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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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