Stay or Go: How to gain clarity and do the “right thing”

Darlin’, you got to let me know,

Should I stay or should I go?”

The Clash

Life requires things to get messy now and then. Trying to make up your mind can be even harder. Should you cut your losses and leave whatever painful situation you’ve found yourself in, or do you double down and fight to see it through?

  • Stay or leave when you have a relationship that’s good sometimes and majorly crappy the rest of the time?
  • Stay or leave when your job is soul-crushing but well-paying?
  • Stay or leave when you’re halfway through a degree that gets more torturous by the day?

You’re torn. It’s almost like there are two figures in your mind (one who wants to leave and another who wants to stay) who are battling it out and confusing the hell out of you:

Leaver: “This isn’t what you wanted! How much more of this can you stand? You’ll go mad! You deserve better.”

Stayer: “Don’t listen to the leaver. He’s just a quitter and a coward. You can’t leave now; what will people say? What about all the effort that you put in?”

Leaver: “If you stay, it’ll just get worse! Do you have no self-respect? Listen, I hate to say this, but you can’t trust what the stayer tells you. She has a problem accepting reality. She doesn’t like admitting that we failed.”

Stayer: Shut up.

Runner: You shut up.

Yeah….. Like I said, messy.

Who do we listen to here? How can we move out of this paralyzing uncertainty and know which voice in our head to follow?

The Right Way To Judge

When it comes to these sort of decisions, we agonize over what is right. We are afraid that the wrong decision will lead us astray, sort of like boarding a train to the wrong future.

And that is precisely the problem. Thinking about things as “right” vs “wrong” and “good decision” vs “bad decision” can completely screw us over. The decision takes on monumental proportions, which of course makes us even more scared to make a mistake. This fear makes us less likely to think clearly.

So first things first: we need to leave behind the dichotomy of “right” vs “wrong” and “good” vs” bad”. We need to replace it with “Am I acting out of fear, or am I acting out of trust?”

When viewing our actions and decisions through the lens of “fear” vs “trust”, our focal point stops being the outcome of the decision (i.e. whether we stay or go). Instead, we start paying increased attention to our internal state and what is truly driving our behaviour. This combination of indifference to outcomes and high self-awareness is the key to making decisions that don’t suck we don’t regret later on.

Appropriate vs inappropriate emotions

I don’t mean to completely demonize fear while putting trust on a shiny pedestal. All emotions have their place and can be appropriate or inappropriate depending on the situation.

Fear, for instance, can be very helpful in keeping us alive. If you didn’t feel scared if you saw a lion charging towards you, you wouldn’t run away, and your family would have to perform your funeral with whatever pieces of your body they can find. Fear is a completely appropriate emotion when your physical safety is threatened.

The matter of trust is nuanced as well. No relationship in the world can survive without trust. At the same time, if you trust every random person on the street with your house key – well, I’ll leave you to envision thoughts of your house being ransacked and you becoming some kind of homeless waif.

So, if fear can be appropriate, and trusting others can be inappropriate, why should we generally choose to act out of trust and not fear?

It has to do with the world we live in. Few of us will ever have to fight off a lion; in the modern industrialized world, most of the fears and threats we deal with are emotional or mental. We’re in a semi-permanent state of “fight or flight” against horrors existing not in reality, but generated in our minds. This means that we are plagued by an epidemic of existential fears:

  • Fear of failing or being seen as a loser
  • Fear of not being good enough or being deficient
  • Fear of being left behind or abandoned
  • Fear of not belonging or not being accepted
  • Good old #FOMO (Fear of Missing Out)

And it’s just really sad to go through life battling our minds and knowing that we are our own worst enemies. In this case, fear is deeply inappropriate. It doesn’t keep us alive; it stops us from living in the first place.

The same argument applies in reverse to trust. While it is unwise to blindly trust others, we would do well to trust in ourselves more. We hold ourselves back from going after what we want because we don’t trust that we deserve it. This mindset works as a self-fulfilling prophecy. We unconsciously sabotage ourselves so that this deep sub-conscious belief is proven true: that we may be unworthy of greatness.

Quote by Seneca: We are often frightened than hurt, and we suffer more from imagination than from reality.
Stay or Go? The Right way to make decisions

Stay or Go: Acting in Fear and Scarcity

Acting out of fear comes from a belief that something is scarce or lacking – in ourselves, other people or in the external environment. This is also referred to as having a scarcity mindset. When we are afraid, we only see scarcity of resources (even if plenty are available), a future that is threatening (as opposed to being filled with potential) and a general belief that what we are and what we have is not good enough.

This is what staying out of fear looks like:

  1. “This is the best that someone like me can hope for.”
  2. “I’ll lose everything I worked for if I leave.” See also: the sunk cost fallacy.
  3. “I’m too old (or some other adjective) to start all over again.”
  4. “I’ll look like an idiot if I give up. I’ll have failed.”
  5. “What will others say?”
  6. “Maybe this is what I deserve. I’m not good enough for someone/something else.”
  7. “If I leave, I’ll be losing this person/situation to someone else.”

And this is what leaving out of fear looks like:

  1. “Maybe I just don’t have the ______ (energy/drive/ambition/discipline/talent/intelligence/whatever) to make it work.”
  2. “This is just way more difficult than I thought it would be. I should leave now before it gets worse.”
  3. “I’m not good enough for this person/situation.”
  4. “If I stay, I’m losing out on all the other options available.”
  5. “Pfft, this was never good enough for me anyway. Almost no one/nothing is.” (This sort of arrogance usually acts as a cover for some deeper insecurity.)

No matter whether we stay or leave, when we’re acting out of fear, what we feel is some combination of envy, guilt, anger, overwhelm, sadness and paralysis. This, of course, makes the decision-making process harder; no outcome feels right.

Stay or Go: Acting in Trust and Abundance

When coming from a place of trust, we believe that we are enough as we are, and we will have all that we need when we need it. We search for the good in the world. This is also referred to as an abundance mindset. Research has found that people who think in terms of abundance are more happy, creative, alert and healthy. Another bonus? They also produce more antibodies after vaccines – something that would be very useful in the coming months.

This is what staying out of trust in ourselves looks like:

  1. “I am staying because I believe I have the skills, abilities and willingness to make this work. I believe in my ability to fix my side of the problem.”
  2. “Staying may be hard, but it is worth it because it will teach me something that I know I need to learn.”
  3. “Staying will give me something meaningful or important.”
  4. “If I invest more of my time, energy or money into this, and it still fails, I’ll be at peace. While I want things to work out, the idea of failure itself does not scare me, because I know failure can also teach me a lot.”

And this is what leaving out of trust in ourselves looks like:

  1. “I am leaving because this situation/person requires me to be less than I am.”
  2. “I am leaving because I know I deserve better than this kind of abuse/suffering/ill-treatment.”
  3. “I am leaving because there is a whole wide world out there filled with opportunity, and I can’t wait to make use of it.”
  4. “I am leaving because I have learned everything that I could have learned from this situation/person.”
  5. “I am leaving because I know that if I stay, I will only stagnate, and never become what I could be.”

This sort of trust in ourselves is only possible with a growth mindset. We understand that even when things don’t happen the way we want, no experience is ever wasted as long as we have learned from it. This makes us feel calmer and more confident in our decisions.

"Peace is the calling card of true inner guidance." - Quote by Ellen Grace O'Brian. 
Stay or go: How to do the right thing

Your thoughts shape your destiny

In a perfect world, we would only be motivated to act out of trust. Reality is more complicated than mere perfection will allow; it is normal to trust ourselves while still feeling some fear. As long as you are sure that your most dominant emotion is indeed trust, you can feel confident in what you are doing.

So, stay or go? In any situation, either can be right, and either can be wrong. Why we do something – the reason behind our actions – matters just as much as what we do. So focus less on what is the “right thing” to do, and more on what emotion is driving you. Decisions taken out of fear are sub-par and lead to a life that is mediocre at its very best. Want to have a good life? Start trusting in your ability to handle the ups and downs of life, and look for the good in the world.

"Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions. Watch your actions; they become habits. Watch your habits; they become character. Watch your character; it becomes your destiny." Quote by Frank Outlaw. Stay or Go? How to do the right thing