This article first appeared on Happify
We live in a strange world where the pace of change places paradoxical demands on us.
On the one hand, we need to be adaptable, to let go of our preconceptions and to be quick to embrace new ideas and seize new opportunities. On the other, we need to battle against a culture of instant gratification and learn to tough it out when we feel passionate about a path or an idea before abandoning it to pivot to the next new one.
In my experience working with hundreds of women who are either burning themselves out in their pursuits or hopping from idea to idea looking for one that feels exciting and purposeful, I’ve found the following to be helpful guides on when to persevere and when to call it quits.
When to Pivot
You’re damaging your health and/or your relationships
Some of us become hooked on our pursuits because we’re trying to prove ourselves through them. But when success drives us, it can crowd out other important areas of our lives. For instance, outings with friends may seem less fun when you’re preoccupied with your work. Or you end up missing one too many family meals when you’re trying to perfect your tasks. If that’s you, you need to reassess your life. Who are the people you want to spend time with, what are the passions you want to pursue, and what memories do you want to build? Life is a compromise. Where will you make yours?
You’re not finding joy in the pursuit
Many of us arrive at mid-adulthood having spent years pursuing someone else’s dreams, leaving us disconnected from who we are and what we really want and disenchanted with the joyless ride our own lives have become. If that’s you, spend some time thinking about the life you want to live and the legacy you want to leave behind. You may not find the answers overnight, but when you do, change your path. For there’s nothing sadder than climbing the ladder of life only to realize too late that it was leaning against someone else’s wall.
You’re too afraid to let go
It’s not uncommon for us to choose to stay put even though we feel unhappy in our work or relationships, because we feel we have nowhere to go. It might be because we’ve been doing the same job all our lives and have become a one-trick pony. Or, we’ve been so focused on one relationship that the thought of leaving that comfort zone fills us with fear—even after it becomes clear it’s not working for us anymore. If that’s you, take small steps that challenge you but don’t throw you into disarray. For example, attend a networking event, spend time with new people and get to know them, or sign up for a class where you’ll learn a marketable new skill. Ask yourself: Where do I need to step out of my box and what one step can I take right now?
When to Persevere
You don’t believe in yourself
We often let go of things we’d love to do because we don’t have confidence in our abilities. We tend to compare ourselves to others and feel we don’t measure up. If that’s you, you need to shift your attention to what you do well. What are your strengths? If you come up empty, think back to times when you felt at your best or succeeded despite the odds. What inner qualities helped you? And how can you harness them again?
You flutter from idea to idea
Some of us don’t stick with a plan long enough because we get carried away by every new idea that comes our way. This could be a sign that we’re creative, but usually it just signals that we haven’t fully committed. If that’s you, devote yourself to the project, the job, the relationship, whatever it may be. What is your role and what responsibility do you carry? How is it aligned with your larger vision of your life? And what steps will you need to take to make it happen?
You expect things to come too easily
A lot of us can get excited by an idea but give up when the going gets tough. This is becoming increasingly prevalent in a world where most things happen with the click of a button. If your motivation wanes when challenges mount, spend time connecting with the path to your goals. What are the challenges that can come up? What will you do when you don’t “feel like it”. Researcher Gabriele Oettingen’s WOOP acronym walks you through the four steps of what you Wish for, the Outcome that you’re working toward, the Obstacles that can come up, and the Plan you have to move through them. Use it to guide you!
Life is complex and the journey through it can be confusing at times. This is especially true in a world rife with extrinsic motivations of power and prestige and bursting with opportunities and shiny new paths. And while it’s always good to seek advice when unsure of which way to go (or not go), the real answers need to come from within. As author and historian Yuval Noah Harari says in his book Homo Deus, the better you learn to know yourself, the less influenced you’ll be by what others say, and, in an increasingly digitalized world, by what algorithms determine to be right for you. At the end of the day it’s your vision for your most successful life that will guide you. Like a North Star, it will draw you, whether it’s forward in your journey or away from the path that you’re on.