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13.Beyond Repair

KILLING YOUR JOB

All courses of action are risky, so prudence is not in avoiding danger (it’s impossible), but calculating risk and acting decisively. Make mistakes of ambition and not mistakes of sloth. Develop the strength to do bold things, not the strength to suffer.

—NICCOLÒ MACHIAVELLI, The Prince

Existential Pleas and Resignations Mad Libs

BY ED MURRAY

Some jobs are simply beyond repair.

Improvements would be like adding a set of designer curtains to a jail cell: better but far from good. In the context of this chapter, “job” will refer to both a company if you run one and a normal job if you have one. Some recommendations are limited to one of the two but most are relevant to both. So we begin.

I have quit three jobs and been fired from most of the rest. Getting fired, despite sometimes coming as a surprise and leaving you scrambling to recover, is often a godsend: Someone else makes the decision for you, and it’s impossible to sit in the wrong job for the rest of your life. Most people aren’t lucky enough to get fired and die a slow spiritual death over 30–40 years of tolerating the mediocre.

Pride and Punishment

If you must play, decide on three things at the start: the rules of the game, the stakes, and the quitting time.

—CHINESE PROVERB

Just because something has been a lot of work or consumed a lot of time doesn’t make it productive or worthwhile.

Just because you are embarrassed to admit that you’re still living the consequences of bad decisions made 5, 10, or 20 years ago shouldn’t stop you from making good decisions now. If you let pride stop you, you will hate life 5, 10, and 20 years from now for the same reasons. I hate to be wrong and sat in a dead-end trajectory with my own company until I was forced to change directions or face total breakdown—I know how hard it is.

Now that we’re all on a level playing field: Pride is stupid.

Being able to quit things that don’t work is integral to being a winner. Going into a project or job without defining when worthwhile becomes wasteful is like going into a casino without a cap on what you will gamble: dangerous and foolish.

“But, you don’t understand my situation. It’s complicated!” But is it really? Don’t confuse the complex with the difficult. Most situations are simple—many are just emotionally difficult to act upon. The problem and the solution are usually obvious and simple. It’s not that you don’t know what to do. Of course you do. You are just terrified that you might end up worse off than you are now.

I’ll tell you right now: If you’re at this point, you won’t be worse off. Revisit fear-setting and cut the cord.

Like Pulling Off a Band-Aid: It’s Easier and Less Painful Than You Think

The average man is a conformist, accepting miseries and disasters with the stoicism of a cow standing in the rain.

—COLIN WILSON, British author of The Outsider; New Existentialist

There are several principal phobias that keep people on sinking ships, and there are simple rebuttals for all of them.

  1. Quitting is permanent.

Far from it. Use the Q&A questions in this chapter and chapter 3 (Fear-setting) to examine how you could pick up your chosen career track or start another company at a later point. I have never seen an example where a change of direction wasn’t somehow reversible.

  1. I won’t be able to pay the bills.

Sure you will. First of all, the objective will be to have a new job or source of cash flow before quitting your current job. Problem solved.

If you jump ship or get fired, it isn’t hard to eliminate most expenses temporarily and live on savings for a brief period. From renting out your home to refinancing or selling it, there are options. There are always options.

It might be emotionally difficult, but you won’t starve. Park your car in the garage and cancel insurance for a few months. Carpool or take the bus until you find the next gig. Rack up some more credit card debt and cook instead of eating out. Sell all the crap that you spent hundreds or thousands on and never use.

Take a full inventory of your assets, cash reserves, debts, and monthly expenses. How long could you survive with your current resources or if you sold some assets?

Go through all expenses and ask yourself, If I had to eliminate this because I needed an extra kidney, how would I do it? Don’t be melodramatic when there is no need—few things are fatal, particularly for smart people. If you’ve made it this far in life, losing or dropping a job will often be little more than a few weeks of vacation (unless you want more) prior to something better.

  1. Health insurance and retirement accounts disappear if I quit.

Untrue.

I was scared of both when I was eliminated from TrueSAN. I had visions of rotting teeth and working at Wal-Mart to survive.

Upon looking at the facts and exploring options, I realized that I could have identical medical and dental coverage—the same provider and network—for $300–500 per month. To transfer my 401(k) to another company (I chose Fidelity Investments) was even easier: It took less than 30 minutes via phone and cost nothing.

Covering both of these bases takes less time than getting a customer service rep on the phone to fix your electric bill.

  1. It will ruin my resume.

I love creative nonfiction.

It is not at all difficult to sweep gaps under the rug and make uncommon items the very things that get job interviews. How? Do something interesting and make them jealous. If you quit and then sit on your ass, I wouldn’t hire you either.

On the other hand, if you have a one-to-two-year world circumnavigation on your resume or training with professional soccer teams in Europe to your credit, two interesting things happen upon returning to the working world. First, you will get more interviews because you will stand out. Second, interviewers bored in their own jobs will spend the entire meeting asking how you did it!

If there is any question of why you took a break or left your previous job, there is one answer that cannot be countered: “I had a once-in-a-lifetime chance to do [exotic and envy-producing experience] and couldn’t turn it down. I figured that, with [20–40] years of work to go, what’s the rush?” The Cheesecake Factor

Would you like me to give you a formula for success? It’s quite simple, really. Double your rate of failure.

—THOMAS J. WATSON, founder of IBM

SUMMER 1999

Even before I tasted it, I knew something wasn’t quite right. After eight hours in the refrigerator, this cheesecake still hadn’t set at all. It swished in the gallon bowl like a viscous soup, chunks shifting and bobbing as I tilted it under close inspection. Somewhere a mistake had been made. It could have been any number of things: Three 1 lb. sticks of Philly Cream Cheese

Eggs

Stevia

Unflavored gelatin

Vanilla

Sour cream

In this case, it was probably a combination of things and the lack of a few simple ingredients that generally make cheesecake a form of cake.

I was on a no-carbohydrate diet, and I had used this recipe before. It had been so delicious that my roommates wanted their fair share and insisted on an attempt at bulk production. Hence began the mathematical shenanigans and problems.

Before Splenda® and other miracles of sugar imitation came on the scene, the hard core used stevia, an herb 300 times sweeter than sugar. One drop was like 300 packets of sugar. It was a delicate tool and I wasn’t a delicate cook. I had once made a small handful of cookies using baking soda instead of baking powder, and that was bad enough to drive my roommates to puke on the lawn. This new masterpiece made the cookies look like fine dining: It tasted like liquid cream cheese mixed with cold water and about 600 packets of sugar.

I then did what any normal and rational person would do: I grabbed the largest soup ladle with a sigh and sat down in front of the TV to face my punishment. I had wasted an entire Sunday and a boatload of ingredients—it was time to reap what I had sown.

One hour and 20 large spoonfuls later, I hadn’t made a dent in the enormous batch of soup, but I was down for the count. Not only could I not eat anything but soup for two days, I couldn’t bring myself to even look at cheesecake, previously my favorite dessert, for more than four years.

Stupid? Of course. It’s about as stupid as one can get. This is a ridiculous and micro example of what people do on a larger scale with jobs all the time: self-imposed suffering that can be avoided. Sure, I learned a lesson and paid for the mistake. The real question is—for what?

There are two types of mistakes: mistakes of ambition and mistakes of sloth.

The first is the result of a decision to act—to do something. This type of mistake is made with incomplete information, as it’s impossible to have all the facts beforehand. This is to be encouraged. Fortune favors the bold.

The second is the result of a decision of sloth—to not do something—wherein we refuse to change a bad situation out of fear despite having all the facts. This is how learning experiences become terminal punishments, bad relationships become bad marriages, and poor job choices become lifelong prison sentences.

“Yeah, but what if I’m in an industry where jumping around is looked down upon? I’ve been here barely a year, and prospective employers would think…” Would they? Test assumptions before condemning yourself to more misery. I’ve seen one determinant of sex appeal to good employers: performance. If you are a rock star when it comes to results, it doesn’t matter if you jump ship from a bad company after three weeks. On the other hand, if tolerating a punishing work environment for years at a time is a prerequisite for promotion in your field, could it be that you’re in a game not worth winning?

The consequences of bad decisions do not get better with age.

What cheesecake are you eating?

Q&A: QUESTIONS AND ACTIONS

Only those who are asleep make no mistakes.

—INGVAR KAMPRAD, founder of IKEA, world’s largest furniture brand

Tens of thousands of people, most of them less capable than you, leave their jobs every day. It’s neither uncommon nor fatal. Here are a few exercises to help you realize just how natural job changes are and how simple the transition can be.

First, a familiar reality check: Are you more likely to find what you want in your current job or somewhere else?

If you were fired from your job today, what would you do to get things under financial control?

Take a sick day and post your resume on the major job sites. Even if you have no immediate plans to leave your job, post your resume on sites such as www.monster.com and www.career-builder.com, using a pseudonym if you prefer. This will show you that there are options besides your current place of work. Call headhunters if your level makes such a step appropriate, and send a brief e-mail such as the one below to friends and non-work contacts.

Dear All,

I am considering making a career move and am interested in all opportunities that might come to mind. Nothing is too outrageous or out of left field. [If you know what you want or don’t want on some level, feel free to add, “I am particularly interested in …” or “I would like to avoid …”] Please let me know if anything comes to mind!

Tim

Call in sick or take a vacation day to complete all of these exercises during a normal 9–5 workday. This will simulate unemployment and lessen the fear factor of non-office limbo.

In the world of action and negotiation, there is one principle that governs all others: The person who has more options has more power. Don’t wait until you need options to search for them. Take a sneak peek at the future now and it will make both action and being assertive easier.

If you run or own a company, imagine that you have just been sued and must declare bankruptcy. The company is now insolvent and you must close up shop. This is something you must legally do, and there are no finances to entertain other options. How would you survive?

TOOLS AND TRICKS

Considering Options and Pulling the Trigger

I-Resign (www.i-resign.com)

This site provides everything from non-quitting options (work-leave, vacations) to sample resignation letters and second-life job-hunting advice. Don’t miss the helpful discussion forums and hysterical “web consultant from London” letter.

Opening Retirement Accounts

If you want an adviser and don’t mind some fees:

Franklin-Templeton (www.franklintempleton.com) (800–527–2020)

American Funds (www.americanfunds.com) (800–421–0180)

If you will do your own investing and want no-load funds:

Fidelity Investments (www.fidelity.com) (800–343–3548)

Vanguard (www.vanguard.com) (800–414–1321)

Health Insurance for Self-employed or Unemployed (in descending order of reader endorsement)

Ehealthinsurance (www.ehealthinsurance.com) (800–977–8860)

AETNA (www.aetna.com) (800-MY-HEALTH)

Kaiser Permanente (www.kaiserpermanente.com) (866–352–0290)

American Community Mutual (www.american-community.com) (800–991–2642)

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