Be honest: Do you really want to quit, or do you just need a break?
I’ve had a few conversations lately with people who are disillusioned with their work. They don’t enjoy what they’re doing and they start questioning whether they ever did. They wonder whether they’ve chosen the wrong career path. They fantasize about quitting.
I get it: I’ve been there. More than once. And believe me, those are legitimate questions that deserve to be considered.
But not when you’re tired. And I don’t mean like, “I didn’t sleep well last night” kind of tired—I mean sustained, relentless exhaustion. Burnout.
It doesn’t take long to get there, either. Just a few weeks of intense and stressful work can make you feel buried and hopeless. (Helloooooo September!)
If you’re constantly stressed and run down, or if you take breaks only to fall back into the burnout pit, it’s definitely time to make some changes. But it doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t love what you do. You might not need to quit.
Have you heard of HALT? (I love this.) It’s a self-care practice that encourages you to assess whether you’re Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired before you make a decision. Speaking as someone who ranges from rage-y to weepy when I’m tired (um, also happens when I’m hungry tbh)—taking a timeout for a gut-check has saved my butt more than once.
HALT asks you to postpone any decision until after you’ve taken a break and dealt with the emotion you’ve identified. So if you’re tired, you need to REST. Then it’s time to make a rational decision.
If you think you can't take a break, that's exactly when you need one.
I can already hear you: “There’s no way I can possibly stop doing any of the things I’m doing. I have responsibilities!” If that’s your attitude? Honey, you DEFINITELY need a break.
It’s easy to think that every single responsibility we carry is essential. But that’s not true—not even close.
A few years ago I was majorly stressed at work. I was doing all the projects, getting very little sleep, suffering from digestive problems, and having a lot of headaches.
Short version of this story: I finally went to see a doctor about the headaches. It turned out that the ventriculoperitoneal shunt I have in my skull had broken, which was a serious medical emergency: I could go blind or have a stroke at any moment.
Do you know what I did instead of marching straight to the hospital? I WENT BACK TO WORK. Yep. My work was “too important” for me to just abandon it because of a teensy little medical issue. I needed to finish up a few things before I went in for brain surgery.
It was one of the stupidest things I’ve ever done. (Everything turned out fine, though)
Here's the truth: My work wasn’t important AT ALL. It’s laughable how unimportant my job was. But I wanted it to be important. I wanted to be important to the people I worked with. My behaviour proved that I valued their opinion of me more than I valued my health. More than I valued myself.
It sounds crazy, but it's also pretty normal. Sometimes we say yes to things because we want to feel important. Sometimes we say yes to things because we don't think we can say no. Sometimes we take on a lot of projects (even ones we hate) because it feels good to be reliable, responsible, indispensable.
NO ONE is indispensable at work. But you know where you are indispensable? Family. Friends. Community.
So if you’re tired and hating your work, guess what? You’re not helping anyone. At best, you’re phoning it in. And you're potentially letting all of those unnecessary obligations ruin your enjoyment of your work.
Before you abandon your career path altogether, take that freaking break. Get some breathing space and THEN take an honest look at the path you’ve chosen.
Ways to take a break
If you’re having trouble figuring out how to do that, here are some things that have worked for me:
- Leave work at work. Put some boundaries around work life and home life.
- Learn to say a polite no. Sometimes this can be “Let me think about that and get back to you.”
- Extract yourself from current obligations that you don’t enjoy
- Take an actual break. Like a holiday (WHAAAT?). Even if it’s just for a weekend. This means no email and no “checking in at work.”
Once you have a bit more mental space, you can take a closer look at your situation and decide if you're quitting for the right reasons.
But the bottom line is: Don’t try to make a decision when you’re tired or burned out. Take a break, get some rest, THEN figure out if you’re on a path that you actually love but you’re too tired to enjoy OR whether you genuinely hate your work most of the time. It’s not the same.
More often than not it’s the exhaustion you hate, not your work.
Do you fantasize about quitting? Do you feel the same way when you're well-rested? Tell me in the comments!