Busy, busy, busy.  Is anyone not busy these days?  Has anybody mastered the life simplification and/or zenlike practices needed to get by in the modern world and still enjoy an abundance of free time?  I bring this up because there’s a wrinkle in job hunting that doesn’t apply to everyone out there, but is a significant challenge a number of my clients are facing that I’ve rarely seen addressed.  It’s the process of “finding work when you’re working” and the question of whether one should quit an unsatisfying job in order to free up the time necessary to explore, research, and pursue a more fulfilling opportunity.

Now I know, many folks who are unemployed right now might not have a lot of sympathy for cases like these. But again, there are more people than you might suspect out there who are working full-time in a job that doesn’t suit them — and feel trapped, stressed out, and frustrated in their efforts to improve things, given that they’re so burnt out at the end of each day they have no time or energy left in the tank to improve their situation.

So what should one advise people in these situations?  Should we tell them to think positively, damn the torpedoes, and ditch that soul-sucking job so they can focus on finding a better one?  Or should we advise them to be practical, suck it up, and hold on to their paycheck at all costs and just hope something changes for the better?

Personally, I don’t think there’s a universal answer to this question.  I think it depends heavily on an individual’s specific situation, emotional state, financial resources, and risk tolerance.  For example, in working with somebody yesterday who has been stuck in a job he hates for three years — and can’t seem to break out — we analyzed the following factors and decided that yes, in his case, it probably made sense to tender his resignation.

Is there a less drastic option you may have overlooked?  (in this person’s case, I asked whether he could set better boundaries at work or convince his boss to let him shift to a 3- or 4-day-per week schedule; he said this wasn’t an option)

Could you just be in a temporary funk?  (having dealt with this issue for three years, as a constant burden, this person clearly wasn’t just “having a bad week” or overreacting to some temporary work problem)

Do you have a decent amount of savings and/or other sources of income?  (this individual had 6-12 months of comfortable reserves, but didn’t have a working spouse or any other income sources, such as rental properties)

If you quit, will you truly use the time freed up to address the challenge at hand?  (when suddenly faced with unstructured days of no job, nice weather, and endless distractions, will a person dive into the career exploration process with gusto or procrastinate and stray from the mission at hand?)

What’s your fallback position, if nothing better comes along?  (this one is huge; if a person isn’t able to find something more satisfying or fulfilling within a reasonable period of time, they need to consider how easy or hard it would be to go back to their “old” career path and restore some sort of income stream)

On this final note, my recent client said that there were always jobs available in his current field and that he was confident he could land one quickly if push came to shove — should his economic needs once again have to take priority.  And it was this “assurance” that tipped the equation in favor of quitting his current job, given that it would mitigate the risk to a significant degree.  Not everyone, however, has the luxury of the plug-and-play skills this individual appears to have, coming from the financial services field.  Many people (myself included) would have to think hard about what type of “survival job” they could potentially snag — be it waiting tables, substitute teaching, selling cars, or working as a temp — if again, the point was reached where cash flow needs again became critical.

At any rate, I thought it was an interesting discussion and one to which certain people out there might be able to relate.  While it’s no picnic looking for a job without a paycheck, it’s also not necessarily a walk in the park trying to do this while you’re fully engaged in a high-stress job, either.  Food for thought, and as always, I’d welcome your input!

P.S.  And back to the “everybody’s busy as heck” comment earlier, this whole topic reminds me of a fascinating book I read back in 2000 called Faster by James Gleick — predicting that society would start facing severe consequences based on what he dubbed the “time famine” resulting from technology and other factors.  Might be time to re-read…