Can I Quit?

by | May 5, 2020 | Bold in Work

We swim in a sea of instant gratification.

When we are hungry, tired, or bored, our satisfaction is just a few clicks away. It doesn’t take too long to satisfy our cravings, and we’ve grown used to this cycle of longing, taking action, and addressing every need with a quick fix. Why are we so surprised, then, that we demand and expect instant gratification when it comes to feeling fulfilled in our jobs?

This conundrum is especially interesting considering where we come from before heading into the workforce. Many of us make the transition into the working world after twelve to eighteen years of grueling schooling. By that point, we are well aware that success in school requires concentration, focused energy, and dedication of our time. We learn that in order to succeed, we need to show up. We’re taught that sometimes other people will get credit for our work. We won’t always get the grade we thought we deserved. We won’t always be best friends with our lab partner. We’ll face piles of homework in the midst of our other activities and obligations. It’s not always going to be fun. It’s not always going to be easy. But do these realizations cause us to drop out of school?

On the contrary – many of us choose to see this as a challenge. We sign up for even harder AP classes and extracurriculars. We join sports teams. We get involved on campus. We find ways to serve our communities. Because we understand and accept that school is designed to challenge us, we lean into the suffering with gusto.

As Christians, we know that life is not always peachy. We are going to suffer, and we also believe that our suffering has a purpose. As St. Paul says, “…We even boast of our afflictions, knowing that affliction produces endurance, and endurance, proven character, and proven character, hope, and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the holy Spirit that has been given to us.” Romans 5:3-5. St. Paul tells us that the suffering we face makes us resilient, and this resilience defines our character, and this character gives us hope in what’s most important: The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

So why is our attitude so different when it comes to our jobs?

Over the past few months, I’ve spent a lot of time talking with good friends about their jobs. Most stories start the same: the first few months of a new job are a joy: a new backpack, new laptop, new desk, new colleagues. Especially when transitioning from school to work, there’s an exciting novelty about getting a paycheck, showing up, doing projects, and going to meetings. But a few months in, it starts to get harder. Maybe it’s a new assignment. Maybe it’s a demanding boss. Maybe it’s annoying coworkers. Bit by bit, work begins to grate on us. Sometimes it’s because we’re not being challenged enough, or because we’re being overloaded with work. All of a sudden, we begin to think about our futures. Who am I? What am I doing here? What is my life’s purpose? We begin to ask similar questions about our work: Am I making a difference? Does this work even matter? What’s the point? 

We start to look left and right at the careers of our friends, comparing our everyday, mundane moments to their Instagram stories filled with fun trips and puppies in the office. We wonder if we made the right choice. We scroll through job boards, looking for something new – a “calling” instead of a career. The amount of options available to us are overwhelming, yet we feel like anything just has to be better than whatever we’re doing right now.

These thoughts and questions spiral out until we come to the ultimate question:

Can I Quit?

Before we can tackle that question, we need to back up and define the purpose of work.

Did you know that God gives us work as a gift? He created Adam and Eve in His image and likeness and directed them to subdue and dominate the earth – all before the Fall! Because we are created in His image and likeness, when we work, we are participating in the creative action of God. He is inviting us to innovate, create, and develop through our work – just like He did! Therefore, work is a call to become more like the Father. (Hint – check out St. JP2’s Laborem Exercens for 42 pages of gold on this topic).

In our parents’ and grandparents’ generation, it was common to take a job and stay with that company through retirement. My uncle worked with his company for 50 years! There existed a loyalty and confidence that came from committing to a company.

Today, we see our peers moving around every year or two. Companies poach talent left and right, offering larger amounts of money and shiny new titles. The amount of loyalty and allegiance we feel towards our employer can be slim to none. Work has become not much more than a game: how fast can I move up, how much can I make, and how happy will it make me?

Let me be clear here: you should always advocate for your worth and negotiate. You should be discerning when looking for a job, and always bring your desires and options before God in prayer. You should work towards promotions and raises and articulate your goals to your boss. You should desire good relationships with your colleagues and a healthy work atmosphere. You should change companies when you’re ready for the next step and a new challenge. These are all good things. But quitting is for running towards something great, not running away from something bad. 

I have a good friend who has been blessed with work opportunities over the past few years. He started at Google, moved to a small start-up in San Francisco, and is now working in philanthropic giving at Facebook. What sounds (and looks) like a dream career has been an unexpected disappointment to him. A few weeks ago, he told me that this newest role was not what he expected. He thought that he could see a future here and that it might be his “calling.” But instead he’s spending his days scheduling meetings and taking care of the grunt work that the rest of the team doesn’t have time to manage. And now, just six months later, he’s looking for a new job.

I think we’re expecting too much from our first few years of work. We want power, autonomy, creativity, and control. But these years aren’t about that: they’re simply about learning how to work. Our first jobs teach us how to show up (even when we don’t want to) and do the best job possible (the one we were required to do). They help us learn how to work with a team on projects with a deadline. To manage “adulting” while working full time. To understand organizational structure. To look around at what others are doing and ponder if their jobs seem interesting to us. The point of our first jobs is not to be in charge, but rather to use the space to grow as professionals.

The truth is this: most of us will not stay in our first job forever. The first job is not your be all end all. Instead, it’s a training ground. It’s our first chance to practice virtue beyond the schoolyard.

Our first job is our first chance to practice virtue beyond the schoolyard.

If we leave every job after six months to try something new, it will be impossible to gain career capital. The only way out is through – the only way to the peak of a good career is to climb the mountain with discipline. It takes time to gain skills and cultivate good relationships. Being obedient in small things paves the way to larger projects and more responsibilities. As St. Josemaria Escriva says:

“Do everything for love. That way there are no little things. Only big things.”

That being said, these first few jobs are designed to refine you as a professional. Yes, you should try to work in an industry that’s at least adjacent to what you’re interested in. Yes, you should be thoughtful about which job you accept out of college. But this one job will not define you. It will not make or break you.

 

What will make or break you is how you do this first job. Are you showing up with a positive attitude, ready to take on the day? When you’re bored, do you pitch new projects to your boss in order to show initiative and creativity, or do you scroll on Instagram? Do you spend your time gossiping in the snack kitchen or do you work hard to do your job with integrity and kindness? Are you a witness to your faith in the way that you live, work, and serve – or are you leaving your faith in the vestibule on Sundays? 

Who you are is so much more important than what you do.

The traits and virtues that you cultivate in these first few years of work will define your career. People notice when we are quick to take the blame – it shows that we are capable of taking on larger responsibilities. People notice when you step away from gossip or turn the conversation in a more positive direction. People notice when you show up on time and do your best, or when you take the time to help a colleague who needs assistance. Instead of putting your attention on your job title, focus on how you are showing up as a witness to Christ.

If you believe in God, then you know that He has a purpose for everything – even the job that we are in right now. In most areas of our lives, we have no problem saying, “Oh yes, God has put me here for a purpose and I trust in Him.” In work, it’s harder for us to see that – but it’s no less true. He has put you in your workplace, with your colleagues, at this time, for a purpose. He desires for you to be a witness to them. Are you doing that? You are where you are for a reason. Trust that God has it figured out. (And if you need a little extra help, the Surrender Novena is a longtime favorite).

Still feeling a lot of unrest in your job? Take it to prayer:

“Lord, help me to love my job more. If you desire for me to be somewhere else, please open that door.”

Whenever I have prayed this, the Lord has enriched my working life in ways I never could have imagined. Trust that He will provide for you and that when the time is right, He will guide you to the next place. This is not being passive: it’s tuning into the desires of your heart and presenting them to the Lord. He knows us better than we know ourselves, and He always provides.

When we can see our early jobs as a training ground for the future, we are so much better able to embrace all of the challenges and opportunities they give us. You will have many chances to lead, to try new things, and to branch out. What you do now matters – not the job title, but the choices you make to be the very best version of yourself. Grow in virtue, grow in obedience, grow in surrender, and grow in trust.

As with everything, do it all for the glory of God. He’s got you.

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Jane was born in Australia, raised in California, and is overjoyed to now call NYC home. She graduated from UCSB with degrees in Political Science and Communication and spent the past two years working in criminal justice reform. She is currently an MBA student at NYU Stern, focusing on entrepreneurship and strategy.

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