Work is currently designed for an idealised version of a White young single man with no care responsibilities.
And it goes beyond the scheduling constraints of a “full-time job” – 40 hours/week, 9 to 5 straight hours, and the Monday to Friday working week. From what we consider “looking professional” all the way to the expectations of having to be always on just in case the business needs us or even setting the office temperature, which was developed back in the 1960s through an analysis of the resting weight of a 154lb (69kg) 40-year-old man.
It’s not a surprise that women and people from underrepresented groups feel they don’t “fit in”.
However, rather than questioning the current state of affairs, patriarchy has trained us to think that we’re the problem and it’s upon us to either fix it – for example, through championing DEI initiatives – or simply toughen up.
In addition to the mental load to either fit in or fix the system, the problem with that kind of indoctrination is that assumes that quitting a job is not a valid option. It’s seen as a failure rather than a choice. And that hurts our career and diminishes our leverage.
How do I know? Because I’ve done so.
My quitting story
After finishing my master in chemical engineering in Venezuela, I decided to pursue a Ph.D. abroad. At the time, I wanted to become a professor at the university and I felt that was the best next step.
The problem? I didn’t have the money to pay for 5 years of living abroad and expensive tuition fees. One of my master’s advisors came up with a solution: There was a professor in Canada that was looking for a Ph.D. student and he could pay me a minimum wage – enough to live.
Our email interactions hinted some worrying signals about him not being an easy person to work for but I was so keen on the opportunity – I kept telling myself that was “the only” chance available to me – that I decided to take it and go to Canada.
I should have listened to my gut feeling. He was a bully. I was the only woman in the lab but we all suffered harassment and discrimination at different levels. One of the people even died from suicide.
How was he able to pull it off? We were all on a student visa. Pushing back, denouncing him, or leaving the lab meant to have to go home empty-handed. In one word, fail.
I kept telling myself that if I was able to cope, it’d be worth it. I got really good at diminishing in my mind all the things that were wrong with my boss’s behaviour and minimising myself such as not bringing out the worst of his character.
Moreover, most people around me that knew about his behaviour empathised with me but also reminded me that quitting would mean “losing” the time I’d already spent on my Ph.D.
To cut a long story short, after 1 year and 4 months, I quit. When I announced it to him, he told me that he’d publish my work without my name, which he did it. He tried to make me change my mind with threats and nice words.
It didn’t work. I left and I moved to another lab where I thrived. The difference was that now I had a great advisor that supported me rather than put me down. I wrote 5 papers and completed my Ph.D. in 4.5 years.
What about the others in my first lab? They stayed. And they all told me that they regretted it.
From my side, I didn’t regret going to another lab and start again my Ph.D. That previous experience was not a waste of time. It helped me to know that I have non-negotiables at work like respect, mental wellbeing, and appreciation.
I learned from that experience that it was paramount that I integrated quitting into my career strategy.
But how to do it?
Coaching tool: decisions ahead of time
One of the reasons that makes it so hard to quit is that we only consider it when we have the feeling that we’ve run out of “other” options. That means we’re not in a very generative state. We feel exhausted, defeated, or angry, to mention a few typical emotions.
What’s more, we feel disappointed with ourselves for allowing the situation to reach such a low point. Typically the reason it’s that we’ve experienced the boiling frog syndrome.
The premise is that if a frog is put suddenly into boiling water, it will jump out, but if the frog is put in tepid water which is then brought to a boil slowly, it will not perceive the danger and will be cooked to death. The story is often used as a metaphor for the inability or unwillingness of people to react to or be aware of sinister threats that arise gradually rather than suddenly.Wikipedia
How to avoid finishing like the frog? Or wait until you’re burnt out to jump out of the boiling water?
I recommend a coaching technique called “decision ahead of time”. In brief, plan how you’ll think, feel, and act in advance of certain triggers appearing.
How does that work in practice?
List your non-negotiables at work. That can be about the culture, the perks, your promotion aspirations, your schedule, your participation in projects, your salary expectations, and so on.
Then, decide in advance what changes in those areas will give you hints that you may want to leave, how leaving would look like, and how that would integrate into your career strategy.
In those terms, quitting doesn’t look like a failure but as part of a plan. It’s framed as a healthy way to avoid burnout and practice setting boundaries.
If not quitting, what are you doing about your career?
The boiling frog syndrome is so seductive that can make us forget our career by focusing on our current job.
How do we know if we’re trapped in our own version of the boiling frog syndrome?
Ask yourself the following questions:
- Do you know where you’re and what you want out of your career?
- Have you delegated to your manager, CEO, or organisation your professional ambitions?
- Are you hoping to finally get promoted but you don’t have a clear commitment from your manager about what you need to get it or when it’ll happen?
- Do you keep talking yourself out of your promotion aspirations, telling yourself that it could be worse?
If after reading the questions above you feel you’re ready to jump out of the boiling water, join me for the Joyful Career Promotion Week later this month.
Let me tell you more about it.
|WHAT YOU GET||HOW THAT WILL HELP YOU TO GET A PROMOTION|
|20+ page workbook||1.- Step-by-step guide to writing your 2023 mid-year career review.|
2.- Examples of framing the promotion conversation with your manager.
3.- Insights into how to tackle the common pushback from your manager about discussing your next promotion
|Three one-hour group virtual coaching calls via Zoom||1.- Get coached on your mid-year self-assessment review and specific career progression goals.|
2.- Learn from others getting coached about their promotion challenges.
|Live pop-up private online community group||Get asynchronous feedback about your written mid-year assessment, the promotion conversation with your manager, and career progression.|
When? Mon-Wed-Fri May 22-26, 2023 – 12.00 BST | 13.00 CEST
If you’ve been thinking about working with me, this is the perfect opportunity to get introduced to the power of career coaching with a very small investment.
I look forward to working with you on making your career aspirations a reality!