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Pain-in-the-ass (PIA) jobs are a rite of passage for twenty-somethings.  On our best days, we make the most of it.  Sometimes the jobs are the first rung of a ladder.  Sometimes they’re a means to an end, pouring funds into our globe-trotting adventures.  And, once in a while, one person’s PIA job is another one’s reason to get out of bed in the morning: we’ve all met the career waitress who serves you with a smile that still, decades later, reaches her eyes.

Even the most optimistic twenty-something has days where they want to throw their alarm clock at the wall, but when your landlord starts complaining about property damage and slipping repair bills into your mailbox, it’s time for something to change.  You want to quit your job?  No one and nothing stands in your way, so long as you give proper notice.  However, unless you want to wind up right back where you started a few months later, it pays to think things out ahead of time.

Indulge me for a minute: imagine the day you quit your job. Picture yourself handing in your notice, walking out the door. See that skip in your step?  Feel the smile spreading across your face?

Now fast forward, say six months. What do you ideally want to be doing? If you don’t have a specific job in mind, that’s okay: imagine the way your circumstances make you feel instead. Feel the lack of tension in your muscles, the lightness in your gait, the spark that spurs you through the day when you love what you do.  Pretty awesome, right?

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Creative visualization is a powerful tool but we need more than that to get what we want. We need a plan. If you’re lucky enough to have a job offer on the table already, it’s a matter of giving proper notice, being gracious with your boss and coworkers, and doing the best job you can until the day you leave the office for good.  For those of us who aren’t so fortunate, all those things still apply, and here’s what else we can do.

1. Pick a Quit-By date.  Be realistic but don’t be too relaxed about it, either. It has to be a definitive period of time, individual to you and your circumstances, and in that time you have to:

  • save up a financial cushion
  • develop the skills you need
  • network
  • (bonus) find a job

2. Save your pennies. Decide how much of a cushion you want to give yourself (try for somewhere between one to six months worth of monthly expenses); figure out the exact number; divide that by the time between now and your Quit-By date; and figure out what you need to do to save that amount.  It’s budget time.

3. Get some mad skillz. No matter how bad your current PIA job is, it’s given you a chance to build some skills that can spin off into your next job.  Still, chances are you need to brush up on a few things to shine in your job hunt.  Try these on for size:

  • develop better communication skills (there’s always room for improvement!); for a jumping off point, check out Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People in the Digital Age
  • take a class, online or at your local community college
  • trade off with a friend: spend an afternoon sharing your expertise in Microsoft Excel, they spend an evening introducing you to CAD
  • hit up the library and read as many books as you can find in your field of choice; ask acquaintances in your career field of choice for their recommendations
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4. Network! You may not want to broadcast the fact that you’re quitting your job just yet, but you can put some feelers out there.  Contact old acquaintances, see who knows who and what connections you can make.  Practice small talkWebinars are a gold mine: usually given free of charge, they’re a great way to investigate a career path that intrigues you and meet talented people who are also interested in networking.

5. Be patient.  Make your current job bearable until quitting time.  Do something small that makes you happy in the morning so you look forward to getting out of bed.  Be gracious with your boss and your coworkers.  Don’t slack off.  If you need a boost, cross off the days on the calendar, and think ahead to quitting day and how awesome you’re going to feel when you stride out the door.

6. Commit. Write it in your planner: 15 minutes, five days a week (or whatever works for you) to work on your quest for new employment. Set target times, too: you only have to honour the commitment of 15 minutes; the target time gives you something to strive for.  For more on the neuroscience behind this method, check out Rosanne Bane’s Around the Writer’s Block.

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There are no guarantees, especially in today’s job market, but we don’t have to stay stuck in a PIA job that drains our life-force on a daily basis.  Be brave!  Be smart!  Make a change!  I’ll see you on the other side.