Meditations on Quitting

isotopp image Kristian Köhntopp -
December 27, 2022
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I quit often. At least once a year, but there have been years when I have been quitting four times.

Every time before a performance evaluation, or before important meetings, I sit down and write myself a notice. I pull up a word processor, start the empty business letter template, fill in the details and the date, and then write the three or four sentences necessary to inform my employer that the time has come to part ways. I print this, collect the letter, fold it properly and put it into an empty unsealed envelope.

Then I pull it out, unfold it and put it in front of me. Time to start thinking.

There are the logistics of quitting.

A lot of that is about obligations and finance. Could I actually walk out of the meeting, leaving the letter behind?

There have been times, when I was younger, where I easily could have done that. Not owning property, being unmarried and without child.

Being a consultant, with 180 travel days a year, I had to build my own personal insurance anyway. That’s 400 in the pocket at any point in time, 4k on an unused rescue credit card – enough to take me home on my own from anywhere my job would take me. And a coordinate transformation on my checking account that sees a few 10k as Zero, to provide immediate emergency burn fuel.

Enough buffer against possible bumps anywhere in the world is also enough buffer to leave when necessary.

With a family and a house, things are more complicated, and no longer immediate.

An exit plan cannot be “walking out and leaving the letter” when an uninterrupted cash flow is part of the requirements. But writing the letter is still an important focus point. So I kept the tradition.

It is like a business continuity management plan, but for your soul.

With the logistics done, it is time to lift the gaze from the path in front of my feet, up to the horizon.

What did I do the last few months? What projects do I have been part of? What have I learned? How have I grown? And is the place I am in still the place that would let me grow?

There are no abstract questions. But in my mind they only become real when I sit in front of this piece of paper, and think about staying or leaving. I have made sure I could leave if I wanted. Now it is time to think about what I want from this place to make me stay.

I sometimes explain this to others as the story of the two contracts.

Working in IT, you always have two contracts:

One is written. It says what your job title is, where you work, and what they pay you. It says what your notice period is.

The other one is unwritten. It is the unspoken agreement about the level of autonomy you have, and the decisions you can be part of. It is the environment you work in and what challenges you can learn from. It is about the things you build.

“Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose”

Working in IT, I always signed, and I always actually quit, because of this second contract. When it expires or is violated, it is time to actually leave.

Then it all becomes about people.

Companies by construction are usually not loyal to their employees. In general, as organisations they can’t. Some people inside an org maybe secretly work against the objectives of the organisations and are loyal to other people.

As a person, I always work with other persons. Over the last 30 years, it has become clear that these persons stay, even when I move. I am part of my own personal tribe. I have been building it, maintaining it over a few decades, and when necessary they have been there for me, and I have been there for them.

Part of the meditation of quitting is also remembering these people. Maybe they need me. Maybe I need them. Maybe I miss them. Maybe some of them have an invitation or an opportunity for me. Holding the bond of my current second contract against the pulls from my relationships gives me an important calibration of where I am, who I am and if I am honest with myself.

Usually then I have come to some conclusion and I have a plan. I can fold the notice back up into the envelope, put it into my jacket, and walk into that meeting.

I am now grounded, and I know my boundaries, and my goals.

I know who I am. For some reason that seems to scare people.

Usually then I don’t actually have to quit. But being able to do that, and understanding when and why helps a lot.

On 2023-Jan-31, after almost another seven years, my second tour of will come to an end. It was a different ride than the first, it was still amazing, and I met the most wonderful and amazing people. Still, I have been called, and the second contract is up. I have to move.