Home > Personal Finance > How to Leave a Job You Hate

Comments 0 Comments

Like so many Americans, Seth Rubin was a victim of the recession of 2009. He was laid off as a project manager for a construction company when the construction business plummeted near his home in Denver. An avid cyclist, he had always dreamed of opening up a coffee and biscuit shop, but the huge upfront investment and the risk was too much for him to pull the trigger.

But he was unemployed and backed into a financial corner, so he got to the point where doing something is less risky than doing nothing. During a long ride, Rubin made a proposition to cycling buddy Mike Miller, owner of a small local chain, Basil Doc’s pizza. Rubin had a crazy idea: he wanted to take over one pizza shop for a few hours in the morning, before lunch, when it was closed anyway, and try out his biscuit shop idea.

“I figured I’d bounce the idea off of Mike, hoping that he’d talk me out of it,” Rubin said.

But Miller didn’t talk him out of it. In fact, he offered to keep Seth’s share of the rent low while he was feeling his way through it. Four months and less than $5,000 later, Seth served his first biscuit as Rise and Shine Biscuit Kitchen and Café. Soon, the two duplicated the formula at all Basil Doc’s locations.

Rubin didn’t know it, but he’d overcome one of the more vexing “flow issues” that keep people stuck in life — the dreaded “step function.”

Have you ever returned a rental car an hour late and been charged for an entire additional day? Why can’t you buy 65 more minutes?  Nope, you have to buy 24 hours.  This happens with cellphones, too. Exceed your 2 GB data allowance by one byte, and you have to pay for another Gig of data (making that a very expensive byte!).

Yes, these things are maddening and unfair. But for the purposes of the Getting Unstuck series, in which we examine eight reasons people get stuck in their financial lives, I’m going to call these “step functions.”

Step functions are all around us, and they are really vexing because they often stop our dreams dead in their tracks.  The most classic step function: You want to start a business, but you can’t because you don’t have $100,000 in capital.

A function, as it’s defined in the field of mathematics, has input and output, action and consequences. Step on the gas a little more (input) and you go a little faster (output). Sometimes though, this input-to-output relationship isn’t so smooth. If your car is at a standstill in snow, you might have to floor it before the car starts moving (and then it’s really moving!). This concept of a sudden “step” from stopped to moving after you hit a threshold is one of the most important flow issues, because it can often be mistaken for getting stuck.

These things that happen in chunks are “step functions.” You want to add just a little more of something, but that thing is only available in bundles. The result is a jump in cost, effort or benefit. Bakers know this rule well; it hits them right between the eyes every time a recipe for cookies calls for a pinch of baking powder, and they need to buy a whole box. Grocery stores, naturally, don’t tend to sell by the pinch.

Airline loyalty programs are usually step functions – after you fly some number of miles, you hit a threshold and then, boom, you move to a new status and get an extra bag of peanuts when you fly (given airline cutbacks, you may only get one extra peanut, not a whole pack). Step functions are not inherently good or bad, they are just the way some processes work. But if you don’t recognize and plan for them, they throw off the theory that incremental effort yields incremental reward.

The key to beating step functions is to use a little creativity and smooth them out. Want to jump into a second career in photography but don’t have $5,000 to spend on gear? Rent equipment for three months to see if you really have what it takes.  Need a master’s degree to shift careers, but can’t imagine quitting your job?  Start with night classes earning credits that can be applied to full-time study later. Want to start a business but don’t have six-figures saved up? Find a Mike Miller to partner with. One of the easiest ways to get unstuck is to figure out what step function has you trapped, and then figure out a way to eliminate that big, imposing chunk, or at least smooth it out a little.

Step functions are only one of several flow issues you’ll likely encounter as you try to make changes in your life. Others include erosion, choke points and mystery ingredients. These things can trap you the way hair in a drain traps water in your tub. All you need is the right plumber trick, and you can make your career, or your financial life, flow easier.  Here’s a brief explanation of each.

Choke Points

A choke point is the part of the system that breaks first and slows everything else down. Failing to identify a chokepoint can bring a gushing flow to an unexpected trickle. When you hit a choke point, the whole system can slow or even stop. It’s the equivalent of tripping a circuit breaker by plugging in one too many strands of Christmas tree lights.

A common cause of plateaus is not recognizing when and where choke points will occur. For example, insecure managers often hit a plateau because they make themselves a choke point; they micromanage, approve every tiny decision, and put other people on hold while they deliberate. Their part of the business is held back by their need to ponder, consider and digest. You know who they are: walking “blocking issues.”

Merely understanding choke points exist is often enough to unclog a drain. In your financial life, your choke point could be your credit card debt, which simply eats too much of your income for you to get ahead. Or it could be your boss, who thwarts every effort you make to get a raise or promotion. I don’t suggest using Drano to solve that problem, but it’s still a good metaphor to understand where your challenge lies.

Erosion

Imagine an Easter egg hunt.  Think about when kids find the eggs. About 90% are discovered in the first few minutes. Then it takes an hour or two to find those last few eggs. Poor kids. They may not know it by name, but they are getting a harsh exposure to erosion plateaus.

No matter how hard they hunt, the same effort yields fewer eggs as time passes. The problem is that even though effort remains constant — kids hunt just as hard in the first 10 minutes as they do in the next 10 minutes — their reward for that effort decreases. Less eggs are found as time goes on. When we consume a resource that is fixed (or replenishes slower than the rate at which we consume it) erosion must occur.

Erosion plateaus tend to happen smoothly. There is no sudden drop in effectiveness or flow that often comes with a step function or choke point; effectiveness just gradually falls.

Good timing is the solution to erosion plateaus. A beachcomber looking for lost treasure in the sand on a popular beach is better off spending 30 minutes at dawn every day than spending eight hours on Monday morning.  This is also an example of another critical lesson from erosions – identifying the difference between replenishing and non-replenishing resources.

The simplest way to fight this problem in your financial life is to think about the time you put into tasks at work and the gain you get out of that time.  If you are working 10 or 20 hours overtime for free each week, you’ve got a problem. Your effectiveness is eroding, but more important, the value your work has to your bank account is eroding.  You’d be a lot better off taking on a part-time job, or starting a home business, with that extra time.

Mystery Ingredients

Why does your chicken noodle soup never taste like the one Mom used to make? Why does this diet plan work for everyone except me? It might be due to a factor I call “the mystery ingredient.” Failure to identify a mystery ingredient is another common cause of plateau. It’s why your raspberry pie never tastes quite as good as the one Grandma used to bake.

The defining characteristic of a mystery ingredient is that even the chef doesn’t know what it is. The mystery ingredient could be changing market conditions, interpersonal issues between co-workers, or just a team member with a can-do attitude. It’s the elusive catalyst that makes things work.

Plenty of companies find their results suffer when they lay off employees who didn’t seem productive. Why? Maybe that person was the glue that held a department together in ways that don’t fit into a spreadsheet. Maybe she was the only staffer who could smile even on rainy days.

Look around and pick one or two people in your life who seem to handle money and time better than you do. Be humble enough to ask that person a few questions someday, and listen closely to the answers. Get past clichés, and “I guess I’m just lucky” responses, and find out why this person seems to be on top of things. In future columns, we’ll discuss some of the “magic” components that seem to vault some folks forward while others seem stuck in mud. But remember, good teachers are all around you all the time. You just have to open your ears and eyes to the “mystery” they’ve solved.

More Money-Saving Reads:

Image: Bombaert

Comments on articles and responses to those comments are not provided or commissioned by a bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by a bank advertiser. It is not a bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

Please note that our comments are moderated, so it may take a little time before you see them on the page. Thanks for your patience.

Certain credit cards and other financial products mentioned in this and other articles on Credit.com News & Advice may also be offered through Credit.com product pages, and Credit.com will be compensated if our users apply for and ultimately sign up for any of these cards or products. However, this relationship does not result in any preferential editorial treatment.

Hello, Reader!

Thanks for checking out Credit.com. We hope you find the site and the journalism we produce useful. We wanted to take some time to tell you a bit about ourselves.

Our People

The Credit.com editorial team is staffed by a team of editors and reporters, each with many years of financial reporting experience. We’ve worked for places like the New York Times, American Banker, Frontline, TheStreet.com, Business Insider, ABC News, NBC News, CNBC and many others. We also employ a few freelancers and more than 50 contributors (these are typically subject matter experts from the worlds of finance, academia, politics, business and elsewhere).

Our Reporting

We take great pains to ensure that the articles, video and graphics you see on Credit.com are thoroughly reported and fact-checked. Each story is read by two separate editors, and we adhere to the highest editorial standards. We’re not perfect, however, and if you see something that you think is wrong, please email us at editorial team [at] credit [dot] com,

The Credit.com editorial team is committed to providing our readers and viewers with sound, well-reported and understandable information designed to inform and empower. We won’t tell you what to do. We will, however, do our best to explain the consequences of various actions, thereby arming you with the information you need to make decisions that are in your best interests. We also write about things relating to money and finance we think are interesting and want to share.

In addition to appearing on Credit.com, our articles are syndicated to dozens of other news sites. We have more than 100 partners, including MSN, ABC News, CBS News, Yahoo, Marketwatch, Scripps, Money Magazine and many others. This network operates similarly to the Associated Press or Reuters, except we focus almost exclusively on issues relating to personal finance. These are not advertorial or paid placements, rather we provide these articles to our partners in most cases for free. These relationships create more awareness of Credit.com in general and they result in more traffic to us as well.

Our Business Model

Credit.com’s journalism is largely supported by an e-commerce business model. Rather than rely on revenue from display ad impressions, Credit.com maintains a financial marketplace separate from its editorial pages. When someone navigates to those pages, and applies for a credit card, for example, Credit.com will get paid what is essentially a finder’s fee if that person ends up getting the card. That doesn’t mean, however, that our editorial decisions are informed by the products available in our marketplace. The editorial team chooses what to write about and how to write about it independently of the decisions and priorities of the business side of the company. In fact, we maintain a strict and important firewall between the editorial and business departments. Our mission as journalists is to serve the reader, not the advertiser. In that sense, we are no different from any other news organization that is supported by ad revenue.

Visitors to Credit.com are also able to register for a free Credit.com account, which gives them access to a tool called The Credit Report Card. This tool provides users with two free credit scores and a breakdown of the information in their Experian credit report, updated twice monthly. Again, this tool is entirely free, and we mention that frequently in our articles, because we think that it’s a good thing for users to have access to data like this. Separate from its educational value, there is also a business angle to the Credit Report Card. Registered users can be matched with products and services for which they are most likely to qualify. In other words, if you register and you find that your credit is less than stellar, Credit.com won’t recommend a high-end platinum credit card that requires an excellent credit score You’d likely get rejected, and that’s no good for you or Credit.com. You’d be no closer to getting a product you need, there’d be a wasted inquiry on your credit report, and Credit.com wouldn’t get paid. These are essentially what are commonly referred to as "targeted ads" in the world of the Internet. Despite all of this, however, even if you never apply for any product, the Credit Report Card will remain free, and none of this will impact how the editorial team reports on credit and credit scores.

Our Owners

Credit.com is owned by Progrexion Holdings Inc. which is the owner and administrator of a number of business related to credit and credit repair, including CreditRepair.com, and eFolks. In addition, Progrexion also provides services to Lexington Law Firm as a third party provider. Despite being owned by Progrexion, it is not the role of the Credit.com editorial team to advocate the use of the company’s other services. In articles, reporters may mention credit repair as an option, for example, but we’ll also be sure to note the various alternatives to that service. Furthermore, you may see ads for credit repair services on Credit.com, but the editorial team isn’t responsible for the creation or implementation of those ads, anymore than reporters for the New York Times or Washington Post are responsible for the ads on their sites.

Your Stories

Lastly, much of what we do is informed by our own experiences as well as the experiences of our readers. We want to tell your stories if you’re interested in sharing them. Please email us at story ideas [at] credit [dot] com with ideas or visit us on Facebook or Twitter.

Thanks for stopping by.

- The Credit.com Editorial Team