5 Signs It’s Time to Leave Something

5 Signs It’s Time to Leave Something

Getty/Boris Rabtsevich

Is it time to leave a career, relationship, or life circumstance that no longer serves you? These five signs will give you greater insight.

I was at the tail end of a frat party in college when the DJ began to play “Should I Stay or Should I Go” by The Clash.

As an economics major, I knew the Law of Diminishing Marginal Returns: After a certain peak point, our benefit or satisfaction will plateau and then begin to spiral downwards.

The party was clearly post-peak. Life is short, I thought. Why stick around during declines? I began to practice optimal departures. At the time, I didn’t realize that this same principle could be applied to a job, relationship, or anything else. Today I see that those who know when to leave something are most likely to thrive.

Leaving a party is easy. There are clear signs: The crowd thins, people get drunk and sloppy, we run out of things to say.

Although the outer signs may be just as apparent, the complexities of adult life make leaving situations more challenging. The time and effort we’ve already invested, plus the risk of the unknown, makes it harder to exit. What if we leave and regret our decision? Might we simply be going through a phase? Are we expecting too much?

And of course, contractual and familial relationships come with their own complex set of challenges: love, obligation, and the risk of hurting others. As a result, we frequently overstay until our mental, physical, or emotional health takes a toll.

We often overlook an inner sign—our instincts, or a gut feeling. Wouldn’t it be great to act on this inner knowing and avoid a crisis?

Based on what I’ve learned from several heart-wrenching decisions, here are five signs that it’s time to leave a job, relationship (platonic, romantic, or professional), or other situation.

Your Mind Wrestles with Your Intuition

You try to ignore a "go!" feeling because acting upon it would mean upsetting someone else or the status quo. Few people want to upset others or voluntarily swap the known for the unknown.

This happened to me when I was 30 years old. I made the excruciating decision to forfeit a marriage proposal because my otherwise appealing boyfriend wanted me to move to the country, commute two hours each way to and from work, and give up some of my treasured hobbies. Would I meet someone better suited for me? My inner voice said “go.” I felt terribly guilty, disappointed many people, and wondered if I was making a mistake. But as a result, my life ultimately expanded in ways that I could have never imagined at that time.

You Are Contracting Rather than Expanding

You are in a situation that causes you to hold back. There are things you would like to say or do, but you don’t. You feel unexpressed or lacking in connection.

I had this experience with a friend I loved. She had become short-tempered and began to lash out at me. I held back. One day when this happened, I abruptly hung up on her. We didn’t speak again for 10 years. I’d handle this situation differently today and communicate my feelings, but at the time I was less evolved and felt frustrated. Although I missed her terribly, it also forced us both out of an unhealthy dynamic. Separating allowed each of us to expand and reunite in a better way.

You Desire More

You are meant to have experiences that will help you learn, change, and thereby grow. Yes, there is risk in leaving. But there is more risk in staying if your heart is saying “go.”

I’ve left several good corporate positions. In some cases, the moves appeared to be lateral or even backward, and my colleagues thought I was crazy. Each change either ultimately offered me even more prospects or changed the course of my professional life and positioned me for bigger things. I learned to always ultimately defer to my heart.

You’re Not Living Your Values

Your values both define you and motivate you to grow. When you compromise them, you can feel depleted or uninspired.

I once dated a man who placed restrictions on what he did with his life. These limitations gradually made their way to me. I saw my world getting smaller as I gave up things such as travel, certain cultural events, or exploring new neighborhoods and communities. When I shared my feelings with him, he showed no flexibility. My intuition said “go.” It was a tearful good-bye, but I felt incredibly liberated afterwards.

Your Desire to Leave Lights a Spark in Your Heart

Fear can cause you to do nothing. But when you feel fear twinned with a sense of excitement, that’s a “go.”

My last corporate role was highly sought after in my field. Yet at one point the “go” feeling appeared. The idea of leaving this position scared me to death. When I meditated on my fear, I felt a spark. I eventually resigned to take a year off and experience living without a plan. This time, my colleagues really thought I was crazy. I assumed I would join another firm afterwards, but life had other plans for me. What I had considered a hobby for 20 years transformed into a second career.

You might ask: What about regrets? Your intuition never lies. There is a reason you feel called to leave something. You learn from each experience, and it takes you on a new trajectory.

Practice living authentically with these six tips.

5 Signs That Its Time to Leave Something

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