The Undeniable Truth Hiding Behind the Great Resignation
September 13, 2021

The Undeniable Truth Hiding Behind the Great Resignation

by Brian de Haaff

People often share their deepest thoughts with me. I like to think it is because I am candid, ask meaningful questions, and actually care about the answers. (But maybe also because I carry a title that starts with a "C.") Recently someone sent me a note asking for guidance on a career transition. "Like so many others right now, I am in need of a professional reset. Is it the effect of the pandemic or simply that I have reached all of the goals I set for myself?" I have had similar conversations with friends and colleagues who are pondering the source of their restlessness.

I think something much bigger than career change is taking place — we are in the first wave of pandemic existential crises.

An existential crisis involves a sense of unease about life, death, freedom, isolation, and meaninglessness. When everything feels dire, there is space to confront convention. What will we see and will we be happy with what is reflected back? Many people are asking themselves hard questions and ready to take action based on the answers. There is a sense of urgency to examine what we knew, what we know now, and decide what we want next. And of course, the numbers back it up — 3.6 million Americans resigned in May 2021. Nearly 4 million resigned the month prior.

But we should recognize that there is privilege in this kind of crisis too. According to analysis from the Pew Research Center, the pandemic pushed millions out of the middle class and many more into poverty across the globe. People were forced to make difficult choices between working and caring for their families. It is a gift to have the space to question the path you are on and move in a radical new direction to be more fulfilled. Not everyone has the latitude to do so.

But to look at what is happening now and narrowly focus on people quitting their jobs feels shallow. Deep pain brings complex reflection — which is why I consider 2021 the year of personal search.

Facing our mortality, alone in quarantine, unable to connect with others — no wonder so many are searching for ways to get unstuck. I have seen folks evaluating all areas of their lives lately, from work to where they live to the relationships they nurture. Even children are experiencing the paradigm shift. I have seen more school and sports club moves than ever before. Some swaps are driven by the kids, but many more are thrust upon them by their parents or guardians who are rethinking everything.

It is true that questioning can lead to breakthroughs. It can create focus and help you realign your priorities in a more sustainable way. But searching can be lonely and change for change’s sake will not move you forward. Just look at all the people who bought homes during the pandemic — more than half now regret it. So if you are in the midst of your own intense personal search, here is a flow I find to be helpful and centering:

Channel your purpose

Your purpose is not your job or a goal or even something that you are striving towards. It is knowing what your morals and principles are, then finding ways to channel those into all you do. These can be high-level statements or concepts — like creativity, family, learning, wellness, and community — that give you a sense of meaning beyond yourself.

Know what matters most

Narrow your list down to 10 or so values. Then organize what you have based on what is most important to you currently. Rank and then consider how the order has changed over the years. Is the current ranking similar to what it was two years ago? Five years ago? Naturally the order will shift a bit, but a dramatic reranking could be a reaction to today’s circumstances versus a long-term trend.

Set intentions to improve

Look at the values that you ranked in the top five. Write down a sentence or two that captures how you will embody that value. If health is a top value you might jot down, “I want to nourish my body by making healthy choices.” Or if learning is a top value, you might say, “I want to develop a new skill so I can contribute my best.”

Value today’s growth

Do not undervalue what you have and what will help you grow. See how you can apply your intentions to better live your values at this very moment — without upending what you have worked for so far. Be patient and give yourself time to reflect on what you find. You may see that there are opportunities to live your purpose with what you have now.

Seek genuine connection

Many relationships have frayed over the last few years. It is easy to drift when you have not benefitted from or contributed to a relationship for a period of time. Politics, distance, health, disagreements — we have had more challenges that put pressure on the connection we have with our friends and family. But those tensions also revealed how much we truly need each other. Love is a grounding force in any quest. You do not need to go it alone.

Introspection is beneficial if you want to cultivate more meaning — we only have one life and it is up to us to fill it with what makes us happiest and most fulfilled.

While I do not think this is the year of the great resignation, I do think that there is an element of resignation to what I am calling the year of personal search. We are realizing that maybe life will not ever be the same. So it is natural to pause and evaluate what you can do to create the life you want. But I would recommend centering yourself before major changes are made. Do not let today’s uncertainties unilaterally drive tomorrow’s decisions.

If you had to write a tagline for 2021, what would it be?

Brian de Haaff

Brian de Haaff

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 product development software — and the author of the bestseller Lovability and The Startup Adventure newsletter. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the journey of pursuing a meaningful life.

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