Thinking about quitting? Become your own boss first.
“The Big Quit” continues. News of unprecedented numbers of resignations began to hit the wires in the spring. And last week, The New York Times had this update with the August numbers:
While the particulars vary by job type and industry category (and we acknowledge that those variations matter), the headline is clear. Workers are saying, “We’ve HAD IT with this lousy job and we’re not gonna take it anymore!”
Our response is, “It’s about time.”
Statistics on worker disengagement have been dismal for years (currently, it sits at 64% in the U.S. and 80% globally, per Gallup). Companies haven’t responded in substantial ways and workers apparently haven’t come up with their own solutions. So, they’re quitting in droves in hopes of a better situation elsewhere (and with a respite break between jobs if they can afford it – confident the jobs market is strong).
And yet, quitting may not be the only solution to these job woes. In my latest book with Bill Burnett, “Designing Your New Work Life (DYNWL),” we lay out four strategies for refreshing and redesigning your job, and how to do so without necessarily having to quit. And even if you recently quit or intend to soon, these ideas are for you too. The four strategies are:
1. Reframe & Re-enlist
In this first article, Bill and I want to zoom in on Reframe and Re-enlist. Reframing is one of our six key design thinking mindsets and a major designer superpower. The ‘frame’ is the framework or description you use as your point of reference in naming and understanding something. You have a frame for pretty much everything whether you notice it or not. Re-framing is a two step process of first recognizing your existing frame, or point of view, then adjusting it by adding and/or subtracting new information or perspectives to it. That new definition of what you’ve reframed is an invitation to enlist in a new relationship and experience.
Simple Example: Some weeks after my commute shifted from 15 to 75 minutes, I noticed that I just hated it. So, I reframed it from a short errand (with no goal or conscious program to it) to a daily period of personal privacy. I stopped letting my mind wander (mostly to my To Do List) and focused on an open-eyed meditation. It transformed the drive – and subsequently my entire day! The commute itself was completely unchanged, but my reframe allowed me to re-enlist in a completely different experience.
Why? What’s so important about this idea and what’s it got to do with this article’s title about becoming your own boss?!
The truth is that, at the end of the day, every worker is working for themselves – whether they know it or not. We’re just trying to help you recognize that fact so you can take control of it, get the full benefit of it, and refresh that benefit on a regular basis. We say this with the full awareness that the degree of autonomy different people have in different roles varies tremendously. The line worker in a factory, the DoorDash delivery person, and the Google senior product manager have very, very different situations. But they also all share something.
None of them is powerless.
All of them have some degree of agency, and most of them aren’t accessing it fully. Most importantly, all of them are in completely in charge of how they think about what they’re doing and how they determine whether they had a good day. That’s a crucially important power and one we encourage you to exercise by regularly Reframing and Re-enlisting (whether you’re about to quit or not).
This is my 15th year doing the same dang job with the same boss as co-founder of the Stanford Life Design Lab and a design program lecturer. But I think about that job in a totally different way than I did five years ago, or even just six months ago. For the first time in two years, I got to go on-campus two days ago to teach in person and do student office hours in person. If I thought about my work like I used to, it’d be totally disappointing. I’d notice what I don’t get to do anymore with my students. But I’d reframed my role in my mind, not as a popular teacher but as an encourager and leadership coach.
The most important meeting of the day was not the 10 student meetings (which I thoroughly enjoyed) but the one with our lab managing director, Kathy – who doesn’t even work for me anymore. I define my job to be her supporter and encourager. To be a safe place she can confide and think out loud – which helps her carry the huge responsibility she has. Helping students feels great, but knowing that I’m helping the group leader sustain the enterprise is what most matters to me now. My role hasn’t changed much in the past five years, but my point of view sure has.
I reframed how I think about my job in part as a response to changes at Stanford. Covid precautions have changed how we do business. Classes are restructured. But my re-enlistment in my work was primarily in response to changes in me – not in my employer or my role. My life has changed in recent years (all my kids are married and have their own kids, my wife has died, friends and family have moved out of state…). As I approach my seventh decade, I’m growing as a person in different ways.
Just like you are.
The No. 1 reason to reframe and re-enlist your relationship with your own work is that you are a continually changing and growing person. Even if nothing on the job changes at all, you will.
So, regularly take a look at what matters to you. What kinds of professional skills are more or less important than in the past? What experiences do you value and how? What things are changing in the organization and/or its marketplace that affect how you might think about your company and your contribution to it?
Reframing and Re-enlisting in essence is just quitting the old job you used to have in your mind and re-hiring yourself into a new one. It focuses on re-writing the narrative of why you’re doing what you’re doing, what the important parts are, and what they mean to you, without necessarily changing your assignment or job. It’s in this way that everyone is ultimately their own boss.
You are in charge of your version of your job and your definition of satisfaction. You have complete authority over that narrative and what you pay attention to. This doesn’t mean you should engage in magical thinking or delude yourself. It doesn’t mean you get everything you want at work. It does mean that you are going to get everything you deserve out of it. Exercising your agency over your own story allows you to get the most you can out of life.
If you’re contemplating quitting, go through this exercise at least one last time to be sure that you really do need to quit. And, if you find you still do – refreshing your current enlistment story will help you clarify what future you’re after.
One of our worries is that many of the millions now quitting will end up somewhere new and soon be just as unhappy as before, because they didn’t get clear on why they’re doing what they’re doing.
For those contemplating a big work move, or those looking for professional change, here are a few questions to ask yourself:
- What is my “story” right now about my own work?
- Has it changed over time – have I been renewing my relationship - with my work?
- What are some ways I can connect what I care about with what I’m doing and/or what the company does that would feel better or more worthwhile?
- What complaints do I have that I could shrink simply by accepting them and focusing on other things (while still being totally honest about the realities)?
- Who at work seems to be happier than they deserve to be? What’s enabling that for them?
—Dave Evans, October 14, 2021