Q: I feel completely burned out. I telecommute full time for an employer several hours away. The job has become untenable — I have multiple projects with no time or budget to do them justice. And I can’t muster enough enthusiasm to apply for a new job.
My father recently died. With what he left me, I could take a lower-paying job or even stop working for a while and make up the difference with my inheritance. Is it completely taboo to quit one’s job before looking for another one? I could explain time off as needing time to settle my father’s affairs. I’m 55 and female, so I don’t want to sabotage my job prospects. What is your opinion?
A: Unlike seasonal burnout, which often responds to quality time off, your chronic burnout seems to call for bigger changes. But mid-burnout is precisely when you shouldn’t impulsively decide to quit — not because it’s taboo, but because it’s impractical. As you alluded, the further along in your career you are when you step off the hamster wheel — even for legitimate reasons like illness or bereavement — the harder it becomes to climb back on. And once your inheritance runs out, what then?
You do need a break. But rather than cut yourself completely adrift, why not see if you can buy yourself some time off from your job — using banked PTO or unpaid leave padded with some of your inheritance — to think about how your inheritance might remove the obstacles or mitigate the obligations driving you toward burnout? For example, could it help you:
— fund regular, restorative trips
— afford training to update your skills or explore new interests
— eliminate your mortgage or other financial burden
— pay for career counseling?
In the end, quitting your job may be the only solution. But at least you will have reached that conclusion through deliberation rather than desperation, with a map in hand.
Q: I was let go from a project management job. I was unhappy and burned out in that role. I accept responsibility for my poor performance. I have a solid work history otherwise. During my previous years with this same company I excelled on a project team. I understand that I am not a queen bee and am better suited as a worker bee.
I am overwrought with anxiety at interviews. When asked why I left, I choke. When I mention a mutual parting of ways, the interviewer starts digging. Is there an appropriate way to address my termination?
A: This is why it’s crucial to recognize and address burnout before it drags you down. And now you need to do the same with your anxiety.
“It wasn’t a good fit” should suffice — but you still have to be prepared for follow-up questions without sounding like you’re making excuses. “I’m better suited as a worker bee” seems humble and straightforward — but it’s a little too humble, verging on a cop-out.
You were burned out and underperforming. Why? Was it a lack of experience or failure to seek guidance on your part? A failure of leadership on your employer’s? Internal or external obstacles that only a seasoned manager might have dodged? Was the job completely at odds with your skills and strengths?
A sympathetic former manager may be willing to help you perform a postmortem and create a narrative that shifts focus from what didn’t work out in the past to what would in the future: “It wasn’t a good fit; my best contributions have come from roles that made use of my XYZ skills, which is why your advertised position interests me.”