By Jane Burnett 

Everyone has a unique career path that’s solely their own. But things don’t always happen as planned.

Think about it: You were probably told to get a stable job so you could provide for yourself, and eventually, your family. You were probably told to be the best employee you could be and to keep picking up new skills along the way. But most importantly, you were probably told to always have a plan for your next career step.

So what happens when you quit without having another job offer secured?

Ladders spoke with several working Americans who’ve all found themselves in this place before, revealing the realities of taking this route.

When this approach isn’t all it’s cracked up to be

Meet Beth from Oregon.

She told us that she currently works for a healthcare provider, but previously left a position about 20 years ago without having another one lined up. At the time, she felt “relieved” because her work circumstances were “uncomfortable,” but said that she’s actually not in a better place in her career now as a result.

Why? Beth said that she accepted the first offer that came her way, and while her peers made progress, she was earning less than before due to a “significant pay cut.”

Now, she says that she’s “behind,” especially in the retirement savings department.

“When you quit without a plan, it feels like you have the power. But actually, it puts you in a vulnerable position when it comes to negotiating a new job, especially if your finances are in any way limited. I felt like I had to take the first job that was offered, even though it was a cut in pay. I ended up leaving after a year, wasting everyone’s time,” Beth told Ladders.

She said she wishes she hadn’t done this, saying, .I should have taken accountability for improving my work life where I was, or spent more time in discernment before leaving.”

But Beth also has words of wisdom for people who are thinking of jumping ship at work without another job offer: “Take a good look in the mirror, and ask yourself if you are truly doing your best to make the job you have work. If the answer is yes, then ask the following questions: 1. What type of work do you want to do? 2. What environment do you want to do it in? 3. Who do you want to be your boss? I have used those three questions to make several job moves and each one has been successful.”

When this approach really puts the pressure on

Meet Danny from New York.

He told Ladders that he does “marketing for a technology company.” He also doled out a word to the wise: He’s “in a better place now a decade later, but I do feel a consistent sense that I must work hard and save as much as I can because everything can fall out from under me at any moment. The period without a job, on the plus side, gave me grit.”

Clearly, things weren’t always easy for Danny along the way.

He told Ladders that he arrived in New York City during the summer of 2008, before he realized “that the entire financial infrastructure of the country was about to collapse. I thought that giving myself a few months to look around for a job was the responsible thing to do but ultimately it took me over a year to find my footing.”

Overall, he likes where his career is headed. But he has recognized the critical role the “series of internships, others may not have been financially secure enough to accept, that opened doors for me and created opportunities” have played in his career. He also acknowledged that people have vouched for him and given his career a leg up.

Danny provided Ladders with a recommendation for people thinking of taking the same approach: “I would advise people leaving their job to line up some sort of side hustle or freelance work even if it’s not steady just to have something to do and to show for that period of time. Use your talents however possible and keep making connections with people who can help you accelerate your career.”

When this approach turns out to be just what the doctor ordered

Meet Donya from Florida.

She told Ladders that right now, she’s a “freelance/consultant” and that although she’s not opposed “to working a permanent job,” she’s currently “enjoying the flexibility of being my own boss.”

Donya was generally happy about how her career has turned out but was also very clear about the challenges of leaving a job without having another offer elsewhere.

“I’m not naive. I know that not everyone is in the position to just walk away without another job,” she told Ladders. “Still, I think it’s important to know what you are willing to sacrifice and where you’re willing to bend.”

She also said that when she made the big career move, she felt “excited and powerful. I’ve always had a net before leaping, so I was excited about embarking on a new adventure. There’s power in taking control.”

Although Donya said she’s currently “in a new chapter” in life, which she calls “similar, but different,” she remains optimistic about what’s to come.

When asked if she’s now in a better place career-wise because of her decision, she expressed that leaving a job without another is truly more complicated than meets the eye.

“Financially, not yet. It’s only been a few months. I made a six-figure salary, and I know it will take time to make that up. Fortunately, I have a husband that is very supportive,” she told Ladders. “Emotionally/mentally, yes. I know that if I would have stayed, I’d be miserable, and that misery would eventually take its toll outside the job and creep into my personal life.”

But Donya also gave Ladders a crystal clear set of suggestions for others contemplating taking the same risk.

“Take inventory; an honest look at the situation. As we evolve, we should improve; therefore, If you are better today than you were yesterday, then power through; if not, it’s time to move on and find a better climate. I should have done that as soon as I saw the warning signs, but I didn’t. I kept making excuses and doubting what I was seeing,” she said. “As time progressed, I reached my boiling point and had to jump at that moment. I literally was in the middle of a conversation with my boss and blurted out: ‘I’m leaving. My last day is next Friday.’ I would normally like to have some sort of plan. At least an eloquent statement prepared.”

But still, given the chance, Donya said she would do the same thing all over again — just under the same conditions.

Although she sometimes wonders what would’ve happened if she remained at her old job and made things work, or if she “let them win by bowing out,” she told Ladders, “then I remind myself that that’s pride and I get off my high horse. There’s something in attacking a challenge head-on, but there’s also something in knowing where you want to invest your energy. At the end of the day, I didn’t feel this particular challenge was worth the investment. Given the same circumstances, I’d do it again.”

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