Quiet quitters haven’t given up on their jobs; they’ve given up on their dreams

Most of us begin our careers thinking we will either reach the top or fade into oblivion. No one prepares us for the limbo in between

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Anamika Chatterjee

Published: Thu 25 Aug 2022, 1:09 PM

“Don’t be a quitter. Ever.”

When you are young (and restless), this is an unsolicited piece of advice that is handed out to you by those who believe they have more experience of the world. There might even be considerable truth in this claim; there is a sense of triumph when we surmount a problem at work or in our domestic lives with our resilience and grit.

If only life was about a promising beginning and a happy ending! It is navigating the curves in between that defines the person or the professional one will eventually become. When you find yourself constantly faced with one challenge after the other, the nature of which aren't drastically different as nothing is really changing around you, your sense of triumph takes a back-seat.

Instead, you end up feeling as though you are Sisyphus, who, in Greek mythology, was cursed with carrying a boulder up the hill only for it to fall down, and for the action to be repeated again and again.

It’s hard to imagine Sisyphus happy. Injected with copious amounts of idealism, most of us begin our careers thinking that we will either reach the top or will fade into oblivion. No one prepares us for the limbo in between — the knowledge that you may have a lot to offer but are either burnt out from wearing too many hats, or have realised that the organisation cannot accommodate your robust dreams.

This does not mean that the organisation alone is at fault; the real problem is that the idea of working hard, as opposed to working smart, has been needlessly romanticised in our collective imagination.

By no stretch of imagination is quiet quitting — in other words, mentally checking out of work and getting by doing the bare minimum — a term that inspires confidence about the future we think we ought to inherit. But before I dismiss it altogether, I remain curious about why young professionals may have reached this point in the first place.

'We are not our work'

Prior to the pandemic, we viewed workaholism with rose-tinted glasses. I still remember when, in my formative years, a friend advised me: “The only honest relationship you will ever have is with your work.” We believed that going above and beyond the remit will fetch us rewards.

Yet what many forgot in the process is the existence of a life that was also passing us by — children growing up to find their place in the world, spouses coming to terms with your absence, and parents whose health deteriorated to the point where they were unable to make new memories with you. Ambition-fuelled workaholism cannot account for these losses.

Quiet quitters are not people who have given up on their jobs; they have given up on their dreams. They are misfits in a professional milieu that has begun increasingly to rely on hustling in order to advance one’s career. They are also people who do not feel the need to advertise their talents time and again in order to seek validation from companies where they have already proved themselves. They may have already realised that if these companies are happy with availing only 50 per cent of their talent, there is no need really for them to put in 100. The rest can be judiciously utilised in honing another talent.

We are not our work. Nor are we just parents, daughters, children, husbands or wives. We are a sum total of all our experiences in life, of which work is just one aspect. When we subtract everything else, only to keep one engine running, we sell ourselves short.

Before dismissing it altogether, just consider this: quiet quitting could be about reorganising life on your own terms, not someone else’s.


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