It seems that most of us have a pretty good internal gauge that helps us determine when it’s time to move on. Whether that decision (to stay or go) pertains to a relationship or a job, the questions to ask yourself are essentially the same. And sometimes we pay close attention to that gauge and heed its warnings and sometimes we ignore it and try to come up with every possible reason why it’s ‘off’ or why it cannot be relied upon. But that gauge cannot be ignored. If you fail to notice the little signals it gives off to let you know you’re going in the wrong direction, it will just increase them in quantity and intensity. If that little ‘zap’ doesn’t get your attention, like the one you get when you reach for the handle of your car, try sticking your finger in a light socket. No, please don’t stick your finger in a light socket. I’m just using this as a metaphor.
What I’m trying to say is that if we refuse to see the ‘obvious’, we’re going to keep getting ‘messages’ until they’re strong enough to get our attention and help us realize some serious changes need to be made. I’ve had it happen enough times that I think I could provide you with some insight. You can treat what I have to share with you today as a cautionary tale, or you can follow it to the letter, or you can simply dismiss it. It’s just one perspective from one person. I do hope that you find what I have to say worthwhile. I’m not particularly a fan of unsolicited advice, but maybe you don’t mind so much? If I can save you from some of the needless suffering that I went through because of my stubbornness or refusal to remove myself from an unhealthy situation, let’s just say this, it’ll make my heart happy.
Relationships are tricky things. We have the ones that we choose and the ones that are chosen for us. The ones we choose are generally friends or partners or even our children. The ones chosen for us are the families we are born into and some might add, the families that are connected to the person or people we’ve made a lifelong commitment to (partner, spouse, etc.). Many people think that because someone is related to them, they are ‘entitled’ to treat them however they please. They can be rude or hateful or nasty or patronizing and because they’re a sibling or a parent or an aunt or uncle, they’re permitted to conduct themselves this way. At least, that’s what I think they think. I’ve heard people casually use the phrase ‘blood is thicker than water’ to dismiss bad behavior. I’m sorry, I don’t work that way.
In my book, you should treat people the way you want to be treated. I want to be treated with kindness, compassion and respect. And I don’t think you necessarily get respect because of whatever symbol is on your lapel. That’s probably why I struggled so much in the military. I joined as a means to escape the situation at home, and I think all I really did was step from the frying pan into the fire. I already was subjected to so many rules and had so many expectations imposed upon me growing up. When I joined the military, it was like going from 0 – 60 in 6 seconds. I think I got whiplash right when I stepped off the bus (along with all of my other wide-eyed companions).
The military was one of the first significant times in my life that my internal gauge was really trying to get my attention. It started out with just a quiet ‘beep’ on occasion, sort of like you might hear from your phone when someone sends you a text message, and then over time it increased in size and volume to a loud ‘gong’ that would reverberate throughout my brain and body. I didn’t listen to the ‘beep’ when it would go off on occasion. Everyone told me I could do anything I wanted, I was smart, I was capable. When I got my notification in tech school as to what my job would be, I learned I would become a ‘Ground Radio Technician’. “I’m smart, I’m capable, I can figure this out,” I said to myself. Why wouldn’t I? I survived Basic Training. Despite the T.I.s waking us every morning at 4:30am sharp by banging two trash can lids together and screaming at the top of their lungs, despite the endless marching and drills and exercise, despite the bad food and the lack of sleep, despite everything, I survived.
The quiet ‘beeps’ started up when I was in Basic Training but I just ignored them. When I joined, it was as though I had boarded a train and wasn’t allowed to depart until something greater than myself intervened. I had to ride that train all the way to the next depot, no matter what the cost. People were counting on me. But once I entered tech school, the ‘beeps’ got louder and became much more frequent. I still didn’t want to acknowledge them so I found ways to drown them out. I was going through the motions and doing what was expected of me. I couldn’t let people down. I went through the training and I did exceptionally well academically but I wasn’t really happy. I felt like an imposter wearing that uniform. I didn’t understand all of the silly rules about fraternization, maintaining a ‘military bearing’, and I definitely could not get my head around coming to attention or changing my behavior because someone that ‘outranked’ me had entered the room.
It was during my first (and only) assignment that I started to hear the loud ‘gongs’. Still, I tried everything in my power to silence them. But that’s the thing, if you don’t listen, your body will find a way to get your attention. “You’re not going to listen when I scream in your ear?” your body asks. “How about if you go to bed every night with knots in your stomach? Would that make a difference? You still don’t want to listen? Why don’t I have ‘Dread’ visit you every morning and stay with you all day long? Is that helping?” Listen, your body and/or brain is going to let you know one way or another if what you’re doing or the direction you’re headed is the right one. You can deny the signs and the signals all day long, but they’re not going to relent until they’re ‘heard’.
I was fortunate because I found a ‘way out’ about halfway through my enlistment. I met a great guy, we got married, I got pregnant and voila! Just like that they let me out. I was no longer ‘government issue’, I was free. But it came with a price. It took a heavy toll on my spirit and my soul. And this is why I’m writing to you today. This is why I’m trying to help prevent you from getting into a similar predicament. And while I’ve talked exclusively about the military and my experience from it, this can apply to any job, really. It doesn’t matter if you work as a cook or a mailman or a nurse or an electrician or a teacher. Whatever your job is, if you’re absolutely miserable and waking up with knots in your stomach and consumed with a feeling of dread, it might be time to ask the question, “Should I stay or should I go?” And if you don’t know where to turn or who to turn to, there are lots of resources available to help you find something that suits you better. Just because you are doing a particular job today, doesn’t mean you have to do it for the rest of your life. Life is full of endless possibilities.
I think of relationships much the same way, at least as far as determining whether they’re worth sticking around for or whether it’s best to cut and run. And some you cannot do a whole lot about, as much as you’d like to. Some people you’re just stuck with, as it often is with the family you were born into. But that doesn’t mean you have to put up with bad behavior, you may just have to create some pretty strong boundaries. Friendships are another matter altogether. I’ve had a number of them throughout my life. Some have been fairly brief and others I’ve had for decades. But I’ve applied the same ‘rules’ or ‘guidelines’ to relationships as I have to jobs. Does the person you consider ‘a friend’ leave you with a feeling of dread each time you spend time with them? Do you develop knots in your stomach when you think about the next time you’re planning to get together? And I said ‘knots’ not ‘butterflies’. That’s a whole different thing. Butterflies are usually good, knots are not.
Listen to your body, that is my message to you and for you today. Listen for the ‘beeps’ and do something before the ‘beeps’ become ‘gongs’. If you have unhealthy people in your life, you are under no obligation to continue to engage with them. There are plenty of other people that would enjoy your company and make you feel really good, even great, in their presence. It’s not easy to sever ties, but sometimes it’s necessary for survival. Life is short. Fill it with things that bring you joy. It doesn’t have to be anything elaborate. You can find joy in the simplest things. Just don’t ignore the messages that your body sends to you, that internal ‘gauge’ that we are all equipped with. Whether it’s a job or a relationship, whatever it may be that is causing internal conflict, don’t wait for the ‘gong’, my friend. Don’t wait for the ‘gong’.