The Super Obvious Sign That It’s Time To Quit Your Job

I couldn’t figure it out for the life of me: I was eating healthy, going to the gym every day, meditating, staying hydrated, and otherwise ticking every single checkbox for general well-being. I had a low-stress commute. I didn’t drink a ton of coffee. I didn’t have adrenal fatigue, massive anxiety, or an eyelid twitch. I felt great when I got to work in the morning, and when I got home in the evening, I had a spring in my step.

But in the middle, I was fighting to keep my eyes open. I never — to my knowledge — actually fell asleep at work, but it got to the point where I was pinching myself to try to stay awake.

A little context: I had been thinking about quitting my job to be a Full Time Writer. Now, keep in mind that everyone warns you not to be a Full Time Writer. There are many articles by writers who quit their day jobs and ended up hating it. Too much tedium, too much pressure, too much economic uncertainty! Too much time to gaze into one’s navel! Much healthier to have some element of front-facing life in which one has to put on office attire and make small talk about whatever holiday is coming up.

No mistaking that it would be the smart thing to keep a good day job for as long as possible. Think of all the writers who had lengthy stints as patent clerks and so on, writing masterpieces in between! And my day job was a real lulu at that. I was a subcontractor at a utopian tech company that rhymes with Oogle. I was paid a fraction of what the real Oogle employees made, but I still got to gorge myself on free breakfast, lunch, and dinner and avail myself of unseemly perks like office washers and dryers, treadmill desks, and numerous snack kitchens stocked with everything from dried persimmons to goldfish crackers.

I enjoyed my co-workers, and the tasks were almost always on the easy side of manageable. So why the hell couldn’t I keep my eyes open?

This is the moment where women’s fitness mags will tell you that a mid-afternoon slump is like, totally normal if you’re eating too many sugary, processed foods, so pick a snack with protein and fiber or swap coffee for hot lemon water, blah blah blah. But it wasn’t any of that. I was taking an hourlong walk every day after lunch, doing all of the things.

I didn’t figure it out until I happened to start a conversation with a stranger at a poetry reading. She had just quit her very stable, sane, sensible job. She was switching over to freelance writing entirely, and while she found some of the transition to be alarming, for the most part she seemed rather thrilled with herself.

“How did you know it was time?” I asked her.

“Well, I considered it for months,” she said, “but I knew it was time to go when I started falling asleep at work.”

Aha. Just like me, she felt completely alert except when she was at her desk. She tried everything she could think of to snap out of it, but nothing lifted the slump … except leaving work at the end of the day. So she made a transition plan, set an end date, and went for it.

I realize this may be an unseemly thing to say because so many of us are struggling, so many of us have lost jobs or can’t find work that pays us decently, but if you are falling asleep at a job, quit that sucker. You don’t owe your boss, your work “family.” Yes, being able to quit a job you don’t love is an indication of tremendous privilege, but privilege isn’t actually made for you to flog yourself with. You don’t need to pass some kind of moral purity test by drudging away at a job when you’re capable of doing something else. And you aren’t doing anybody any favors by staying frozen in place. You don’t have to move up to management just because that’s what you’re supposed to do next. You don’t have to take a promotion with more responsibility for the same wage just because that’s what growth looks like at your company.

And if you’re tempted, even for a second, to guilt-trip yourself with some “who am I to move on from a job when so many people are lacking opportunities” nonsense, let me say 1) that lack of opportunities is structural and 2) maybe someone else could really use that job you’re snoozing in. Maybe someone else needs a springboard. Maybe they’ll find your spreadsheets dead fascinating. Hard to say! But listen: You make the world a better place when you’re awake in it. That might sound obvious, but it’s true. You deserve to be awake. Whatever it is that wakes you up, the odds are good that we need it, too.

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