+ #RealWorkTalk

#RealWorkTalk: Knowing When to Move On

Hi Belle: 

I have worked at a political consulting since 2012.  I worked as a paid election assistant and moved up to VP. While I feel fortunate to have this position, I have come to terms with the fact that I am beyond burnt out. Despite [a desire to move on from politics], I signed on for another cycle based on our current client list (some big races for 2016).  

My question is twofold: 1) How do you know when it’s time to leave a position?  2) Is it ever appropriate to leave a political position mid-cycle?

I am concerned that if I leave before 2016, I will burn bridges at my firm. Yet I have tentatively started my job search, and if the right position came along, I would leave.  Any insight you could offer would be greatly appreciated. 

Thanks -Burnt Out

Like people, careers evolve.  What was once a perfect job can become constricting over time. Dreams change.  Plans change.  Don’t shackle your 30-year-old self to a job because you loved it at 25.

A career isn’t just one thing, it’s many things.  In the last 10 years, I’ve been a pr account assistant, a hill staffer, a lobbyist, a blogger, and a law student.  The path wasn’t linear but as I’ve grown and changed, so have my professional goals.

Moving on is a natural part of developing as a woman and as a professional.  Don’t fight it, embrace it.

When do you know it’s time to leave? Both The Muse and Forbes offer good advice on how to know when it’s time to move on.  For me, I know it’s time to leave when I no longer looked forward to going to work and the days feel repetitive.  Loss of passion and motivation is my biggest indicator that it’s time to find something new.

If you’re a person isn’t passionate about your work (and that’s okay, plenty of people want a job, not a calling), then look to other factors.  Do you find yourself complaining more?  Is it fulfilling your financial needs?  Can you grow within the company or are you stagnating?  Are you appreciated?

Sometimes knowing it’s time to leave is as simple as the hopeful feeling you get when you think about moving on.  If your heart is nagging at you to find something new, I encourage you to explore those feelings and find their source.  Perhaps you need a change of pace.

Is It Ever Appropriate to Leave Mid-Cycle? For those who work outside of politics, let me preface this with an explanation.  In politics, the two-year cycle is like the moon and sun.  If you take a job at the beginning of the cycle, many employers consider you duty bound to see it through.  But sometimes leaving is necessary.

If you’re extremely burnt out, it’s likely to get worse, not better as the cycle progresses.  Burn out breeds resentment, animosity, mediocrity, and a host of unsavory things if left unchecked.  And there are very few people who can control burn out for a full calendar year.  So it may be in everyone’s best interest to walk away now.

The way I see it you have two choices: 1) stay and plan, 0r 2) look aggressively with a deadline.

1) Set up an 18 month plan.  Sort out how you’re going to complete your responsibilities, build a financial nest egg, and network to find the job that’s right for you.  Put out some unofficial feelers (it’s perfectly normal to talk about post-election day plans), and drop a few notes of inquiry to places you might want to move to.

This way you can cleanly transition out of your current job as soon as the confetti falls on election day.  Sometimes light at the end of the tunnel is all you need to combat burn out.

2) We all know that leaving in September 2015 is different than leaving in January 2016.  One is inconvenient, one is downright cruel.  So send out a few resumes, take a few interviews, but set a deadline for yourself.  Say, “I’m going to actively look for work until October 1.  If I don’t find anything, I’m going to regroup after the election.”

This way, you give yourself the opportunity to find something new and explore your options.  If a transition can be made before the holidays, you may be in good shape.  If it can’t, staying is probably your best option.

If you think this burnt out feeling is permanent, then you need to start looking for the exit.  It’s not fair to anyone to be a martyr.  But either leave soon or make a longer term plan, because there will come a point when leaving mid-cycle will leave a bad taste in everyone’s mouths.



  1. Laura says:

    I did this recently — political polling for 4 years, and I was beyond burnt out and I couldn’t bear to think about another cycle and more long days and all-nighters. I changed jobs to the non-profit, non-political sector this year and I’m loving the change. I can genuinely say I’m happy I walked away as early as possible — I’m still battling anxiety issues as a result of the burnout, and I know it would have only gotten worse and harder to bounce back from if I had stayed.

    August 19, 2015/Reply
    • Christin says:

      Hi Laura–I’d like to ask you more about the process of moving from political to non-profit. How did you start the search, did you hire someone to help you find positions that fit your skill-set? The change to non-profit has been on my mind for a year and the hopeful feeling Belle describes above it growing by the day.

      August 19, 2015/Reply
      • Anna says:

        I’d actually be really interested in hearing from anyone considering (or who has made) the shift from the political/public to private sector. Non-profits still deal with a lot of the same issues and work in the same circles, though it is certainly a jump. I’m starting to consider a move to corporate communications or something along those lines after spending the last 7 years, plus all my college internships either on the Hill or campaigns (first in policy eventually moving to press). The whole world seems so foreign, but I’m tired of basically seeing my job plastered on the news every night or the subject of a rant when I see someone I haven’t seen in a while (on top of the whole long hours, low pay stuff)

        August 19, 2015/Reply
        • Jo says:

          I made the switch from a political job to the private sector and know others who did. It gets more difficult the longer you are in politics I think but it is possible. market your skills as generic ones and else as political ones.

          August 19, 2015/Reply
          • Anna says:

            I imagine that’s the case. I’m looking to leave DC, and while I think I could make a pretty seamless transition to working for a local or state government agency, I figure it’ll make it harder to move to the private sector further down the line.

            August 19, 2015/Reply
        • AD says:

          Not apples to apples, but I made the switch from state government communications to a marketing firm about a year ago. Convincing them to hire me despite my lack of PR agency experience was tough, and I took a pay cut and a lower position (had served as Comms director at multiple state agencies) hoping it would pay off in the end. It hasn’t, I miss what I was doing before, and now I want to go BACK to politics/government. The grass isn’t always greener on the other side, and I’ve gotten some great experience, but I didn’t expect even worse hours, less flexibility with lower pay.

          August 20, 2015/Reply
      • Laura says:

        Hi Christin,

        I made a total change — my new job has nothing to do with my old job. But hopefully some of the advice will still be helpful.

        I used Idealist extensively to look for new positions that fit my non-political skill set — project management, client/customer service, analytical skills. I also have some contacts in the conservation industry through some previous internships and some family connections, so I had a few coffee dates to talk about new directions. But I actually found my job because I googled some things I was passionate about doing — interior design and environmental work, specifically, and found a set of postings in the green building industry.

        The work is both little g and big G Good, and I feel like I’m making a difference — which I stopped feeling about my political job like 2 years ago. It was a hard change in some ways — I went to college to study political science, I worked on campaigns, I thought my life would be like the West Wing (didn’t we all?). But at the end of the day I am really, REALLY happy with where my life is now and where it is going, even if it’s not where 20-year-old me thought it would be.

        August 20, 2015/Reply
  2. MaryMary says:

    I don’t know why it’s Burn Out Day, but Ask A Manager has a similar post today too: https://www.askamanager.org/2015/08/i-think-im-burning-out-what-should-i-do.html

    August 19, 2015/Reply
  3. Steph says:

    So helpful to hear other people are at this same point in their career. I’m also a VP at a communications firm and have been having this internal debate as well.

    August 19, 2015/Reply
  4. Sarah says:

    My husband, kids and I are in the midst of moving from Pittsburgh to DC. All because it was time for my husband to move on. He contracted to do one job and because of his experience, he ended up doing the job of seven different people. They were taking advantage of his skills. Promising to hire more people and then never doing it. He was over worked and then disrespected. His boss, who doesn’t know anything about the field he works in, took all the credit for my husbands work. When it came time for a promotion, he was given a promise of a raise and then it didn’t happen. So, DC here we come.


    August 22, 2015/Reply