It’s the ultimate question: should I stay or should I go? The consequences are high: Make the wrong decision and you might end up in a worse situation. Stay and you might miss out on the dream life waiting just around the corner.
How do you decide?
It’s not always easy, but we can fine-tune our ability to choose. Here are two case studies from my own life, one in which staying was the right choice and another in which going was the best option.
You’ll also learn the single most important question to ask when deciding.
When to leave: a case study
The job was toxic, but paid ridiculously well. I was able to clear some big debt from my failed attempt at working in real estate, buy some really nice clothes for the first time in my life, and save.
At first, playing grown up at the office was exciting. I thought I was embarking on a new career in marketing communications, a good way for an ex-journalist to make big-girl money. When I got my first raise, my boss asked me if my shared office was still working out for me, inferring that my own private space was just a request away.
But the job was stressful. Co-workers formed cliques, gossiping about everyone and everything behind closed doors. The turnover rate was high.
My ego loved it. But inside, it didn’t feel good. Over many sleepless nights, I wondered: should I stay or should I go?
I kept asking myself this key question: Do I like the person I’m becoming?
At first, the answer was yes. I was learning how to navigate in the corporate world, and even though I didn’t see myself at this job forever, perhaps it would be a good learning experience on the way to the next one.
Then, during the holidays, things changed. My boss unexpectedly quit, and I got promoted, which sounds awesome, but ended up really, really bad. My intuition said don’t take the job, but I didn’t listen. Friends and family told me, just try it, you can always quit.
In retrospect, I should have listened to my intuition. It’s always right.
Soon, the answer to “Do I like the person I am becoming?” became no. I cried almost every day, making that all-important question — should I stay or should I go? — much easier to make. When leaving work, so I gave notice — two months’ notice, but it still wasn’t enough to leave on good terms.
My morale was shattered, but it was all good because I had a plan. I was going to freelance write and build a new dream, one day at a time. That decision to free myself from corporate slavery and build my own piece of occupational paradise ended up being the right one.
When to stay: a case study
I’ve always loved moving. Traveling is fun, but my ideal life would actually involve moving every year or so to a new place. I feel like locations are best understood by living there for a while, absorbing the rhythms and habits of the place, feeling the energy.
I didn’t grow up a nomad, but became one as soon as I graduated college, living in seven states in three years. In my mind, the ability to choose where I lived meant freedom.
But then I met the man who would become my husband, and then got cancer, and in the aftermath of cancer when I was losing my mind, we bought a house in a far-flung suburb of Phoenix.
When I finally gained my sanity and looked around, I was living in a spread-out desert metropolis that I just did not like at all. I wanted to move. Should I stay or should I go? The question haunted me.
Only now, it wasn’t just me. My husband was in the picture, too. And change is really hard for him. Moving right then wasn’t an option.
I spent all my energy resisting this place where I lived, and that resistance made me miserable.
I kept telling myself, life is too short to be unhappy. At first, I took that to mean I should move and do whatever it took to get out of this place. But then, I decided that if life was too short to be unhappy, I should stop being that way. And that didn’t mean moving.
When I asked myself, “Do I like the person I am becoming?” I realized that it wasn’t my situation that needed to change. It was me.
First, I decided to be grateful. Every time a complaint arose in my mind, I found something to be thankful for. And each night, I listed all the good things that happened that day.
Focusing on gratitude helped me identify untapped opportunities. For instance, my flexible work-at-home schedule allowed me to take yoga teacher training. It also allowed me to spend time pursuing work that felt purposeful, which ultimately helped me form a new dream after a few years of aimless wandering.
Spending all my energy in resistance mode had prevented me from seeing these possibilities. The seed of a better life, the life I always dreamed of, lay inside my discontent.
Embrace feeling stuck. It’ll free you faster than resistance.
Many people say traveling reveals to them who they are, but I found myself in stillness.
Only when I wanted to move, but couldn’t, did I stop squirming enough to finally sit. When I was full of resistance, answering the question “should I stay or should I go” always seemed to be yes. But it’s important to always look a little deeper and look at the real reasons behind the desire to leave.
In sitting, I dug into the discontent and allowed feeling stuck to transform me from the inside out. It was because I felt stuck that I began a devoted meditation practice, started my blog, and became a yoga teacher.
When I resisted feeling stuck, I felt like I was wasting my life away, like maybe I would die tomorrow and I would die in a place that I didn’t want to be. That scared me so much.
But looking back, I feel that life purposefully sat me down and made me look inside. When I finally do move, I will arrive a whole person, not a girl mired in discontent who needed all the stars to align before she could be happy.
My inner refrain changed from, “I hate it here; I hate it here,” to “If I can be happy here, I can be happy anywhere.”
In the first example, my office environment was toxic, but in the second, I was toxic. And so I worked to fix it.
The happy ending
As I worked at becoming happier, my husband became more receptive to the idea of moving and we established a timeline and a plan. And now, the universe is helping us. Some things I can’t talk about are shifting, and we will hopefully soon end up in a place that works for both of us.
In life, we sometimes learn more from the things we don’t get than the ones we do.
How do you answer the question “should I stay or should I go”? Share your story in the comments below.
Image by Ghislain Mary via Flickr