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  • Writer's pictureAnna K. Schaffner

How Honing your Resign-Ability can Empower you at Work

Invest time in developing long-term options and plotting exit strategies.

Anna Katharina Schaffner | Psychology Today

Originally published on 3 April 2023 on Psychology Today/The Art of Self-Improvement

Do you feel you could resign from your current job if your moral boundaries were getting crossed? Or if your physical or mental well-being were under threat? Your answer to this question matters. It is telling on numerous levels. If your answer is yes, it is likely that you are generally more optimistic about your future and your abilities. You may also have strong values on which you are not willing to compromise. If your answer is no, you may be prone to feeling hopeless and helpless, and you may be more pessimistic about the possibility of positive change.

First of all, there is of course financial reality, and all of us have to contend with that. The vast majority of us need a regular monthly income at a particular level. It is very likely that we have rents or mortgages to pay, kids or other dependents to feed, debts to service, and lifestyles to uphold to which we have grown attached. And while we may fantasize about anger- or revenge-resigning when things don’t go well at work, resigning may simply not be a realistic option for practical reasons. And yet, taking steps to enhance your theoretical resign-abilitycan be a very empowering thing to do. Here is why.

When we are entangled in pessimistic, change-averse, "this is it and nothing better will ever come my way" thinking, we will likely feel helpless, trapped, and discouraged. We may have stopped envisaging a brighter, better future for ourselves, and be fatalistically accepting of a suboptimal status quo. We may be unable to see alternatives to our current situation, let alone take concrete steps toward turning these options into concrete realities. When we are in such a state, we may feel disenchanted and maybe even bitter, and simply lack the hope and energy to plan a better life for ourselves.

The causes may be complex and involve burnout symptoms, such as the gradual loss of energy, inner resources, hope, and engagement. Feeling unable to make positive changes can also be related to deeply held negative beliefs about ourselves: we may think that we are not very good at what we do, that we are unappointable, that we will never find another job, or that all jobs will be as miserable as the one we are currently in. In other words, if we are resigned rather than developing our resign-ability, it is very likely that we will languish rather than thrive in the future.

If, on the other hand, we think of ourselves as skilled and resourceful, and believe that we can persevere and succeed if we put our attention, time, and effort into something, we may be much more likely to start generating more options for ourselves. And once we feel we have options, we will feel much less helpless and vulnerable in our current jobs. We will have stronger boundaries and, consciously or unconsciously, we will signal to others not to cross these. A more optimistic mindset will also allow us to see change not just as a risk but as an opportunity.

If we tend to dwell on the pessimistic side of the spectrum, we can of course not just switch to more optimistic ways of viewing the world. However, we may still be able to contemplate the topic of our resign-ability. We may work with a coach, for example, to get a clearer sense of our skills, talents, passions, and long-term goals. We may ask ourselves: What else could I do? What else do I really want to do? Which job would make my heart sing? And which small steps can I take, right now, to make it more of a reality? That could involve engaging in some training or studying on the side, networking, volunteering, brushing up our CVs and studying job vacancies, and even sending off the odd application to test the waters.

We may also be able to enhance our resign-ability by looking soberly at our wants and needs. Might we be trapped in a lifestyle that we feel we must uphold at any cost, even if it doesn’t yield the pleasure and well-being we were hoping it would? What if we gave up some of our activities and expenditures if they no longer serve us? What would become possible instead? If our expenses are lower, we can afford jobs that pay less but that may be more existentially satisfying or less stressful. Liberating ourselves from certain lifestyle choices and associated costs can make us infinitely more flexible regarding the kind of work we might be able to do. Golden cages are of our own making: it is us who built them, and it is also us who can dismantle them again.

Remember, we spend about a third of our life at work. That is around 90,000 hours over our lifetime. If we have been dissatisfied in a job for a long time, or work in a hostile environment, or lack opportunities for career advancement, it might be time to start working on our resign-ability. That does not mean that we actually have to resign, but it will give us the feeling that we could—and optionality of that kind is in itself empowering.

As always, it is helpful to recall the Stoic Circle of Control model here: While we may be unable to change our current working environments, we are able to control our efforts outside work. We can take steps to prepare exit strategies, even long-term ones, and knowing that we are doing so will make us feel calmer and more in control of our future.

Image: navi @ Unsplash

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