Turning Off the Lights

We have all, at some point in our careers, been the person turning on the lights in the morning and burning the midnight oil all the way through. It’s the tedious part of building a career: the hours have to be put in, you must pay your dues and the only accepted currencies are minutes and hours, fuzzy vision and too much Tylenol, and unhealthy late-nite food deliveries to hit deadlines.

There is nothing wrong with that. All parts of life — family, friends, and sport — require a measure of focus and overtime.

But the real question is when is it time to “turn off the lights”? When is it time to walk away from a job that has ceased paying dividends, whether those dividends come in new skills, a deeper and broader professional network, genuine interests, significant compensation, or intellectual challenge?

That’s a hard question to answer mainly because it is different for everyone. Still, I’m going to make an attempt.

1. Compensation Really Becomes Compensation
I used to joke with a friend that I only notice how much I’m getting paid when I’m getting underpaid. When you start to calculate things in the literal dollars and cents, and make distinctions like “I’m being paid for this not that” or “I’m not paid enough to put up with that” (and not in jest), it may be time to dust off that resume and goal chart.

Compensation is a fact of life; we do not work for free nor, if we can avoid it, should we work for an unfair wage. That said, there is compensation – your salary, your perks, good feelings you get from great colleagues, intellectual stimulation – and then there’s compensation, just the dollars, thank you very much. It’s a problem when you start to define it by the latter.

2. Your Needs Have Changed
The roots of work ethics in the United States are Puritanical – it’s something that we can’t quite shake that we must be working hard, day-in and day-out, to prove our personal value. In major cities that is driven home to an almost culturally suffocating degree.

However, if you kids are already in college, or you’ve decided to downsize your place of living (or to upsize!), or you want to engage yourself in other ways, is your job in the way of that? If the answer is yes, perhaps it’s time to rethink it’s value proposition. It may be out of synch.

3. You’re Done
Our modern world does not expect 25 years, a party, and a nice watch at the end of it all. The social contract between workers and corporations has been broken a long time ago, for better or for worse, and changing jobs should not be stigmatized.

You know when you are done with a job. You know when it’s not the right place for you anymore; we grow as people and sometimes we grow together with our jobs and our companies and sometimes we don’t. We want to seek out a new space, to carve one out, and that may mean it’s finally that time.

It’s late and there’s one last train left at the station: don’t forget to turn off the lights.


  1. Nicely done, a real good read. I think lifestyle is a consideration as well perhaps – how does this job allow me to live my life, how’s the life balance it affords me? Is it still a blast to get up in the morning and am I anxious to get out the door? Too many good folks working hard and not necessarily smart.

    1. I think the potential value (or is it silver-lining) to being a recession is that people are now forced to ask that question. When things are on the up-and-up there is almost a sense that if you’re *not* working like crazy and being focused on the job, you’re somehow missing out.
      It’s only when you’re forced to slow down to you get the opportunity to determine what that truly means.

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