50 Shades of Letting Go
If I go there will be trouble, and if I stay it will be double
So come on and let me know: Should I stay or should I go?
Raise your hand if you remember “Should I Stay or Should I Go”—released in 1982 by the appropriately named band The Clash. It’s the proverbial state of being between “a rock and a hard place.”
Life constantly evolves, and every type of relationship changes—whether it’s with a friend, a spouse, a family member, a coworker, an employer, or a social group. Most of us have found ourselves, at one time or another, wondering whether to hang in there when some relationship has become unbearable or to walk away.
Of course, every situation is different, and the only universal answer is “it depends.”
How long do you stick it out? How long do you replaster a wall that’s crumbling? When it feels like you’ve done everything you can to adjust to the changes or mend the rips, what then? Do you habitually stay because you’re afraid of the consequences of walking away?
Exit change is never easy. It may in fact be the hardest decision you’ve ever faced.
You’ll consider whether the situation / relationship / connection is “good enough” to stick with, if it is valuable enough to keep investing in. No one can make that decision except you. If you ultimately decide that it is worth it to stay, it may be time to find a counselor who specializes in the issue you’re wrestling with (personal relationship, job/career, etc.). A second opinion and fresh perspective is always helpful.
You’ll also consider whether the situation is not worth continued investment.
My most memorable metaphor for letting go came from an article on the Universal Cycles of Change by Kris Hallbom of NLP and Coaching Institute of California. It described the cyclical changes of nature, specifically trees. (NB: I like remind people that when speaking of “nature,” remember that you are nature, not a bystander.) As regularly as trees grow new leaves, they let go of leaves. Every October weekend you’ve spent raking dead leaves into mounds speaks to the necessity of letting go. Every time I walk through a city park and gaze up at the trees, I’m reminded of letting go of the old.
Humans grow conceptual leaves. We enter a growth phase and sprout “leaves” (new connections). When the time is right, we shed them. The cycle is universal, natural, and necessary. Letting go of that which is no longer alive and nurturing makes room for the new.
If you’re in that stuck state, you’ve probably already made your list of pros and cons—all the reasons to stick with it, to hang on and work toward progress, versus all the reasons to walk away and start fresh. If you see 50 items in the “stay” column and 51 in the “walk” column, and every molecule in your body and voice in your head is telling you to move on, you have an important decision to make and some important actions to take. It may be time to design your exit strategy.
Let’s face it: letting go of the old, the familiar, the habitual, or the traditional is not easy. Shedding an old skin so that something new can emerge may be painful. Saying goodbye to people or places may be incredibly hard—we want to hold onto what we’re familiar with, even if that familiar place is miserable. The consequences are impossible to predict, and in a fearful state, we usually predict the worst.
The thing is that all of life is unpredictable. We can never know exactly how a decision—or the lack of a decision—will change the trajectory of our lives.
By keeping one door closed, you never open alternate doors of opportunity. The job you hold onto with white-knuckled fear may be the only thing blocking you from the amazing job you’ve always wanted. The business you’ve always wanted to start. The trip you’ve always wanted to take. The romantic connection you’ve been seeking.
After you’ve compared your list of pros and cons, talked to supportive friends, and had a beer with your subconscious, you’ll know whether it’s better to stay or time to walk. You can take a deep breath and move forward into the life that’s calling you.
Lori Stephens, pNLP, CCP is a writer, editor, publisher, Certified NLP Practitioner, Whole Person Life Coach, and the founder of ROAR Life Coaching. She specializes in Exit Strategy Coaching—helping people who are ready to quit a soul-crushing job, walk away from a toxic relationship, exit a repressive social or religious group, come out as their true sexual or gender orientation, or in some other way claim their true path. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Photo credit: Lori Stephens