SHIFT: Forget The Great Resignation, it's now The Big Quit, and it's not just our jobs we're ditching

Whether you are part of The Great Resignation or The Big Quit, experts say there's no time better than a crisis to make some serious life changes.

Lisa Machado 6 minute read December 20, 2021
cartoon The Great Resignation

What is it about a crisis that makes following our heart so much easier? GETTY

There’s nothing like a crisis to get you thinking about making a change.

Just quitting. Quitting your job, your marriage — your life as you know it.

We have all heard those stories about people who face a sudden crisis — an unexpected diagnosis, a near-death accident or the loss of a loved one — and then experience something akin to being ‘born again.’ They come around to thinking of their survival as a second chance to make better the time they have left on this earth, they go towards the light at the end of what, to that point, had been a dark tunnel of doldrums and let go of what brings them down to pursue what makes them happy.

In theory, it’s easy to understand why humans respond this way in rough times. After all, seeing your life expectancy — or that of someone you care about — in terms of just seconds, minutes or days, as opposed to the endless years we all selfishly assume, is often enough to make us get moving on all that we’ve been putting off.

Business reshape themselves all the time in response to crisis

We see something similar in the corporate world all the time. A crisis hits, maybe in the form of a failed product, a legal issue or a privacy breach, and suddenly the wheels of change are in motion. The warning is heeded, and industries reshape and reimagine their businesses — conducting smart-sounding press conferences or getting a new legal team, developing a better product or announcing new security strategies. The changes forced by a crisis are not only a way to survive, but they also mean a natural revisiting of goals and endpoints.

It’s not all that different from how things have been playing out in most of our lives during this never-ending pandemic crisis.

Since the beginning, change has abounded as we were forced to adapt to life in lockdown — from online learning to working-from-home to virtual healthcare, we have done it all. And it’s not insignificant that we had been playing with the idea of all three of these concepts for years before COVID hit, but progress was slow.

Employers couldn’t wrap their heads around the possibility that out-of-sight workers could be even remotely productive. That doctors could provide reasonably reliable care by screen was unpalatable, and besides, how could we ever build a platform that met all the needs? And teachers delivering their curriculum virtually? Where do we start?  Yet, seemingly within days of the pandemic, we had the infrastructure for all of these up and running. Some have been more successful than others, but still, they happened — because they had to.

The same can be said for our personal lives. It wasn’t long into the pandemic that we saw people making good on all the things they had been planning to do but never got around to. There were shortages of lumber as people fulfilled years-old promises to renovate and redesign their living areas, divorces hit a high, as did the number of people who left their jobs — out with the old, in with the new and more exciting. In fact, the increase in career switches made enough of a dent to gain its own name: The Great Resignation.

But now as the pandemic continues to steam ahead, pulling us wearily along and slowly chipping away at any shred of resolve to hope for the best, even The Great Resignation is undergoing its own change.

Even The Great Resignation is facing change

It was Texas professor Anthony Klotz who came up with the term The Great Resignation, predicting that large numbers of people would leave their jobs after the COVID pandemic ends. Well, it turns out we didn’t wait until the end (will it ever end?). The Great Resignation has already begun. In fact, just this past September, the “quit rate” in the United States hit an all-time high. Now The Great Resignation is known as “The Big Quit.”

Why is that dietary changes are so hard, but then you have a heart attack and almost die, and suddenly, what seemed so impossible becomes a lifelong commitment. GETTY

And while you might think that making any sudden moves during a moment in history that’s so unpredictable and uncertain is, well, bonkers, whether it’s changing careers, moving to another part of the world, or exploring new romantic partners, experts say it actually makes perfect sense. At points it may seem confusing as to which came first, the crisis or the need for change — since many of those making big life decisions lately will tell you it’s something they had been thinking about for a long time — experts agree that change, whether premeditated or not, happens faster and is easier in a crisis.


Well, the first thing is — like it or not — by the time realize you have a problem, you are already changing. You know how people say that change is hard? Well, interestingly, in a crisis, it is super easy. It’s like knowing in your brain that you should cut back on fried foods, but it feels so hard and unimportant that you don’t. But then you have a heart attack and almost die, and suddenly, what seemed so impossible becomes a lifelong commitment.

Business strategist Jeroen Kraaijenbrink writes in Forbes that crisis makes change not a choice, but in fact, something necessary for survival. In business, if you are a good leader, he says, you don’t just make “temporary fixes,” but use the crisis to “renew the organization in a way that makes it a better fit for the future.” In regular life, this is like the heart attack scenario: a crisis makes us better.

But there’s another reason why a crisis makes us feel the need to shake things up: it uncovers possibility. Suddenly, the things we thought were impossible to change or not worth the effort of changing — kicking that addiction to French fries, or dumping that lug of a husband — feel completely possible and way more than worth it.

Change opens the door of possibility

The way Kraaijenbrink puts it: “During crisis, [people] suddenly see that something they took for granted and of which they never thought it would be possible to change, can actually change.”

It’s reassuring insight — especially in a time when we all feel so darn powerless. It’s sort of like that saying about using your lemons to make lemonade. Maybe the Big Quitters — who are following their hearts, finally — are actually onto something. Perhaps the pandemic and all the other crises we face in our lives are opportunities veiled in sadness, fear, hopelessness, uncertainty (insert whatever adjective applies to you).

After all, as Kraaijenbrink reminds us, even Winston Churchill believed that there are opportunities to be seized in bad situations, with his famous statement: “Never let a good crisis go to waste.”

Have you thought about how you’re making this crisis work for you?

This story originally appeared in the Healthing Weekender. Subscribe here.
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