Someone asked me why I am looking for a new job while I am currently working. This got me thinking if there is a idiom that says something about it being wise to not leave your current job until you have another sure thing lined up etc.

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    – tchrist
    Mar 22, 2017 at 14:31

17 Answers 17


The metaphor used in my family has always likened this to climbing a ladder...don't release your hold on one rung until you've got a grasp on the next.

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    – tchrist
    Mar 22, 2017 at 14:32

"A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush,"

It's better to have a lesser but certain advantage than the possibility of a greater one that may come to nothing.

This 16th century proverb is one of the oldest and best-known in English. It warns against taking unnecessary risks - it is better to keep what you have (a bird) than to risk getting more and ending with nothing (two birds out of your reach).

  • 4
    This is close, but it has more of a connotation of being happy with what you've got and not taking risks in order to get more. In this context that might discourage looking for a new job at all, which doesn't seem to be the intent. Mar 10, 2017 at 14:52
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    There is nothing about the saying that discourages trying to capture one or both of the birds in the bush - just make sure you hang onto the one you already have. Mar 11, 2017 at 12:44
  • Perfect misinterpretation. This proverb assumes that chasing the bigger reward will likely lead to lose the current possession, which is exactly what op's behavior prevents.
    – YvesgereY
    Mar 13, 2017 at 18:22

The more classic idiom don't count your chickens (before they're hatched) may apply here. Don't count on your new job and leave the old one till everything is settled:

  • something that you say in order to warn someone to wait until a good thing they are expecting has really happened before they make any plans about it.

    • You might be able to get a loan from the bank, but don't count your chickens.

(Cambridge Idioms Dictionary)

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    – tchrist
    Mar 22, 2017 at 14:32

Look before you leap.

A common idiomatic caveat, often said to those who may not be considering the downside consequences of a potential change.

This seems to be a good fit, for the cautious and planned versus impulsive mindset you imply in your question.


Don't put the cart before the horse

Which basically means "Don't do things in the wrong order". Leaving a job before applying to another one is the wrong order.

  • This does not quite convey that safety (in this case, financial safety) is the concern.
    – yo'
    Mar 13, 2017 at 11:43

Another possibility is "don't burn your bridges".

If you burn your bridges, you do something that makes it impossible to go back from the position you have taken.

  • I would say that this idiom more implies that he's severing ties with his previous organization which is not necessarily the case. Mar 8, 2017 at 21:23
  • It's arguable that applying for a new job while you're already employed actually risks burning bridges with your current employer. If you're more concerned with burning bridges than the stresses of unemployment, then you'd be better off quitting your current job before applying for a new one.
    – talrnu
    Mar 9, 2017 at 6:01
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    This sort of applies, but doesn't seem quite right. Whether you leave your job now or later, you're burning the bridges either way. It's more about when to burn the bridge.
    – DCShannon
    Mar 10, 2017 at 1:20

Don't put all your eggs in one basket

Which means "don't concentrate all your prospects or resources in one thing or place, or you could lose everything."

It came from Don Quixote (Part I, Book III, Chapter 9) by Miguel de Cervantes [1547-1616].

“It is the part of a wise man to keep himself today for tomorrow, and not venture all his eggs in one basket.”—Sancho Panza

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    So... have multiple jobs?
    – jpaugh
    Mar 9, 2017 at 20:15
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    @jpaugh 'eggs' doesn't have to refer to jobs - and by putting them in one basket, it means 'don't risk everything when only one thing going wrong could ruin it all.' it's just a more pithy way of putting it! Mar 9, 2017 at 20:42
  • I still don't think it applies, and can't see what the (multiple) "eggs" could refer to, except for jobs. The OP is working one job, while looking for another; so there are multiple jobs involved, but OP is not planning to keep both jobs in the long term, which is what this adage suggests.
    – jpaugh
    Mar 22, 2017 at 15:06
  • Note: The words are put into Sancho Panza's mouth by an English translator of Don Quixote, who has substitued an English idiom for a Spanish one. What Sancho says in Spanish is sabios es guardarse hoy para mañana y no aventurarse todo en un día, which can be translated as it is the part of wise men to preserve themselves to-day for to-morrow, and not risk all in one day, as Ormsby did in 1885 or as Wise men save themselves for tomorrow, and don't risk everything in one day (Lathrop, 2011). Apr 20, 2018 at 20:37

Wing walker's rule: Never let go of something unless you've got a good hold on something else.

  • 2
    Similar to 'Don't saw off the tree branch that you're sitting on' :) Mar 12, 2017 at 11:20
  • @MartinJames I had actually never understood that saying to mean "get off the branch, then saw it off" before! Nice one... :) Mar 14, 2017 at 8:24

Don't throw away your old shoes before you have new ones.

This is an idiom in my language, and I always assumed it was one too in English, but I cannot find any evidence of that. In any case, I believe anyone would understand what you mean, if you'd say this.

Edit 1: The original Dutch phrase is: "Je moet geen oude schoenen weggooien voor je nieuwe hebt."

Source: http://www.bloggen.be/spreekwoorden_en_citaten/archief.php?ID=1060557

Edit 2: Sven Yargs mentions even better sources to the use of this idiom in English here on Meta: https://english.meta.stackexchange.com/a/10101/224220

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    OK, frankhommers, dutch201 and now Ruben, this is the third time you posted this same answer. Why not find a reference, a link or post the original Dutch phrase?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Mar 8, 2017 at 21:20
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    Ok, this is my first answer ever, so my apologies if it does meet the requirements. I am not familiar with frankhommers or dutch201. Also, I did not see the same answer on this page. What should I have done differently to prevent this apparent duplicate answer?
    – Ruben
    Mar 9, 2017 at 11:46
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    The answers that Mari-Lou referred to were deleted by a moderator. You do not have enough rep to see them; that is, there was nothing you could have done. This question is discussed at meta.english.stackexchange.com/questions/10098/….
    – ab2
    Mar 10, 2017 at 4:24
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    It must be a popular Dutch idiom if three different Dutch speakers posted the same suggestion. Please accept my apologies by implying you were the one and the same author. However, the comment spurred you to supply a reference and post the Dutch version, and the effort has been much appreciated. P.S I upvoted after the edit!
    – Mari-Lou A
    Mar 10, 2017 at 13:45
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    @Mari-LouA - I tried to address this in my meta question. This is an excellent answer and unfortunately I think the community is acting a little too Dutchaphobic right now. I'm glad you had a change of heart and upvoted!
    – J.R.
    Mar 10, 2017 at 21:53

Leaving your current job before you have a sure thing lined up is a leap into the dark!

leap in the dark
an action of which the consequences are unknown:
The experiment was a leap in the dark.

Example usage:

"Don't take a leap into the dark": the final EU referendum newspaper front pages


Might I offer, "getting/having your ducks in a row," which means having your next steps lined up.

  • Is that what it means? I always thought that was just generally being organized. Have a source?
    – DCShannon
    Mar 10, 2017 at 1:19
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    It does mean to be generally organized, but that generally fits into OP's request for "not leave your current job until you have another sure thing lined up etc." Ducks in a row fits the meaning and makes reference to the importance of lining up one's affairs.
    – jacksmith
    Mar 10, 2017 at 14:27
  • "get your ducks in a row" indeed means "get your ducks in a row before ..." doing such and such. Yes, that is what it means.
    – Fattie
    Mar 12, 2017 at 2:56

I believe Aesop had one about dropping your bone for a reflection, which was specifically about letting go of what you have before being sure of getting something better.

  • This is a good answer. I believe this is referred to in Jamaica as a "choke puppy". The Wailing Wailers had a song of the same name.
    – JimmyJames
    Mar 9, 2017 at 21:40

"Don't quit the day job" is often used of career paths that have a high degree of risk, particularly those in the arts. It would be applicable by analogy to the situation you describe.

(It sometimes suggests that the person shouldn't quit their job because they aren't any good at the artistic endeavour at all, and hence are certain to fail if they pursue it, and as such is an insult; it depends on context).

  • 15
    I don't know if I've ever seen "don't quit your day job" in a non-insulting context (although often the insult is in a joking tone with no intent to offend).
    – JMac
    Mar 7, 2017 at 13:53
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    @JMac like many things, one can say it about oneself without the same degree of opprobrium.
    – Jon Hanna
    Mar 7, 2017 at 14:05
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    Well I mean the phrase that is a common idiom is generally only used for others (i.e. you don't really see "I shouldn't quit my day job" used in the same fashion). Even in the case when used against yourself, it always refers to some form of shortcoming (joking or serious) in how the person performs the task. The purpose is always to say something negative about them performing the job. It always suggests they aren't good at the endeavor, it's just that the suggestion isn't always serious depending on context.
    – JMac
    Mar 7, 2017 at 14:14
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    "Don't quit your day job" is an appraisal of one's artistic skills - not an advice regarding job-switching strategy. Mar 7, 2017 at 17:23
  • 1
    I've heard it used in both contexts. More often, I'd say, when the new endeavor was risky (often due, eg, to the low pay earned by artists) than when the endeavorer was less than competent.
    – Hot Licks
    Mar 8, 2017 at 3:08

If you carry the egg basket do not dance.

Ambede proverb

The idea here is to warn the listeners to only do one thing at a time, and one thing only. It like Ecclesiastes 3:1 "There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens".

  • 1
    I'm not familiar with that proverb. It sounds like just a general note of caution. Care to explain how it applies to this specific situation?
    – DCShannon
    Mar 10, 2017 at 1:17

I've heard the phrase "Don't jump without somewhere to land" more than once, in conversations about leaving jobs - no citations available, I'm afraid.

Googling this (exact) phrase brings up a single result, using the phrase in a similar sense but regarding leaving a marriage.

  • I thought there was a similar phrase "Don't jump until you're sure of your landing", but similarly I was unable to find any actual usage through google.
    – AndyT
    Mar 14, 2017 at 11:57

I believe this might also be applicable:

  • to hedge your bets

hedge-your-bets: to protect yourself against making the wrong choice


I've long said, if my job is like being a passenger on a ship:

I'd rather disembark at a port, with another ship waiting, than in the middle of the ocean. I can only tread water for so long!

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