Working in a startup is not a forever job. It's probably not even a 10 year job so you should decide when you're going to leave on your first day working there.
It might sound counterintuitive to think about leaving when you are just starting, but you need to make a goal for leaving the company in order to stay at the company. Just like any company thinks about its exit strategy in their business plan, you should think about your exit strategy as an employee. Include a well thought out plan for how and when you want to leave the company. It will give you a mission and force you to do everything in your power to stay at your startup, successfully, until you have arrived at your personal destination.
Come on. We all know that we aren't going to stay in our jobs at a startup forever. Don't be that person that's all, "Oh, I love this company and I'll never leave." Because you will. So quit being a suck up.
We all secretly fantasize about what we would write in our goodbye email to the staff on our last day, and that's okay.
I'm thinking mine will say something simple like, "Peace out." or "You don't look good in cargo shorts and you never will. Love you all. Bye."
Your goal for leaving should be something that will make you feel incredibly proud of yourself when you are able accomplish it, so it’s important that your goal should not be easy to achieve. Think big.
Sorry but your goal for leaving cannot be when you finally steal all the pink sharpies from work without anyone noticing.
That's too easy. I did that years ago.
Your goal should be specific to you and your relationship with your company. Everyone has a different motivation for working at a startup, and you need to figure out what your motivation is before you can make your goal for leaving. For example, your motivation for working might purely be monetary, so your goal for leaving would be when all your stock options are fully vested and you're prepared to purchase them.
Or your motivation for working might be that you want to build a company to a certain point, like an IPO, so your goal for leaving would be when the company gets to that certain point.
Or your motivation for working might simply be that your Dad told you he wouldn't support you anymore, so your goal for leaving would be when you finally marry rich and you don't have to work anymore.
Whatever your motivation is for working at a startup, it should directly correlate to your goal for leaving the startup. It will become your saving grace on those hard days. It will become your reason for staying when you think you just can’t take one more day of seeing the developers poor fashion sense. It will force you to survive because you know that you cannot leave or do something to get fired until your personal mission is completed.
Having a personal goal for leaving is good for the startup, too. More than likely, your goal will start to align with the company goals because you will inherently begin making decisions that are in the best interest of the company when you start to view your work through the lens of achieving your own goal. You will begin to push your boundaries and become a better employee for yourself, which in turn is better for the company.
So if you don't have a goal for leaving yet, you need to make one now. Then work like hell until you accomplish it.
Then run like hell..to your next job