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Killing Your Job

When is the right time to walk away from a project or job? And what about all your fears of leaving? We continue our Leadership Hall of Fame series, a year-long look at the top business books and authors, with an excerpt from The 4-Hour Workweek (2007) by Tim Ferriss.

“All courses of action are risky, so prudence is not in avoiding
danger (it’s impossible), but calculating risk and acting
decisively. Make mistakes of ambition and not mistakes of
sloth. Develop the strength to do bold things, not the
strength to suffer.”
 -Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince

The 4-Hour Workweek

Some jobs are simply beyond repair.

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Improvements would be like adding a set of designer curtains to
a jail cell: better but far from good. In the context of this chapter,
“job” will refer to both a company if you run one and a normal job if
you have one. Some recommendations are limited to one of the two
but most are relevant to both. So we begin.

I have quit three jobs and been fired from most of the rest. Getting
fired, despite sometimes coming as a surprise and leaving you
scrambling to recover, is often a godsend: Someone else makes
the decision for you, and it’s impossible to sit in the wrong job for
the rest of your life. Most people aren’t lucky enough to get fired
and die a slow spiritual death over 30-40 years of tolerating the
mediocre.

Pride and Punishment

“If you must play, decide on three things at the start: the
rules of the game, the stakes, and the quitting time.”
 -Chinese proverb

Just because something has been a lot of work or consumed a lot of
time doesn’t make it productive or worthwhile.

Just because you are embarrassed to admit that you’re still living
the consequences of bad decisions made 5, 10, or 20 years ago
shouldn’t stop you from making good decisions now. If you let pride
stop you, you will hate life 5, 10, and 20 years from now for the same
reasons. I hate to be wrong and sat in a dead-end trajectory with my
own company until I was forced to change directions or face total
breakdown–I know how hard it is.

Now that we’re all on a level playing field: Pride is stupid.
Being able to quit things that don’t work is integral to being a
winner. Going into a project or job without defining when worthwhile
becomes wasteful is like going into a casino without a cap on
what you will gamble: dangerous and foolish.

“But, you don’t understand my situation. It’s complicated!” But
is it really? Don’t confuse the complex with the difficult. Most situations
are simple–many are just emotionally difficult to act upon.

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The problem and the solution are usually obvious and simple. It’s
not that you don’t know what to do. Of course you do. You are just
terrified that you might end up worse off than you are now.
I’ll tell you right now: If you’re at this point, you won’t be worse
off. Revisit fear-setting and cut the cord.

Like Pulling Off a Band-Aid: It’s Easier and Less Painful Than You Think

“The average man is a conformist, accepting miseries and
disasters with the stoicism of a cow standing in the rain.”

-Colin Wilson, British author of The Outsider

There are several principal phobias that keep people on sinking
ships, and there are simple rebuttals for all of them.

1. Quitting is permanent.

Far from it. You can pick up your chosen career
track or start another company at a later point. I have never
seen an example where a change of direction wasn’t somehow
reversible.

2. I won’t be able to pay the bills.

Sure you will. First of all, the objective will be to have a new job
or source of cash flow before quitting your current job. Problem
solved.

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If you jump ship or get fired, it isn’t hard to eliminate most
expenses temporarily and live on savings for a brief period.
From renting out your home to refinancing or selling it, there are
options. There are always options.

It might be emotionally difficult, but you won’t starve. Park
your car in the garage and cancel insurance for a few months.
Carpool or take the bus until you find the next gig. Rack up some
more credit card debt and cook instead of eating out. Sell all the
crap that you spent hundreds or thousands on and never use.

Take a full inventory of your assets, cash reserves, debts, and
monthly expenses. How long could you survive with your current
resources or if you sold some assets?

Go through all expenses and ask yourself, If I had to eliminate
this because I needed an extra kidney, how would I do it? Don’t
be melodramatic when there is no need–few things are fatal,
particularly for smart people. If you’ve made it this far in life, losing
or dropping a job will often be little more than a few weeks of
vacation (unless you want more) prior to something better.

3. Health insurance and retirement accounts disappear if I quit.
Untrue.

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I was scared of both when I was eliminated from TrueSAN. I
had visions of rotting teeth and working at Wal-Mart to survive.
Upon looking at the facts and exploring options, I realized
that I could have identical medical and dental coverage–the
same provider and network–for $300-500 per month. To transfer
my 401(k) to another company (I chose Fidelity Investments)
was even easier: It took less than 30 minutes via phone and cost
nothing.

Covering both of these bases takes less time than getting a
customer service rep on the phone to fix your electric bill.

4. It will ruin my resume.

I love creative nonfiction.

It is not at all difficult to sweep gaps under the rug and make
uncommon items the very things that get job interviews. How?
Do something interesting and make them jealous. If you quit and
then sit on your ass, I wouldn’t hire you either.

On the other hand, if you have a one-to-two-year world circumnavigation
on your resume or training with professional
soccer teams in Europe to your credit, two interesting things
happen upon returning to the working world. First, you will get
more interviews because you will stand out. Second, interviewers
bored in their own jobs will spend the entire meeting asking
how you did it!

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If there is any question of why you took a break or left your
previous job, there is one answer that cannot be countered: “I had
a once-in-a-lifetime chance to do [exotic and envy-producing experience]
and couldn’t turn it down. I figured that, with [20-40]
years of work to go, what’s the rush?”

Reprinted with permission from THE 4-HOUR WORKWEEK by Timothy Ferriss. Copyright © 2009. Published by Crown Archetype/Publishers, a division of Random House, Inc.

Read more about The 4-Hour Workweek or our Leadership Hall of Fame.

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