Ever feel stuck and wonder if you should stay put or move on? Here are 5Cs to help you decide.

life is too shortSometimes we find ourselves in unpleasant spaces. We know we need to move but somehow, seem rooted in that negative place. In our reluctance to rock the boat, we hang in there, hoping that change will come without any action on our part. We somehow don’t seem to realize how the situation could be damaging us, or how much we could be hurting ourselves.

The situation could be a job, relationship, or any other scenario that should normally be beneficial but turns out to be the opposite. As human beings, our ability to adapt to change is often celebrated and has been credited for our survival against extinction and other threats throughout the ages.

However, not everyone is versatile and sometimes we struggle to change. Indeed change can be difficult as it almost always comes at a cost. So, more often than not, we make excuses to avoid moving out of a situation that is detrimental to our life and health simply because we want to avoid the pain of change. Take for instance the battered wife who stays with an abusive husband until he kills her. Alternatively, we turn to negative coping mechanisms and find outlets for our frustration that soothe us without addressing the problem, for example the employee who turns to binge eating because she cannot handle an abusive supervisor.

The truth we all know is that piecemeal solutions will never work. They are merely a temporary salve to a deepening wound which can contaminate other aspects of our lives if left untreated.

The reality of life is that it is littered with challenges – that’s normal. However, putting up with a challenge over the long-term and learning to live with a negative situation is not ideal. The best we can do for ourselves is to face those challenges and deal with them before they overcome us.

Of course we don’t want to over-react to every minor situation by taking drastic measures. So, there question is, how do we differentiate a temporary situation that will self-resolve, from something potentially permanent that requires dramatic action on our part? I believe there are always some tell-tale signs hence it is important to pay attention, take heed and know when to move.

If we are honest with ourselves, we will admit that the signs that it’s time to move on are often pretty obvious, yet we ignore them and wait until the situation becomes untenable, then we make irrational, desperate decisions that can potentially aggravate the situation.

Here are some suggested tell-tale signs that a situation is untenable and one needs to act. Although the list is by no-means exhaustive, I believe that anyone who is experiencing at least three of these in a particular situation should seriously weigh the options and take action.

  1. Plummeting confidence

Anyone whose confidence is constantly battered will eventually lose it. When pressure is repeatedly applied to a particular spot on an object, that point gradually weakens and the object eventually breaks. The same applies to a person’s confidence. If one is in an environment where that confidence is persistently attacked, it will eventually  give in. These attacks could be in the form of words or actions.

A highly accomplished lawyer friend of mine was consistently verbally abused by her ex-husband who cheated on her with adolescents and justified the action by frequently telling her that they were more intelligent than her. Although she brushed off the words and appeared to be coping well in most areas of her life, the verbal abuse eventually took a toll on her work and threatened her career. She became unsure of herself and this was most evident in meetings and situations that required written work as speaking out and writing revealed her mind, which she was no longer sure of. Consequently, any criticism  of her work, no matter how constructive, was perceived as an attack on her intelligence. It was only after she separated from him and surrounded herself with positive people who gave reaffirmed her that she gradually regained her confidence.

My advice is, if you are in a situation where your confidence is consistently being chipped, then you need to act urgently for your own sake.  Address the people or circumstances that are causing your confidence to dip. Assuming you can cope without taking any meaningful steps to address the situation will only serve to prolong your misery. Face the situation squarely and deal with it.

  1. Confinement

Every living thing is expected to grow – this is the normal order in life. In the absence of growth, degeneration and regression set in. If for example, you are stuck in a career that is not going anywhere, then it is time to seriously consider moving on. The danger with staying in a confined place for too long is that you will eventually settle for less than you deserve. In this ever changing world of more frequent new discoveries, knowledge can easily become redundant. If you are in a confined space, chances are you are not learning anything new and you are not growing, while what you know is quickly becoming irrelevant.

Confinement will do you no good. It will only serve to curtail your progress, while you become increasingly frustrated. So, do yourself a favour, get up and move on.

Life is supposed to be progressive and we should keep moving forward in order to reach our next level. Stagnancy under any circumstances can only lead to frustration.

  1. Reduced capacity/capability

I’m sure we have all heard that there are two kinds of resources – the finite and the infinite. Finite resources, which are usually tangible, decrease with use, while the infinite resources, which are often intangible, increase with use. These infinite resources, with reference to an individual, include one’s mind, ideas, relationships and general capacity. If one’s capability is either redundant or under-utilized, erosion and subsequent frustration are inevitable. If your capacity is being reduced, then most likely you are neither reaching your potential nor contributing meaningfully to society so you are better off moving to a place where you can grow and be of greater value to society.

  1. Feelings of being caged
Photo credit: www.christianrivera.net 

Ever seen a caged animal? Being in Africa, I see lots of those, but I also see animals that are roaming free. From my non-animal expert opinion, I get a sense that the animals that roam freely in the wild are much healthier than the ones that are confined.

The same is true of human beings. We thrive when we are given room. Any kind of confinement is to our detriment. If, in your career, you feel like a caged animal, then it’s time to move on.

I once worked in an office where I was excluded and was a virtual stranger throughout my tenure in that office. I was not the only person who felt that way. The office we worked in was very fractured and the leadership applied a policy of divide and rule. Consequently, cliques emerged and because the leadership preferred to work with a chosen few individuals, everyone else was left out in the cold. Colleagues who were in the clique played along as it eliminated competition and allowed them to shine. It was a very sad place to be because I would wake up every morning and go to work to sit and watch everyone else working. My efforts to contribute were quashed and whatever I had to offer was trashed.

Assignments were dished out to everyone around me – along with superfluous compliments. I was caught up in a situation where the office was bustling with activity while I was locked out by an invisible barrier of systematic psychosocial abuse and a curtain of exclusion. In order to be productive, I had to scrounge for work, picking up the tasks that no one else wanted to do. Needless to say I ended up picking up the unpleasant, tedious and menial tasks, which could often be done within minutes, then I’d be bored again, while scrounging for more work.

My efforts to initiate ideas that would have made my work more exciting were crushed as soon as they were uttered.

Like a caged animal, I watched longingly as colleagues got about their work, their negative attitude forming invisible iron bars that kept me out of the collective space. My participation at work was at best vicarious and at worst non-existent. Information related to work was kept a closely guarded secret and my efforts to get involved were like trying  to break into a secret society with a cryptic code of conduct.

Human beings adapt quickly and are easily conditioned so I soon crept into the shadows and learnt to be invisible just to maintain a peaceful co-existence. I also realized that as long as I stayed in the organization, I would not grow. Working there was like wearing the same, tight shoe everyday while trying to walk comfortably and convince the world that all was well regardless of the arrows that were being shot at me.

I love my work and enjoy what I do, so having that taken away from me was devastating. After some introspection and consultation with trusted colleagues, I realized that the problem was not with me, but with a manipulative, handicapped leadership that created and fanned divisions for its own ends.

Unable to cope with the psychological abuse and being mindful of its potential long-term damage, I was forced to make the choice to move on. I had to decide whether to stay on and let my spirit continue to be bruised until it was crushed, or move on to an organization that valued my skills and contribution. I chose the latter and moved on, although it took months for me to get another job.

  1. Incessant criticism

Nobody is perfect, we all err hence criticism is a normal part of human life. Constructive criticism is helpful and can result in improvement. On the other hand, when criticism is incessant and based on prejudice and pre-conceived notions, it loses its objectivity and becomes destructive. If you find yourself in such a situation, self-evaluate and ask objective people around you to help evaluate you. If there is nothing wanting on your part, then perhaps it’s because the people around you are biased.

In the final analysis, you are your best advisor. Don’t ever let anyone tell you what’s best for you, after all, you will live with the consequences of other people’s advice long after they have forgotten what they said. If you feel it’s time to move, then by all means take the leap.

The truth is, people give advice based on their experiences and assumptions. On the other hand, you’re wearing the shoe and you feel the pinch. Don’t let their assumptions overrule your experience.

The danger of staying in the wrong place for too long is that you lose who you are. Don’t let that happen to you. Evaluate your situation, make a decision, then take the leap!