It’s Not You, It’s Me: When to Break up with Your Job

From time to time when I talk about library career stuff, people will ask me this question, “How do I know when I should leave my job?” That’s a hard question to answer, but using my own experiences (and borrowing some of my friends), I’ll give you some advice.

1. When you stop learning. This one is pretty much the most important one for me. I could never imagine being in a position where I wasn’t challenged and working on a variety of projects. Our profession is changing so rapidly that I can’t imagine that many of us are in those jobs any more where it is the same old, same old, every day, but this point also speaks to your internal growth and development.

2. When you’ve outgrown your job. You started in this position a few years ago and you’ve mastered it. You could do a lot of it in your sleep. You’re good at what you do, but you’re not an entry level (or middle management) person anymore and you’re bored. This is a really hard one because you may actually love your boss, really like your colleagues, but you know you’re up for the challenge of more or different responsibilities.

3. When you cry at work. A lot. Look, most of us cry at work at some point. There’s no shame in having emotions. But if you’re, say, crying every day? It’s time to move on.  Also, if you sit in your car in the parking lot and have to give yourself a pep talk to go in. That’s a bad sign. Time to move on. Quickly. Working in a toxic environment will wreak havoc on your entire life, not just your work life.

4. When you can’t get behind the vision. This could mean that your library (or place of work) is maybe not what it was when you started, maybe the change is too rapid, but if you’re not in it and you now feel marginalized because of the changes, it may be time to move on. Sometimes a new leader comes in with an entirely different vision than you signed up for. That’s cool. You don’t have to stay and, in fact, you’re not doing yourself or anyone else any favors by staying and being the hold out or the complainer (which you will become if this category fits you.)

5. When life changes require career changes. Sometimes what you thought you’d be doing in ten years ends up not being what you want to be doing. That’s OK. Make a plan and get out before it drags you down. Maybe you wanted to go into administration but when you got there you realized there was no way you wanted to be away from your family this much. Maybe you thought you wanted to be an instruction librarian but then you realized that you don’t want to have to do all of that teaching. Don’t be afraid to try something else.

6. When you’re offered a job that you might not love as much but it pays you a lot more. OK, I know this doesn’t happen a lot in our field, but it might. That so so job that pays you 50% more because they really want you? Take it. You don’t have to stay there forever.

7. When you hate your job, hate your colleagues, hate going to work, but you’re determined to make everyone as miserable as they make you. This will really only end badly. Don’t stay in a job to spite others.

8. When the unexpected pops up. Personally, I love my job, but even I peek at the job ads every now and then. You should always know what’s out there and you should know the qualifications that people are looking for in order to keep up your own skills. You might not even think you want to leave your current job and then you see an advertisement for something fabulous in a place you would love to live in! Go for it! (That’s what happened to me!)

9. You hit the responsibility ceiling. If you have ambition in this field, you almost always have to move. I worked for someone who had worked in like 25 states before she got a great job as a library director. I was told early on that you have to move on to move up and I pass that advice on to those that work for me now.

10. When you feel completely unsupported. This isn’t just about not sharing a vision, or having some colleagues you don’t really like. This is when you feel undermined, undervalued, and generally think your boss is not supportive of your work, your talents, and your ideas. This probably isn’t personal. It may just be a different philosophy, but it will drain you. Quickly.

I know library jobs (especially entry level) are hard to come by these days, so I also understand if you totally cannot leave your job. Next week, I will write about surviving in the job you hate that you can’t leave.


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