How Do You Know When It’s Time to Move On?

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Moving on from a relationship, job, or dream can be scary. Sometimes, you've just got to make like Elsa and let it go.

There’s a difference between giving up and letting go. It’s okay to acknowledge that a relationship, a job, or even a lifelong dream has run its course. When you hold on after something no longer serves its purpose in your life, you don’t allow space for new growth or change. In short, you end up stuck–and probably unhappy, too.

But how do you know when it’s time to move on?

Relationships

Repeat after me: a breakup is not a failure. There’s so much pressure to “make it work” that we lose sight of the core concept that relationships are supposed to make our lives better. If you’re feeling miserable, trapped, disrespected, or exhausted because of your relationship, then wouldn’t your life improve if you decided to move on?

Often, it feels easier to stay even if you’re not very happy. Dating is a nightmare, and untangling shared finances and negotiating custody agreements is so overwhelming that most of us would rather not even contemplate it.

Remaining in a situation that’s just barely tolerable is a pretty miserable way to spend your time on Earth. That might be why so many people seem determined to blow up their own lives. Cheating, picking fights, or behaving recklessly can take the decision to end a relationship out of their hands.

Are your needs being met? Do you feel safe and respected? Are you sad or angry most of the time? Do you resent the other person? Asking these tough questions will let you know whether it’s time to move on from a relationship.

Career

There’s an idea in economics called “sunk cost.” Basically, it’s money that you’ve spent and can’t get back. Many of us look at the time, money, and energy we’ve invested in a job or a career path and think that we can’t possibly change now because we’ve already sunk so much into it.

We’ll keep shoveling more and more resources into this pit in order to avoid facing the truth: we made a mistake, and the investment is never going to pay off. The sunk cost fallacy plays out in our decision-making in lots of ways, both big and small, but it’s especially prevalent in our careers.

It’s not too late to make a change! If you’re unhappy or unfulfilled at your job, look for another one. If you’re bummed out by the career path you chose, then develop the skills to try something totally different.

There are countless reasons that you might feel miserable at work, and sometimes things get better by working for a different company in the same industry. However, if you’re burned out or bored by the work itself, then it might be time to make a more radical change.

A decade ago, I decided to pursue a master’s degree–and discovered after just one class that I was never going to share my classmates’ passion for the field. But I’d already paid for the semester, moved to a new city, and committed to completing the degree, so I stuck it out. Guess what? I was never happy working in that industry.

Dreams

In her poem “The Summer Day,” Mary Oliver wrote, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do/With your one wild and precious life?”

When a dream starts to weigh you down, it no longer serves its purpose. Letting go of a dream, however, might be even more difficult than moving on from a job or relationship. A dream is a promise that you made yourself, and breaking that promise can feel almost like a betrayal.

Sometimes, a dream runs out of time, but more often it simply stops being something you want. People change. The world changes, too. Letting go of old dreams can be incredibly empowering. You may find that the dream you were holding onto with all your might was actually making you miserable.

One really helpful exercise is to ask yourself whether the dream belongs to you or to someone else. We’re very good at internalizing the wishes of the people we care about, so there’s a decent chance that at least a few of your dreams are rooted in someone else’s vision of your future.

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