Sunday, August 19, 2018

Necessary Leavings

Talking on the phone with a close friend the other night, something she said caught my attention and held it.  We were discussing a friend of hers who had remained in what was a toxic work position for years, hating nearly every minute of it, while her reason for staying was "I was scared I wouldn't find anything better."

This particular remark struck a chord inside of me, as its one I have heard time and time again, from friends, family members, acquaintances, romantic partners.  The premise being this: I am not necessarily so happy or satisfied with a situation in my life as it currently stands, however, I am going to stick in/with it because I am too afraid of the unknown and taking a chance to seek something better for me.  I prefer what is "known,"  (aka, comfortable/easier), even when not especially satisfying or good, to the unknown, (which has a high likelihood-especially if one chooses carefully, of actually being better).  (And folks, newsflash, even if the next situation isnt better and somehow, major bummer, the next thing also isnt so great?  Let that one go as well and move on.  Sometimes, frequently even, we have to search through a few trial and errors before striking gold).

Why do so many people (I have certainly done this too) stay in situations, whether it be a job, a romantic relationship, a friendship, or some other life situation, that is either: barely satisfactory, or even downright bad/toxic/negative, for fear of letting it go and seeking out better?

Curious about this, having heard this theme come up in the lives around me time and time again, I did some research.  Turns out (though this isnt exactly news) that as humans, we are hardwired to hate uncertainty.  However this is where it gets interesting.  Apparently, a recent study found that we hate uncertainty even more than knowing for sure that something bad is going to happen. We prefer knowing something bad is to come, as opposed to not knowing at all.  How interesting is that!?  Hence, why people stay in the mediocre to even shitty known, to avoid the seeming vastness and gray of the anxiety provoking unknown.

Pretty fascinating.  Some doubters might be raising their eyebrows challenging, "wait, so youre telling me its more stressful to wonder if youre going to be fired than being relatively certain of it?  Or, that its more stressful to be rushing to the meeting and not sure you will make it on time, as opposed to knowing for sure that you are actually going to miss it and thus, get in trouble?"

Yes.  Thats exactly what I am saying (or really, research is telling us).

So.  There is a part of your brain responsible for dopamine output called the striatum, which releases dopamine like something akin to a geyser at particular moments in our daily lives.  When you experience something pleasurable, eating a slice of cake, being hugged, sex, the list goes on, dopamine is released.  This feels good and thus, motivates us toward doing more of these activities.  Interestingly, the striatum also works with regards to negative input or stimulation.  Propelling us away from punishment or negative consequences.  Additionally, to go a step further, the striatum also weighs, a mathematical calculation of the subconscious, what are the likelihoods of either these positive rewards/sensations, versus the negative consequences or punishment of occurring.  

This alarm system is constantly weighing the likelihood of which side is more likely to prevail, if you will, and then alerts most resoundingly when the odds approach something around 50/50.  This makes sense with regards to say, animals in survival mode.  They need to be ready to go, on their toes, and action oriented when outcomes are least predictable.  And when results are uncertain, up in the air, this pushes us more fully towards action.  With how it will all play out being a toss up. 

This also results in the most stress.  

We like to be able to anticipate what the consequences, positive or negative, will be.  When we cannot be sure, this freaks us out big time.

And to add a top layer to the cake, we usually imagine the worst.

What's crucial to both fully understand and remember though, is that despite our terror and anxiety over uncertainty and our attempts to control it by remaining "safe" within "what we know," is that actually, all of life is uncertain.  Sure, we can try and predict how something may turn out.  Sometimes we are right.  Much of the time, we are flat out wrong and the result is any of a plethora of other conclusions and/or possibilities that existed beyond the realm of our consideration.  The point being, as much as we want (and try) to control how our lives turn out by avoiding uncertainty and the unknown, we tend to forget that life is one big unknown, one giant uncertainty, and that ultimately, we have no idea how its going to unfold or play out.  And that a vast majority of the time, things end up evolving and shifting in ways opposite or contrary to what we might have imagined or assumed.

Further, our culture is one that views "having control" as a virtue and something worthy of much admiration.  Congratulating ourselves when we feel we are doing a good job of "remaining in control," as well as looking up to others who seemingly control their personal circumstances to a high degree.  However, this is an illusion.  No one truly controls their lives to anything beyond a minimal degree.  There are too many wild card variables beyond our control, including: all the other people surrounding us, traffic, weather, accidents, economy shifts, elections, illness, injuries, surprises, being in the right place at the right time, sudden life changes, losing a job or being offered one, deaths and births, opportunities popping up where we hadn't anticipated them.  The list goes on.

Our control is minimal.  To a large degree, we can control both our own feelings/thoughts/mindsets, as well as our own behavioral responses.  Thats about it though for things in our life we have true personal control over.  (And even that is subject to the variance and fluctuations of human instinct as well as the hundreds of nuanced layers to each human person, which are nearly endless, fluid, and ever shifting and changing).

So.  The fact that we ever truly have control is a fallacy.  Thats been debunked by plethora's of Buddhist thought processes and values, free thinking, and philophisizing people for hundreds of years.


Why then do we attempt to control our lives by staying in situations, whether a job, romantic relationship, friendship, or other life situation, that are either: 

1. merely mediocre.
2. flat out not good for us/toxic/damaging, either emotionally or physically.
3. long past their expiration date/something we have outgrown or moved beyond, and that if we were to let go and seek something other, would likely be far happier. 

Why do we stick with these things so often when actually, doing these very three things contributes strongly and directly to our leading lives that are far less happy, satisfying, fulfilling, or healthy as they could be otherwise?

Why do we let this intense fear and distress over the "unknown" keep us locked into life situations that are certainly not stimulating growth, that might be lame, barely satisfactory, or even outright shitty, when we could be doing similar or even totally other things which will make us far happier and will be vastly improved situations, if we just found the guts, motivation, and initiative to take the risk and let go of that known to venture out towards seeking something better suited to us?

In life, each of us, and at many times, will come upon crossroads that necessitate a necessary leaving.

Some of us admit and face this fact, even though its scary and can entail heartbreak and pain, as well as anxiety over the coming change and initial unknown.  A majority of people though turn away from this.  Invent all sorts of reasons why staying in the same dead end situation is better.
"Easier," "shared history," "I know what to expect," "well, some of it is still good," "I feel guilty leaving," "I dont want to hurt someone else," "its too difficult."

In the end, all of these excuses are the same, which is their ultimately keeping you locked into a situation that isnt to the best potential for your life path and which keep you stuck in the same rut which its likely you would be happier and healthier on moving out of.


What we know, innately, as human beings- in the deepest, most instinctual part of our souls is this: that choice is one of the most powerful things we have going for us.  And thats the very reason we are so terrified of making them.  Terrified of the consequences.  Terrified of being held accountable.  Terrified of not knowing what lies down the path ahead.  Again, we would apparently rather stay in something mediocre, or even shitty, in order to avoid the unknown and new.  

What we forget though is that allowing ourselves to fall victim to this fear and live our lives by it?  And that avoiding risk, and change, and unknown in order to feel "more comfortable" and less afraid?  This leads to a significantly less rich life, with far less possibility, novelty, growth, and from living a life of all the awesomeness it could be.  It leads to settling.  It leads to regret.  When allowing our fears to dictate our choices, this shortchanges us.  Big time.

So often, we refuse to let our hearts and our minds talk to each other- because if we did, we would have to do something.


Necessary leavings come up frequently in life.  Yet, the majority of the time, we view endings and leavings as failures.  As something to fear.  As unnatural or bad.  Endings are nothing of the sort.

Endings are a necessary and vital aspect of life.  Everything in life has cycles that entail beginning, growth, and conclusion/ending.  This includes jobs, relationships, projects, life phases, and more.  Seasons change.  Animals procreate, grow up, elder, and then die.  There is a time for growth and flourishing, and a time for letting go in order to move forward.

Endings are necessary in order to make way for better things to come.  Leavings can be crucial to allow space for something thats a better fit for us at that time to come along.  A conclusion is often a springboard into further growth and a new chapter.  Endings, when the time is right, are breaths of fresh air.  Doors flung open of possibility.  An important and sensical life shift, a step up to the next phase into which we are meant to enter.  An ending can be the wrap up to an important, crucial life lesson.  It can be a dawning realization and epiphany of a new life direction/path, value, or priority.


How can I assess if its likely time for an ending or leaving?  A few questions to ask yourself:

----If this situation stayed exactly the same as it is now, exactly the same in every way, am I totally ok with that and will I be happy with this 1 year from now?  Three years from now?  Five years from now?  Assuming that absolutely nothing about this situation or relationship will change.  If may have a compelling and potentially telling answer indicating a possible forthcoming necessary ending or leaving.

----If this is a relationship or person you are dealing with (colleague, family member, close friend, romantic partner), are they open to feedback?  Do they show any indication or self awareness of how they could have been acting in hurtful or wrong ways?  Do they show a sense of personal responsibility?  After receiving feedback/constructive criticism, do you see any sort of change in their behavior?  
If the answers to these questions are mostly no, you are looking at a situation unlikely to change.  And thus, a potentially necessary ending might be in the works somewhere down the road.  However, if the answer to at least 3 of these questions is basically a yes (especially the last one), you have a situation that may warrant some hope and further sticking with it a bit longer to see what happens.

----Is staying within this situation/relationship/life habit/way of thinking/job, whatever it may be, going to cause me to lose something else from my life that is deeply meaningful and important to me?  That brings me much joy and fulfillment?  That adds much to my life?  
If so, it might be worth reconsidering this said situation/relationship/habit/job that is threatening something else important, and just how worth keeping it in your life might be if you were to lose said deeply meaningful/valuable other thing in your life.  Is it truly worth the cost?  If not, it might indicate this is time for a necessary leaving/moving on from the situation/relationship/habit/job that doesnt threaten something else immensely meaningful in your life.

----Does this relationship/job/situation cause me a medium to significant degree of stress/anxiety/take a toll on my health/cause me emotional strife?
If the answer is yes, whether you claim to potentially even like it and/or find some good in it or not, this is a strong indicator that it might be worth examining closely and considering a potentially necessary leaving and thus, change to something that doesnt cause a significant degree of stress/anxiety/take a toll on your health or cause you emotional strife.


And lastly, for those struggling with the idea of the "unknown," with the anxiety and fear of taking a huge risk and moving towards something brand new, here are two mindsets that can significantly help toward feeling bravery in the face of a necessary leaving:

1. Decide what you believe about life.  

Are you here to prove something and merely survive, going along and existing day to day, paying your dues?  Or, are you here on earth to connect with others, to adventure, grow, and live your most awesome life imaginable?  It cannot be both.

This journey is either a test designed to lead to wild success or crushing failure (very black and white thinking, as well as basing your life fulfillment and success on a misguided societal standard), or, this journey is a safe process, one in which the universe is on your side, and there to help you grow to your upmost potential.  That great things will happen if you choose to listen carefully to what its telling and showing you along the way.  (Even when its scary and entails risk and unknown ;-)).

I believe life is an awesome journey, a wild and incredible ride, and a thrilling story, filled with twists, turns, exhilarating hills, and some stomach flipping plummets.  I believe that the universe doesnt make mistakes.  That everything that happens to each person is exactly the thing meant to be happening to them in that moment.  That either good, or whether perceived as something "bad," all of it is exactly what is meant to be happening in order to teach you a vital lesson, challenge you in a pivotal way, show you what you dont want, or lead you in a specific direction.  That if you choose to pay attention and follow the path of growth beckoning you (and sadly, many people do not do this), that you can and will have an amazing life.

I believe that life is one gigantic experiment.  And that in our brief flash of time on earth (which goes quick.  Damn, I feel like I just blinked and looked up to see 1/3 of my life has already gone by.  Now thats alarming and sobering), we should make as many experiments as possible.  Each one serving towards steppingstones of growth making up the whole of who we are meant to become.

2. Choose to believe there is a net thats got your back.

Sometimes life can feel like walking across a tightrope.  At times, it feels risky, dangerous, anxiety provoking, precarious.  It actually isnt.  Sit for a minute and imagine all the times you were afraid to do something, to make a decision, to take a leap.  Consider all the things you were terrified of happening.  All the worst case scenarios you imagined.  All the big, awful things you worried were going to happen.  Picturing, in your anxiety, all your worst fears coming to life.  Pivotal question here... How many of them actually happened?

How many of these imagined awful scenarios or worst fears came to pass and be?  Probably almost none of them.

So you see?  The vast majority of the time, none of these things we are so terrified of coming to pass (when faced with the unknown) ever actually come to pass or actualize.

Sometimes, life can feel stressful and scary in these big moments of unknown.  Especially when facing a necessary leaving or ending.  This venturing out into something different, new, and blurry can feel terrifying.  Remember this though: there is a net.  The universe has your back.


All of life is an experiment, as well as one big classroom.  The point of which is for you to follow along the path of growth, personal experiments, and taking as many opportunities and risks as you can, while you have the chance and are here.  However, we cannot do this by remaining in situations (job, relationship, life habit, way of thinking) that no longer serve us, that hold us back, that hinder our growth, or even that harm us.

In order to live our most awesome life, we need to learn the art of necessary leavings.  To be able to face, with bravery and honesty, when a phase or situation in our life has come (or needs to come) to a close.  And then, to walk courageously through the doorway of that necessary leaving and into the light of something new.

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