“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
Should I stay or should I go?
I think that’s a sh*t song from the 80s, but the title does highlight an 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—trying to decide whether 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 clues I have learned to trust that indicate when we’ve outgrown something and it’s time to move on.
Clue #1: We feel like our gut is trying to tell us something, but we ignore it.
I was 18 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 that 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. I actually 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 by distracting myself and refusing to look it in the eye, like a dog refusing to look at the giant sh*t it just took on the carpet.
I didn’t do anything about it. Which brings me to the next clear indicator that it might be time to leave.
Clue #2: We 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, and I was catty and 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 okay to listen to that.
Similarly, a few years later, when I knew I wanted to get the hell out of Perth, Australia, 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.
When we start not liking who we show up as in a relationship (or job, or friendship, or city, or lifestyle), it could be time to look elsewhere. I feel like those aspects of our lives should make us want to grow and expand. When we start shrinking and not really caring that we are, that’s some stuff just begging to be looked at.
Clue #3: We find ourselves bending and warping to fit in, even when we know we’re not being true to ourselves.
I love to overthink. I love to chase trains of thought, and I love deep, vulnerable discussions on the wrong side of 3 a.m. As a dreamer, a truth seeker, a lover, I am furiously passionate about the world, so much so that I want to drink in everything I can about it. And I do this through stories. I do this through thinking, imagining, and discussing with people whose dreams are 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.
I tried to sit at Friday night drinks with my overpriced espresso martini and ask my friends about about their work 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 13-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 my 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.
Clue #4: We feel like “too much” for the people around us.
I had a friend from Perth who lived in San Francisco, California. I remember at the time thinking it was the coolest thing ever that he’d managed to leave Perth to live in Sydney, Montreal, and finally San Francisco. We were kindred souls in terms of how we both wanted to discuss ideas for hours and 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,” he said on the phone to me, 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 about 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 unpick the mysteries of the universe with me. I needed a place where emotions—good and bad—would be seen as 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. I felt seen. I felt validated. I finally saw myself 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. What I’m saying is I just feel closer to where I need to be than I did two years ago. And in two more years, 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?
Not only have I stopped pressuring my old friends into conversations they simply don’t want to be in (which, I’ve learned, 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.
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 a relationship or a city means creating a massive tectonic shift in the foundations upon which we build our identities, and that can cause some ruptures and take some time to work itself out, leaving us feeling scared and weird and not knowing what lies ahead.
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, or 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.