Don’t Underestimate the Difficult Decision to Quit


In reading through an article the other day, I came across an old article about the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI .This was big news in 2013 since it had been 600 years since a pope had resigned — Gregory XII in 1415. That is quite a record.

As I thought about it, my HR mindset kicked in. Although it was reported that the Pope resigned for health related reasons, I was fixated on the “art of resigning.”

We have all, at some time in our career, had jobs that we could not wait to resign from.

When I walked in and did the “Pope thing”

I recalled one job where I realized over a weekend that I just could not do it anymore. With no job in sight, I walked in on a Monday morning and said that was it. I did the Pope thing before there was a “Pope thing.”

However, the thought of that resignation had hovered like a dark cloud over me for close to a year before I finally did it. Trying to decide what to do, and trying to find a job, was all consuming.

In hindsight it was the best career move ever. Sure, it was scary but I had a plan and with adjustments, it did work out although not quite the way I expected. Still, it was a successful career move overall.

Back in those days before I resigned, there were days when the sun shone through the clouds and I would rethink what I wanted to do. But just like a break in a summer rain storm, that would fade away and it was back to reality.

Not an easy decision to make

I am sure there were more than a few people I knew when I resigned who may have wished they could do the same. Walk in, hand over the letter, and the load would be lifted like a huge weight from their shoulders.

But having been there, it is not easy to arrive at that decision. It builds up over a period of time. Sometimes, we struggle over and over about the pros and cons. Other days we see clarity, and still other days, the clouds reappear.

When I was in corporate HR, one of the defining questions I would ask that would open the floodgates was this: “Tell me about the day that you made the decision that you were going to leave. Walk me through that, if you will.”

What I was looking for was the trigger that caused them to make their decision — because everyone makes the final decision at some specific point in the process.

For me, it came when I was sitting in my backyard having just finished reading The New York Times. I remember it as if it was yesterday.

When one becomes mentally unemployed

I had become mentally unemployed, simply going to work and going through the motions until the end of the day. I found I was not the only one.

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Workforces today are made up of lots of employees that are mentally unemployed. They have already resigned and mentally checked out while they try to figure out how to get out. They’re just waiting for that phone call or email that would serve as the lever to pry them away from their job.

They just can’t walk away for numerous reasons sound and unsound. Being in that orbit is not a pleasant spot. The sleepless nights, the loss of energy, the constant fog — they can all play a role in a person’s well-being.

Yes, lots of employees continue to go to work every day, but it becomes harder to give 100 percent attention and commitment. Their heart is telling them to resign and devote time to looking for a new position where there may be some job satisfaction, but that voice also says leaving a steady job in today’s economy is dangerous, and, that interviewers may reject me for a new position because I’m unemployed.

You need a game plan to do it

Before resigning, consider how you’ll react to being unemployed. It may feel like a relief to be out of a non-productive situation, but you’ll also lose your sense of purpose and structure — unless you can handle waking up in the morning with a, “What am I going to do today?” feeling. Strategically, you have to have some type of game plan if you do decide to make your move.

Unemployment can be mentally trying, and you may feel that getting a little frayed around the edges is a small price to pay for the chance to escape your current job. But, feeling good about yourself and your decision is key.

So if you are in the Pope’s mindset, I know what you are dealing with. I wish I could tell you that it will get easier, but it won’t.

There is no easy way to do it like the Pope did unless you have something waiting. If you don’t, you are like so many others trying to figure it out how to make a smooth transition.

Good luck.

Ron Thomas is Managing Director, Strategy Focused Group DWC LLC, based in Dubai. He is also a senior faculty member and representative of the Human Capital Institute covering the MENA/Asia Pacific region.

He was formerly CEO of Great Place to Work-Gulf and former CHRO based in Riyadh. He holds certifications from the Human Capital Institute as Global Human Capital Strategist, Master Human Capital Strategist, and Strategic Workforce Planner.

He's been cited by CIPD as one of the top 5 HR Thinkers in the Middle East. He received the Outstanding Leadership Award for Global HR Excellence at the World Human Resources Development Congress in Mumbai, and was named as one of the 50 Most Talented Global HR Leaders in Asia

Ron's prior roles included senior HR positions with Xerox HR services, IBM, and Martha Stewart Living.

Board memberships include the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, McKinsey Quarterly's Executive Online Panel, and HCI's Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy.

His work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Inc. Magazine, Workforce Management and numerous international HR magazines covering Africa, India and the Middle East.