Knowing When Enough is Enough

Stay or Go?

In our last post we talked about what to do when you work for a less than savvy leader. This time we thought we would follow up by discussing how and when you should leave. What, leaving, you say? Yes, quitting. Because sometimes it’s the right choice. In the last post we reminded all of you to take care of yourselves. Giving yourself permission to quit is part of that. Yes, there are exceptional leaders out there, but the ratio of mediocre to excellent is probably 10 to one. Know who you work for and what it’s doing to you.

We do not under any circumstances mean to suggest that there aren’t a million mitigating circumstances that might keep you in a job — from graduate school loans to partners’ careers to children — but remember, leaving, if your decision isn’t about failure, it’s about choice. At the very least it demonstrates self-awareness and courage.

Leaving isn’t easy. Ending something never is. But sometimes people are trapped by inertia. Why? Because they will tell you they owe something to their employer, because they have a contract, because they have to stay two, three, five years before moving on. If you are burdened by one of these arbitrary constructs, ask yourself why.  You know yourself. Is your job making you sad or angry or frustrated? If you have experimented with the suggestions we offered in the last post: developing networks; using employer perks to build your resume; tweaking your job description, and you are still sad, mad, frustrated, maybe it’s time you thought about going. Don’t write the script about why you can’t, start looking, just apply. Remember, a museum has to say yes before you even get to interview, and if you are lucky enough to get an offer, you can always say no. So be bold. You got into this field because you liked it; liking the field isn’t a reason to condemn yourself to a horrible work situation.

And here’s a P.S. about leaving, for those of us who are baby boomers. We came of age when graduate student loans were small(er); many of us presided over organizations during the golden age of history museums; and now many of us are lucky to be leaders. And while there are a million mitigating circumstances to keep us in place–paying for children’s college loans; waiting for retirement funds to recover from 2008; any number of family situations—we need to be self-aware. Know when work life is more about repetition than innovation. If it’s the former, be gracious. Step aside. Leave at the high point.

Thinking of quitting? Tell us your thoughts.

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2 Comments on “Knowing When Enough is Enough”

  1. Danielle T. says:

    Anne & Joan, thanks for your great posts! I’m in a situation where I may soon get my “big break” at a local museum where I’ve been volunteering for over a year. Despite my excitement at two positions soon to be posted, the leadership and staff dynamic at this institution is somewhat lacking. It’s in danger of getting its county funding severely cut in the next fiscal year (July 2015), has an interim director who is doubling as the CEO of the county library system, and a “friends of” fundraising association which seems more confused than supportive. I’m eager to get into the museum industry, apply my enthusiasm and ideas, and make a positive impact at this facility, but apprehensive about jumping into this situation. Any thoughts?

    • Danielle–
      My advice? With a situation this volatile I would suggest seeing if you can apply either as an interim with the possibility of becoming permanent or see if they would hire you as a consultant for either position with a six-month time line. Exchange benefits, which consultants don’t get for what could be looked on as a six month internship (but don’t say that). If, by some miracle, things right themselves and you’ve done well and are happy, you can continue. If not, you can escape gracefully. They may not go for it, but if you couch it along the lines of the permanent director may want to do the hiring so an interim situation might be best, they may agree. Good luck and keep us posted.
      Joan (& Anne)
      P.S. BTW, we are beginning a project on women’s issues in the museum world. If parts of your story lend themselves to that narrative, we’d be happy to listen.


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