When I left my first job, my boss told me I was making the biggest mistake of my life. I told him that he might be right, but I had to follow my instinct. I didn’t need to argue the point. I was optimistic about my future, and, by leaving, I knew I was taking an active role in improving my life.
People often associate quitting with giving up, but it’s really about understanding when it’s time to go — especially today, when it’s increasingly rare to see someone do the same job for 20 or 30 years. So, how do you know when it’s time to move on? Over the course of my career, there were a number of situations that I’ve found to be pretty universal with others.
If you’re genuinely bored with your work, you should really think about doing something else. Staying on is not fair to the company you’re working for, or to its clients or customers. And it’s certainly not fair to you. This happened to me at my first job. When it started to feel rote and mundane, I knew it wasn’t my future.
If you find your own values are misaligned with the organization, you should definitely leave. I had one job where this happened to me — and as soon as I realized it, I knew I had to quit as quickly as I could. If my values and my ideas of service are compromised, I can’t sleep, so I have to go.
Sometimes, the company and its culture might be great, but you have the bad luck of working for someone who doesn’t have your best interests at heart. Someone, for instance, who is jealous of you, or has low self-esteem and takes that out on you. In my case, I was able to reach out to others in the company, and eventually found a new role working for a different part of the same firm.
Of course, one of the most common — and best — reasons to leave a job is because of an opportunity or challenge somewhere else. For example, some years after I started at Merrill Lynch, I left a job in a local field office — one that I was both good at and comfortable doing — to work in New York on the leadership team. It was a stretch role for sure, but I had been steadily investing in and building my leadership skills. When I got that opportunity I knew it would have a big impact on both my personal and professional life, but I was ready and I had to make the jump.
No matter what the reason, if you do make a move, remember to do it in the most professional way. No need for pay-backs or to get the last word in — that most likely will come back to haunt your career aspirations. Remember that first job I left, when I was told I was making a huge mistake? That former employer is actually a client of ours now, and I have a great friendship with him today. But most importantly, it’s always better from your own psychological standpoint to stay optimistic and maintain your dignity — even in the toughest circumstances. That will serve you well, no matter what your work situation.
John Thiel is the head of Merrill Lynch Wealth Management.