Council Post: ‘Should I Stay, Or Should I Go?’ The Power Of Walking Away


Julien Fortuit is a Life Performance Coach helping professionals achieve career breakthroughs, productive work processes & meaningful lives.

There’s a great song by British punk band The Clash entitled “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” that contains this line:

Should I stay or should I go now?

If I go, there will be trouble

And if I stay it will be double

In many ways, this is the perfect explanation of the situation many people find themselves in, when they’re stuck in a relationship, job or other life commitment that, for whatever reasons, is no longer working for them. Maybe it’s that they’re not feeling emotionally or intellectually fulfilled. Maybe it’s that they’re not getting properly compensated for their work. Maybe they’re not getting to do interesting projects, or have been passed over time and time again for advancement.

Oftentimes, we stay in these situations far longer than we should, because we say, “Well, it’s not that bad,” or “Maybe if I wait around it will get better.” Bluntly, this is almost never the case in real life: The situation simply will not magically transform into something better. More likely, it’s going to get worse (or, in the immortal words of The Clash, the “trouble” will become “double”)—more boring, more unfulfilling, more frustrating, more time-wasting and more soul-destroying. This will continue until we finally reach the breaking point where we can say, “This is no longer acceptable”—and are actually ready to act upon it.

So why do we get stuck in these literally life-wasting situations? How do we get to the point where enough is enough? And more importantly, why do we wait until the situation has become unacceptable, when we have every reason to take steps to change it before that point?

Staying Stuck In The Comfort Zone

In the past I’ve written a lot about people getting stuck in the comfort zone, which is not where you want to be. It’s a place of complacency, self-abnegation and constant self-denial of your dreams, ambitions and goals. It’s a place of accepting “good enough,” or “this is fine.” It is a place of surviving instead of thriving.

The reasons people stay in this zone have nothing to do with actual satisfaction, and everything to do with fear. When people get stuck in the comfort zone, it’s out of self-limiting beliefs (“I’m too old to find another job,” “It’s too hard for me to learn a new set of skills,” “If I fail, I will lose all my savings”) and poor self-image (“I don’t deserve anything better,” “This is as good as someone like me can expect.”) It’s incredibly hard to get out of this mindset—and, most people cannot do it without the support of a coach, a mentor or some seriously dedicated friends.

The problem with getting stuck in the comfort zone is that nothing improves, and in many cases, the situation deteriorates even further the longer we stay put. In some professions, we talk about burnout; we almost never talk about its counterpart, “bore-out”—the absolute nadir of interest, engagement or motivation in what we’re doing. Bore-out is just going through the motions, wasting time, skills and the chance to be happy and excited.

People stay in this bored-out, unhappy situation for years, because they are paralyzed by fear and anxiety, and in many cases, unsure of what else they should be doing, or what they should do to change their situation. Eventually, some of them will get to a situation—usually with help and support—where they finally decide, “This is unacceptable.” These are the lucky ones.

The Power Of Getting To ‘Unacceptable’

I have a client who was at the same job for years and kept getting passed over for promotions and projects he wanted to spearhead. Finally, when he asked to lead something—and was, again, denied with some lame excuses about possible opportunities in the future—he got up and resigned on the spot. His boss was shocked and immediately responded, “Oh, I didn’t know you wanted to do these particular things”—which of course was untrue, because my client had said so on multiple occasions. But all of a sudden, they were interested in him and open to negotiating. (It didn’t work; he took a much better job.)

The “stay or go” paradigm here isn’t about which job my client ended up in, however. It’s about his decision to leave the situation he was in, where he experienced ongoing frustration, insult, boredom and unhappiness. It was about him having the confidence to say, “This is unacceptable; I will not do this anymore,” and he provoked a change. In doing this, my client did not know what would happen. He only knew that, once he opened that door, he could not walk back through it again—which, since he no longer viewed that situation as acceptable, was a good start.

The Unnecessary Detour To Rock Bottom

So often, I see people who are not just complacent—which is bad enough, because they’re wasting years of their lives doing something they think is just “fine”—but actively suffering. Their situation has gotten so painful that they dread going to work; they can’t breathe; they’re having anxiety attacks or are in deep depression. These people are hitting that “unacceptable” place, and when they reach out for a coach’s help, it means they’re finally ready to stop sleepwalking through misery and do something about it.

I’m happy these people will make a change—but there’s always an implied question: Why did they have to wait for rock bottom? Why couldn’t they say “enough is enough” before they were in physical pain? Why do we, as humans, live according to this fallacy that we must be suffering before we actively decide to change our situation?

Ultimately, this comes back to our belief in ourselves, and in our capacity to create the kind of life we want to live. It is only when we can state with conviction that we are worthy of the power and possibility of our dreams that we can stop idling and take the necessary steps to make them into reality.

Forbes Coaches Council is an invitation-only community for leading business and career coaches. Do I qualify?

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