Following up on last week’s articles “Dealing With Problems That Can’t Be Fixed” and “When Is It Time to Make a Change?“, today’s article takes a look at the possibilities and consequences of fixing a situation by leaving it.
When there’s no way to get away
Leaving isn’t always an option. For example, if the problem is affecting a place, person, or group of people you care about–say, your brother-in-law has a drinking problem, or your hometown has gone into a bad economic slump–then getting isn’t likely to help. Even when leaving the problem behind physically won’t help, though, it’s sometimes possible to leave emotionally, which is to say stop caring about the situation. Ceasing to care about things is often not a helpful approach, and even when it is advisable, it isn’t always easy. Yet ceasing to care can sometimes be the best choice, especially if an activity or relationship is involved that wasn’t that healthy or appropriate in the first place, as with ending a friendship with someone who’s been a destructive influence.
What’s lost, what’s gained, and what the break will cost
When leaving is an option, it can help to become clear on the three kinds of things that are affected when we leave a situation: what’s lost by leaving the situation behind, what’s gained by leaving it, and what damage (or benefits) might result from the leaving itself. For instance, leaving a job can be a way of ending an intolerable work relationship with a boss or coworker (a key cause of unhappiness at work, according to the Gallup Group’s investigations on well-being) but may cause uncertainty with your income, increase or decrease your commute, open up new opportunities, threaten rifts between you and others still working at or with the place you left, create a situation that will tend to make a spouse relieved or fearful, and so on. Not all of these costs and benefits may be apparent at the beginning, and some will not be predictable, such as unexpected opportunities and the emotional impact of the change.
Ways to think about leaving
One of the most useful things we can do when thinking about leaving a situation is to bring to light all of our fears, concerns, and hopes that may make us want to leave or stay and to try to find any broken ideas (thoughts that cause bad feelings by misleading us in subtle ways) that may be causing pain now, preventing progress, or threatening the future. Two good ways of bringing out these kinds of thoughts are writing them out on paper or on a computer or talking about the situation with a sympathetic friend who’s a good listener.
Some examples of kinds of thoughts worth looking at:
- Fears of what will happen if you do leave
- Fears of what will happen if you don’t leave
- Assumptions about your current situation that may or may not be accurate
- Concerns about how other people will judge a decision to leave
- Hopes for opportunities that might open up
- Overly-limiting ideas about who you are and what you’re capable of doing
- People who would be affected by a change, including whether it’s you or someone else who would be most affected
- What kinds of life complications would go away or be added by leaving
A “pros and cons” list can be useful, but it’s unlikely to provide an obvious answer, even if the list is much longer on one side than the other, since different items in a list can have very different levels of importance. Seeing the two sides of the issue laid out like this, though, can make it much easier to balance out the the possibilities the situation offers, provided all the key points are covered. One very useful approach is to spend days or even weeks coming back to the list and adding to it whenever new ideas occur, then considering both sides carefully and sleeping on it, letting a decision emerge naturally.