How do you know when enough is enough? When is it time to walk away?

By Farah Hussain Baig, LCSW

Picture this scene…You are standing at the corner waiting for your bus to take you home after a long day at work. You’ve been waiting patiently for ten minutes and it’s nowhere in sight. Ten minutes turn into twenty and you are thinking about to walk away. You find yourself getting frustrated as you’ve seen every other bus pass you by except the one you need. You start hypothesizing why your bus hasn’t made it yet, and you contemplate running to the train or catching a cab. “No…” you tell yourself, “…the train takes too long and a cab costs too much, besides I’ve already waited this long, how much longer could this take?” Sound familiar? This scenario, as mundane as it may be, is a metaphor for some of life’s more significant crossroads where we find ourselves wondering…“when is it time to walk away and try something different?”

We’ve all been there-at the fork in the road, needing to make a decision, to go one way or the other. Whether it’s leaving a job or walking away from a long-term relationship. The stakes seem high and at times paralyzing fear holds us back from even thinking about alternative options. So what should one consider before making such a big decision? Beyond a standard pro-con list, here are some things to consider when you are faced with such a decision:

Know your wants and needs:

In a culture where conformity is often easier than living authentically, it can be difficult to tap into your inner voice and listen to what you need to feel whole and valued. Turn down the volume on the noise of those telling you, “what you should want” and ask yourself, “what do I want?” “What would make me feel happy, safe, respected, challenged, etc?” This self-reflection is necessary to truly understand if you are being fulfilled or if there is something more out there. Prioritize this list and use it as a guide as you move forward with your decision. Identifying concrete wants and needs can be challenging and may take some time, so be patient with the process.

Know your limitations and deal breakers:

This is where we talk about “boundaries”. Ask yourself, “what is okay and what is not okay?” or “what can I deal with and what I will not deal with? If you have a situation that makes you uncomfortable, or identified a behavior that is intolerable, it can become necessary to set appropriate boundaries in order to feel safe. By doing so, you are choosing the esteem-building option to put yourself first. If you can’t be your best advocate, who will? If you are someone who struggles with understanding where your boundaries lie, it might be helpful to read some literature on basic boundary setting. Reviewing this literature can also be a good reminder to those who think they know where to draw the line. There are countless books available depending on your situation, but a nice basic book to consider is Boundaries: Where You End and I Begin-How to Recognize and Set Healthy Boundaries by Anne Katherine.

Do not walk away! Face your fear:

Asking for what you need and setting boundaries can be scary and takes courage. It generally consists of a conversation that creates anxiety and resonates as conflict. The discomfort that comes from the fear of loss or the fear of the unknown keeps people from getting to where they need to be, keeping them stuck. Allowing yourself to remain in a dead-end job or relationship chips away at self-worth and lessens one’s perceived ability to create change in their situation. This results in wasted resources, time, being one of the most obvious and possibly the most important. Stop waiting for someone else to create change in your life, you have more control than you think.

Evaluating costs and benefits:

Some of us are determined to fit that round peg in the square hole if it’s the last thing we do. “Have I tried everything…ten times over?” But at what cost? Our time, money, and emotional energy are some of our primary resources. When we decide to make an investment, whether it’s in a stock, a job, or even a person, we need to evaluate our cost and our return. If the return is not fulfilling enough and doesn’t fit with our needs, it means it’s time to evaluate whether the investment is a good one and possibly do something different. So be smart with your resources, they become more precious with age.
If someone is not willing to respect your boundaries after you have asked for what you need, investing further could be a waste of resources and can ultimately leave you feeling drained. Know what you want for your life and stop living in fear. You have the ability to take charge and stop waiting for the bus, a promotion or a marriage proposal. Reflect on your needs and investments and if they don’t match up, empower yourself and walk away.