Why We Stay When We Should Walk Away

Let’s get this out of the way:  you know when it’s time to leave a job.  Let’s review the symptoms:  feeling undervalued, alienated, emotionally bullied, not listened to, bored, plain old sad.  But the money is good.  You like your colleagues.  The red flags aren’t always waving in the air.  But when they do fly in your face, you have a visceral reaction.  It feels like your stomach just inverted and announced its addiction to cortisol.

I’ll never forget when a Vice President I barely knew stepped off the elevator, grabbed my arm, and said, “Were you invited to the meeting?”  I was mystified.  I didn’t go to her meetings. “I wasn’t,” she said.  “It’s the second time.  They’re freezing me out.”  She stomped off to her C-suite office.  Months later, I heard she was off-boarded as an “Advisor.”   She knew.  So why did she linger?  Was the severance worth her mental health?

Thoughts that Ensure We Do Nothing

When we get the feeling that the time has come to move on, but continue to stay, here are some of the most common strategies we use to look the other way.

Preaching What Others Have Told Us: I should be moving toward something rather than running away from something. (Maybe you should be doing both.)

Overgeneralizing: There are very few roles for someone at my level. I haven’t kept in touch with recruiters and they’re the only ones who know what’s out there.  (Recruiters account for less than 25% of placements.)

Fixating on One Way Only: I need to get credentialed before I look at new jobs.  If the salary isn’t high enough, I won’t consider it.  (Obstacles abound, take your pick.)

It’s Not Bad Enough Yet: I’m comfortable. I’ll wait and see what happens. (The most popular reason for torturing ourselves; notice, we don’t think it will change.)

Afraid of the Unknown. I’ve never heard anyone say they weren’t afraid of the unknown, except maybe the extreme ice climbers in Greenland.

Exercising Your Personal Power

Amy Cuddy, a social psychologist, who wrote “Presence” has a badass definition of personal power.  “Personal power is characterized by freedom from the dominance of others. It’s about access to … our skills and abilities, our deeply held values, our true personalities, our boldest selves.

“Personal power makes us more open, optimistic, and risk tolerant and therefore more likely to notice and take advantage of opportunities.”  Cuddy goes on to say it’s not about the results we get, but the feeling that we’ve presented ourselves truthfully and that gives us power.  As I’ve said before, being open and poised for change attracts people and opportunities you never knew existed.

How does this work in real life?  Amy asks us to list five core values like family, honesty, hard work, integrity, intelligence.  Then choose one.  Mine would be humor.  When I’m in a situation where I have access to that value, I’m happier, emboldened.  I’m not the person at the mercy of someone else’s judgment.  If this sounds too woo-woo to be true, just try it to see how you feel.

Take Back Control

Reaffirming yourself can become a new way of life.  Rather than spending the night thinking about how someone consistently spoke over you in a Zoom meeting, spend the day reminding yourself of what you value and why you’ve made the choices you’ve made.  Listen to the whispers beneath the shouting that’s begging you to, “Look at me!  I’m the one who knows what’s right for you.”  Not so.

Take a few moments to quiet the noise, maybe journal what you’re thinking.  Do the exercise about your values and think through how they’ve directed your decisions or remember when they didn’t and how that turned out.

You really do know when it’s time to leave and return to yourself.  Finding a new role is a process that can actually empower you when you’re listening to your heart and mind and, yes, loving your core values.

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