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Why quitting your job without a backup plan can help your career

It may feel crazy and risky to leave a job without another one lined up, but here are seven instances when it’s the right thing to do.

Why quitting your job without a backup plan can help your career
[Photo: dpellicola/iStock]

Quitting your job is always a scary thing. But it can be downright terrifying when you don’t have another one lined up. The nerves build up to the surface from the moment you hand in your resignation notice. “Where are you going?” is typically the first question your boss and coworkers will ask. Saying you’re not sure will undoubtedly lead to quizzical glances and perhaps even snickers of “you’re crazy.” But here are seven times when quitting with no backup plan is the right thing to do for your career.

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When you’re working in a toxic environment

If your work environment is so toxic that you aren’t able to see your own strengths and values clearly, getting some distance may be the only way to regain your faith in yourself. “Sometimes you need time to detox and heal from abusive situations so that you don’t jump into something just as bad to get away from your current job,” says Rhonda Ansted, career coach and Founder of Be the Change Career Consulting.

Ansted speaks from experience. She quit her job and traveled cross-country before looking for the next opportunity. “It allowed me to take stock of what was important to me and do some intensive thinking about what I needed out of my life and my career,” says Ansted. That distance from work led her to going back to school, joining the Peace Corps, and eventually starting her own business.


Related: How to quit your job gracefully


You have enough savings

If you’re thinking about leaving your job, start to set aside enough money to tide you over until you find your next opportunity. Work out how long you think it will take you to find your next gig, then calculate how much you’ll need in the bank to stay out of poverty. Leaving your job without any savings in the bank is likely to lead to you feeling forced to take any job out of financial necessity.

If you can’t job search while working your current job

The job search process is very time consuming. Looking for a new job while employed means you can never truly give your all to your search, and you may not have the time to explore all of the opportunities available, never mind booking time off to go to interviews. You may also want to reach out to connections in your industry to find out about new opportunities, but fear reaching out in case news of your job search gets back to your current employer.

Erin First, principal at Brick Lane, a boutique PR agency, started applying for jobs and doing interviews while still employed, but felt that dividing her energy between both tasks wasn’t working out. “It didn’t feel fair to the company I was working for, and it would have limited the time I was able to spend charting my next move,” says First, who quit her job without having another one lined up, freeing up her time to do a thorough job search.

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If the stress of staying is greater than the anxiety of leaving

Quitting without a backup plan is not for everyone. “For some people, the fear of the unknown is too difficult to navigate and paralyzing,” says Ansted. “While there are some people who crave novelty and get bored easily in the same-old same-old, much of our hard-wiring is about keeping us safe.”


Related: This is what it took for me to quit a job I hated


Quitting your job without a backup plan has the same effect on your nervous system as walking into the desert without any water. When you’re unhappy in your job, however, that stress can lead to many worse things than anxiety. Stress can cause sleep deprivation, a heart attack, depression, diabetes, and a host of other illnesses. Assess the toll your unhappiness in your current job is having on your health. If the stress is greater than your anxiety about quitting, jumping ship may be the only way to save your mental and physical health.

If you have a support system

This doesn’t mean you have a trust fund. It means having a group of friends or a career coach who can help you see things clearly when you’re on the other side. Your support system is made up of individuals who know your strengths and can help you find your way after you leave.

If you need time to self-reflect

Quitting your job with no plan in place allows you to be open to new opportunities that you may never have considered if you simply took the next opportunity that fell in your lap. When First quit her job, she didn’t plan on becoming a business owner, but after reaching out to a friend for some freelance work, First then found herself the co-owner and partner of a boutique PR agency. “It’s been the most challenging and rewarding work experience of my career,” she says.


Related: How to know whether you should quit your job without a plan

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If you need a kick in the pants

Even when you know you’re in the wrong job, the security of having a steady paycheck makes easing off your job search easy to do. When you suddenly find yourself void of that secure income, it can give you the adrenaline rush you need to propel your job search forward.

Jumping ship without a life vest is not an easy decision, but when done for the above reasons, it may be the best way to propel your career forward in the right direction.

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About the author

Lisa Evans is a freelance writer from Toronto who covers topics related to mental and physical health. She strives to help readers make small changes to their daily habits that have a profound and lasting impact on their productivity and overall job satisfaction

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