I'm talking about leaving a job, a relationship, a religious community---hell, even a party. Netflix and chill is more your style, maybe.
How do you know when to go?
You daydream about it. You toss and turn in bed at night. You get all brave for a second but then reality hits and you think about things like health insurance, feelings, the paycheck, and *gasp* what people will think of you.
How do you determine that point when you're done?
Fear of failure and the Great Unknown keeps people stuck. So do lack of self-confidence and the work it takes to make sustainable change. They are the considerations that keep YOU where you are right now. Spinning. Swirling. Stagnant. Trapped. Frustrated.
But there's something else that's keeping you stuck. You keep telling yourself that you don't know. You say, "I don't if I can" or "I don't know if I want to." Those three words stand between you and the change you want to make.
Because, you do know. You're either too afraid to say it or act on it.
Indecision prevents us from being responsible. We don't want to make a decision because it might not work out or we might feel it's the wrong one or make things worse. When we say, "I don't know" what we're really saying is, "I'm too scared to try and risk this comfort for the Great Unknown."
I learned my lesson about the words I don't know. I spent three years saying that I didn't know if I should leave my last relationship. I've largely avoided writing about this for years for fear of throwing that person under the bus.
I've worried more about her feelings than my own. And that's how I lived in that relationship. It's how I lived in my whole life.
But now I can write about it because this is not at all about her being a bad person. She wasn't. She did her best. This is about me because I knew the relationship wasn't right for me. I knew there were aspects of it that just did NOT work but I didn't listen to myself. I knew it got off on a foot that didn't serve either one of us, but especially me. I knew I was settling or stepping over things and then building resentments.
And then it got to the point where I knew I needed to make a decision. It was clear she wouldn't and we could go around like we were doing for another 3 or 5 or, shit, maybe 10 years. When people asked me why I was staying, I heard myself say, "I don't know."
When trusted friends or colleagues said, "I think you do know" it made me SO MAD. I thought I was mad because I truly didn't know the answer. I realized my anger came from avoiding responsibility for starting and staying in something that hadn't worked from the moment it started. By staying in it week after week and month after month, I could avoid my fear of failure and what people would think of me and the risk of being alone and...so many things. Those things that keep us stuck, right?
And finally one day, I realized what a joke that was. I DID know. And when I was able to be honest with myself, I was ready to be the one to change it.
I said "I don't know" until one day I said, "I don't know what happens next but it has to be better than this."
And that's how we know when to go.
...when the fear of what's possible becomes less than the pain of staying.
...when we realize life is too short to settle.
...when the voice that says, "I don't know" starts SHOUTING at us and keeps us awake at night and leaves us with no appetite during the day.
...when we're willing to try something radically different to get the answer we've been looking for the whole time.
In my case, I left on conditional terms of separation. Exactly this week, two years ago, I shared the idea of me moving out for a few months as an alternative we hadn't tried after years of therapy. I thought some time and space would help us gain much-needed perspective.
My decision to stop saying "I don't know" and take action toward a decision despite my biggest fears actually allowed the truth to surface. It allowed me to be present to reality. And if I had any doubt that it was the right decision, her response quickly confirmed I was on the right track.
Within minutes, it became clear that my idea was the beginning of the end of that relationship. The person I'd been dating and living with for years was ready to start seeing new people within two weeks of me moving out.
And now I know.
The only way I summoned the courage for this choice was from practicing with making many changes in my life. Leaving jobs for any number of reasons. Leaving my home state for a new life in Boston, MA. Leaving behind old eating habits and lifestyle patterns and ways of thinking and speaking. Leaving behind my whole identity as a person when I chose my gender transition.
I've learned how to know when to go by actually going, without a safety net, without knowing for sure if it was the right call. We can only think about something so much. We'll forever say, "I don't know" until we take action and know from a place of living and learning.
It's really risky and takes a lot out of you, but it's the only way you'll ever know.