“do not choose the lesser life. do you hear me. do you hear me. choose the life that is. yours. the life that is seducing your lungs. that is dripping down your chin.”
-Nayyirah Waheed, Nejma
Should I stay or should I go.
I think that’s a shit song from the 80’s, but the title does highlight a very important question we’ve all had to ask ourselves at least once in our life: is it time to leave? Does this job/ relationship/ city/ project/ friendship serve me anymore? Do I stay and work it out? Or do I go?
Over the last few years I’ve done my fair share of leaving.
I’ve left people, jobs, plans, projects, friendships and cities. Each time it is gut-wrenching, each time trying to decide wether to stay or go can be overwhelming. What’s the right decision? What if I leave, and then change my mind? What if this is just a phase? I get it. So here are some definite markers I have learnt to trust that indicate when is a good time you’ve outgrown something, that it’s time to move on.
1.You feel like your gut is trying to tell you something, but you ignore it.
I was eighteen when I had my first “grown up” relationship. We were together for about three years. But it was around the two-and-a-half year mark that I started to get this niggling feeling that… maybe I did not want to be in this relationship anymore. The problem was, I couldn’t justify to myself why. He was ridiculously intelligent, handsome, kind and his parents were so dope I low-key wanted them to adopt me, too (actually, I still speak to his mom to this day. When I wrote my first sexually explicit piece and posted it on the internet this year she was all “great job, my girl!” Like I said, dope.) It seemed ungrateful, almost, to want to throw it all away.
But there was this voice, this undercurrent, that near the end got louder.
This is not your person, it would say, which I would constantly ignore, distract myself, refuse to look it in the eye, like a dog refusing to look at the giant shit it just took on the carpet.
I didn’t do anything about it. Which brings me to clue 2, a clear indicator that it could possibly be time to leave:
2. You stop striving to be a better person
Although my brain refused to acknowledge my boyfriend and I were not the right people for each other, my body knew, and my actions followed accordingly.
I stopped showing up as my best self. Becoming lazier, I was more inclined to fight and less inclined to come up with solutions. I resorted to behaviour I usually hated; we bickered, I was catty, I was increasingly passive aggressive. I didn’t care if he saw me as childish. I didn’t care how he saw me at all. While I was too scared to leave the familiarity of the relationship physically, I had started to check out emotionally. Eventually, surprise surprise, he broke up with me.
And while I still think he is one of the best humans on the planet, I wish I’d ended it sooner. There doesn’t always have to be a reason to leave a relationship. Or a city. Or a project. Or a friendship. Or anything.
Sometimes your gut simply just says “no.” And it’s ok to listen to that.
Similarly, when I a few years later, when I knew I wanted to get the hell out of Perth but didn’t yet want to admit it to myself, my behaviour said it all. I started drinking more, exercising less, being less mindful in my relationships with others, and generally I just became more negative.
So you find yourself not even liking yourself in the relationship, (or job, or friendship, or city, or lifestyle) it could be time to look elsewhere. I feel like your person, your friendships, the place you live and your job should make you want to grow and expand. When you start shrinking and not really caring that you are… then that’s some stuff begging to be looked at.
3. You find yourself shrinking/ warping/ bending to fit in or don’t feel like you are able to truly be yourself
I love to overthink. I love to chase trains of thought, I love deep, vulnerable discussions on the wrong side of 3am. As a dreamer, a truth seeker, a lover, I am furiously passionate about the world so, much that I want to drink in everything I can about it. And I do this through stories. I do this through thinking, imagining and through discussions with people with dreams as big as mine.
A few years ago, when I lived in Perth, I felt like I was the only weirdo in my social circle who felt this way. When I started to talk about the stuff I wanted to talk about I often felt shut down, like.
Here she goes again.
You think too much, Caity.
You’re too emotional.
You’re too intense.
Just like… chill.
I tried to sit at Friday drinks with my overpriced espresso martini and ask my friends about about their working week and university assignments while trying to ignore every cell in my body wanting to ask instead How do you feel about that? When was the last time you cried? What’s your biggest fear? What’s your biggest regret? Would your thirteen year old self be stoked with what you’re doing now? What’s your relationship with the universe, if any? What desires keep you awake at night?
These were people I loved to the end of the earth.
Yet I always went home feeling anxious and unsatisfied, like I’d had a sip of water but hadn’t quenched the thirst. I couldn’t consolidate these two ideas in my head and I felt like a bad person. And in retrospect, it wasn’t really fair to blame my friends for truths I hadn’t been prepared to face; I just simply didn’t fit in that scene, in that country, in that lifestyle at that specific point in time.
4. You feel like “too much” for the people around you
I had a friend from Perth who lived in San Francisco. I remember at the time thinking it was the coolest thing ever he’d managed to leave Perth to live in Sydney, Montreal and finally San Francisco. We were kindred souls in terms of we both wanted to discuss ideas for hours, we both wanted to create big things in this life, and we both knew that grateful as we were for it, Perth was not the place for us.
“Perth is not your place, and these people aren’t your tribe” a he said on the phone to me one night, after I called him in the middle of the night in a near panic-attack saying “I feel stuck and misunderstood and I don’t know what to do.”
“It doesn’t mean you don’t love them,” he continued. “You just know they’re not giving you what you need right now. So set your sights elsewhere.”
Shortly after that I moved to El Salvador, on the other side of the world. From the get-go I showed up honest with what I needed. I needed to be around women who wanted to surf, so I felt motivated to do the same. I needed smart humans who would be more than happy to sit and try unpick the mysteries of the universe with me.
I needed a place where emotions good and bad would be seen normal and valid, and as latinos pretty much invented being passionate and emotional no one really raised an eyebrow when I was loud or sad or expressive or passionate or whatever. I felt seen. I felt validated. I saw myself really reflected in the people around me.
I have not felt like “too much” in two years.
It’s not that I’m now satisfied and settled and the work is done.
I’m still at odds with certain ideologies in this country, widely held beliefs that grate against everything I stand for. There’s also some problematic elements in the whole expat culture that don’t totally sit well with me. What I’m saying is I just feel closer to where I need to be than two years ago. And in two years time I hope I’m even closer still. To a sense of home, belonging and unspoken understanding. It’s what we all want, isn’t it?
It has been almost like a pressure valve has deflated. I no longer sit at girls drinks on a Friday night thinking ‘what is wrong with me? Why isn’t this enough for me?’
Not only have I stopped peppering my old friends into conversations they simply don’t want to be in (which, I’ve learnt, is fine- not everyone wants to talk about ‘the interconnectedness of everything in their downtime. Some people want to just, like, chill) it’s almost like, when I talk to my old friends I am more settled. I’m not pushing them to give me something they can’t give me, because I now have that elsewhere. I can just enjoy them, as they are, and them me.
You can love your friends silly, but also know you need to find more people who align more closely to the kind of person you want to be and kind of experiences you want to have in this world. That’s okay.
So, stay or go?
Leaving isn’t simple. It’s actually one of the most terrifying things we as humans have to do. Leaving something like a job or relationship or city means creating a massive tectonic shift in the foundations upon which we build our identities, and that can cause some ruptures, take some time to adjust, leave us feeling scared and weird and not knowing what lies ahead of us. It’s not always a grand leap. It can be a gentle dance between faith and fear. Maybe at the start your fear makes you stay.
Fear there will be no more love.
Fear you will never find a better job.
Fear you will never find people who really get you.
Fear you’re being ungrateful, that it’s all in your head.
But slowly, the faith builds. It’s a gentle dance. The faith grows, the fear shrinks. Again, a little more. Until one day you wake up and the faith is bigger than the fear. You believe it now. You trust. You feel ready to step into the unknown.
If you are getting that small voice in your heart saying leave! leave! leave! It’s there for a reason. If you feel like you are being called elsewhere, if you feel like your heart yearns for more, listen to it.
Seriously, listen to it.