it” — great post!



Fascinating article. I have to wonder if the 21% number is a little high.
Most people that I come across are not really interested in ‘making things better’.
It really isn’t very hard to stand out, as a top performer.


Shaun @ Smart Family Finance

I think the “quitting is for quitters” is really a mentality from an earlier age in America where you can work a job for 40 years. Most companies want their employees to be willing to go a separate way when their financial performance and strategy necessitates. That requirement of acceptance of short term employment is a two-way street.



I can relate to this post oh so well. My issue is fear of failure, comfort with my current lifestyle and opportunity cost. Fortunately, I love my job/co-workers but if push came to shove it will be tough for me to up and leave.


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