In my recent online master class for Ivy Exec I was asked a lot of great questions, and four of them can be summarized in the single question that I want to answer here:

“Is leaving ever a solution to a mid-career slump, or when you’re unhappy with your career?”

Well, my answer to that is: yes, under the following circumstances, and provided that you’ve made efforts to make it work where you are.

So, here are three circumstances under which I think it’s reasonable to consider leaving.

  1. First is when you have nowhere further to progress where you are; you’ve have topped out in terms of promotions, you’re not learning and growing and developing any more, and maybe you, or the organization have changed such that your aspirations no longer fit with the goals of the company, or vice versa.
  2. The second circumstance is you might be in a toxic environment, one that’s literally sucking the life right out of you. That can have negative effects on your attitude, your mindset, your confidence and even your health, and those are all important things to preserve. Just on this I’d like to make a caveat to say that, just make sure that it’s not your attitude that is contributing to some of these issues. The reason I say that is, if you decide to leave and it is your attitude, then that will travel with you and nothing will change. So just think about that.
  3. The third is a positive reason. That’s when you’ve found something, or it has found you, that is clearly a better opportunity than the one you currently have, and that it is not replicable where you are.

Best piece of advice

Now, before you make a final decision on leaving, I want to share with you the single best piece of advice I’ve gotten on this subject, and that was from my friend, Liz.

Now, I was often considering quitting, certainly in the first nine or ten years of my career, and definitely in that difficult middle part. What Liz said to me was – and Liz was a year or two ahead of me – she said, “May, you are not allowed to quit until you have tried to make it work on your own terms, and found that that was not possible.”

That was an epiphany for me. First, I’d never thought about what my own terms would be, so I had to stop and think about that.

I ended up having some really great conversations with my husband, and the people that I worked for. I learned things about what their expectations were, how they saw my career opportunities and options, and I also got to share with them my aspirations, and what my wants and needs would be.

In that process I also discovered that it’s not always going to be handed to me on a plate. Sometimes, I need to create my own options, and that meant things like looking for ways to increase the pie in the business; maybe it’s about products and services that can be sold to or shared with clients that we hadn’t covered before, or vice versa.

I also learned that it was about reaching externally to increase the visibility and the reputation, not only of my group and the firm, but also myself. So it was a win-win-win situation all around.

The Bottom Line

So the bottom line is, yes, you can leave – you always have that option – and sometimes it’s even the best option.

But, before you do anything hasty, you owe it to yourself to do your homework, make informed and conscious decisions, and give yourself that gift of seeing how you can make it work on your own terms before you take any other steps.

Now, I’m curious, I wonder what your thoughts are, and what your advice is on the difficult question of, “Should I stay, or should I go?”.