Yesterday, I used the phrase “better-the-devil-you-know mentality” to describe voters; because voters tend to go for the incumbents rather than take a chance on someone new – no matter how dissatisfied they are with the incumbents.

Then I started thinking that this mindset is pretty common across all aspects of human experience. People are afraid of the unknown. People are often cripplingly afraid of the unknown.

That’s why people would rather stay in an unhappy or even miserable relationship rather than strike out on their own. That’s why people will stay at a dead-end job for as long as they will have them there, because they don’t know what to expect in another position. That’s why people will remain living in the same town they grew up in, even if staying there is draining the life out of them.

People will slog away at something that is, for all intents and purposes, hopeless, only because it’s familiar. Beginning something entirely new is more frightening than the prospect of continued failure.

My brother and his wife are a classic example. They are both educated, but can’t get jobs in their fields in the small, economically depressed town they both grew up in. Moving even less than an hour’s drive out of that town would pretty much guarantee them both fairly good jobs without any added living expenses. But they won’t do it, citing the need to be near family. So they struggle year after year after year trying to make ends meet with whatever jobs they can get.

I have a friend who has spent over 30 years of her life trying to be an actor. She gets the occasional roles but they’re sporadic and low-paying at best. She lives in abject poverty and every aspect of her life from her health to her family to her relationships has suffered because of it. And yet she clings to acting and panics when you suggest she might try a different field – just to make some money.

And then there are some of those people on Dragon’s Den (Shark Tank in the US).  They spend hundreds of thousands of dollars of their own money and years of their time on a business idea they think is brilliant. Then they go on Dragon’s Den and get told their idea is worse than bad and that they’ve wasted a good part of their life and a lot of money they could ill afford on this business. They are told by the experts to drop the idea immediately. But they don’t. They can’t. This is their “life.”

And I know many other people who spend their time basically spinning their wheels because the thought of venturing out of their rut is unfathomable.

I’ve never been that attached to familiarity, so I always find it incredibly frustrating when people I know are incapable of moving forward because they can’t give up on what they perceive to be their “security or their “love” or their “passion” — even if it’s killing them.

On the other hand, people have told me I give up too easily on people, places and things. And that may be true, as well. I don’t know.

If whatever I’m involved with is presenting more frustration, depression, anger and/or despair than it is presenting joy or opportunity, then I’m happy to let it go. I don’t mind moving to a completely new city or trying a new job or leaving behind a familiar network of people. There are many ways to keep in touch with friends and family these days. And even if the new city or the new job turns out to present no more opportunity than the one I left, I haven’t lost anything. So far, I haven’t regretted any of the moves I’ve made whether from one city to another or one job to another or whatever.

So, what about you? Is there any aspect of your life that’s in a rut? Any dead horse you’ve been flogging? What’s your excuse for not having made a change that you know in your heart of hearts is long overdue?

Have you made a change that might have seemed frightening at the time, but turned out to be the best thing you ever did?

Is stick-to-itivness an absolute virtue?


30 responses to “Ch-ch-ch-changes…

  1. I’m going through a bit of this right now. I got fed up and quit my job in May 09. The plan was to do some volunteer work over the summer and get a new job in the autumn. Even had a job lined up.

    Two things happened though. First, the economy tanked that summer which caused the lined-up job to disappear. Second, I realized how much I actually hate what I was doing.

    So, I’m looking for a new job, and it’s hard going. I want to do something different, so I’m actively avoiding the stuff I’ve been doing for decades but dislike. It’s hard to make this change – I’m not a young’n any more and jobs are generally scarce at the moment.

    But I’d rather change than be stuck in the rut I’ve been in for so long.

  2. Good questions, XUP.

    When I think about it, throughout my adult life I have followed a fairly defined pattern. Go along with things, chill and be happy with my lot… and then suddenly change all the players on the board. Happens about every 7-9 years. And sure enough, it has been 9 since my last big shuffle and here I am, doing another one! You know what I’m talking about.

    I guess I like stability and predictibility for a while but not for too long. I think that if I thrive when there is a little craziness, but not too much. A rut is good but not too deep and not for too long.

    As for regrets? Naw. I have almost always been 100% happy with those sudden shuffles in my life… it does, however, sometimes take me a while to realise this.

    @Squid-dude – come and work in the PS!

  3. I don’t think stick-to-itivness is such a virtue. It all depends on the situation. I’ve stuck with this job in this company for 16 years despite the fact that I’m sometimes sick of it because a) it pays well and b) 85% of the time I like it. It’s not a passion, it’s not my “dream” but it pays the bills and I don’t hate it by a long shot. And mostly, it allows me to have a life I’m quite content with.

    On the other hand, if I hated it much more than I liked it I’d be gone in a minute. No point in being miserable just to hold onto the

    The whole “follow your bliss” thing is all very well and nice if you have someone to bankroll you but otherwise, meh.. I’d rather eat and pay the rent. I’m prosaic that way.

  4. That sentence was supposed to say: No point in being miserable just to hold onto the familiarity…

    Dunno what happened there.

  5. In my situation I am making sure that exercise all options in my own field (including longshots) before I pick up and go. If I am not back in it by August 31st then I’m outta here. I’ve started looking outside my original industry and a minimum of 120 kms from “Home”.
    I stuck around because where I am is where the business is.

  6. I’ve been in both the stick it out camp and the cut your losses and try something new camp. I’m somewhere in between the two right now.

  7. I have a change resistant personality but the times when I took a chance and went against my practical, comfortable side (like moving out west to travel and find a job, or moving to Ottawa) have been the best things I’ve ever done. No regrets. I wish I could take all the credit, but finding a partner that likes adventure and change was the little push I needed to give things a try. I suspect if I didn’t meet him, I’d be living in the same city 2 minutes from my family, living a totally different life.

    (on another note – I changed my blog design and I’m surprised that I’m getting feedback that some folks are not liking the changes. So interesting!)

  8. I don’t think being afraid is the problem, at least, not in my case. Avoiding feeling fear is what gets me every time. Even knowing that the more I avoid fear the bigger I let it become (enter vicious cycle), my problem with it doesn’t seem to be affected by all the logic I throw at it. My panic button is apparently wired to override any intelligent thought process I may have. Once the panic is engaged, I will do (or avoid doing) anything to make that feeling go away.

    Underlying the fear avoidance is a great deal of shame – again, speaking for myself only. Deep down, I am convinced that I am not good enough. At what, specifically, I don’t know. Shame is a hard thing to explore. So I live my days ashamed of being me and in constant fear that someone will find out what a “fraud” I am and *gulp* call me on it.

    I can look at all that logically and see how wrong it is, but I have yet to figure out how to see it clearly emotionally.

    So that’s why I am still sitting here wishing I had the guts to follow my dreams. What if I put myself out there and my family and friends discover my awful (albeit imaginary & exaggerated 1000-fold) secret, that I’m not worthy?

    Emotionally, I would rather stay in my rut and keep what I have than risk losing it all – and having nothing to replace the void that this would create.

    Logically, I wish I could kick my own @$$ hard enough to knock sense into me. It’s like trying to tell a four-year-old that monsters don’t exist, when that child “knows” emotionally that not only do they exist, but they’re hiding under the bed just waiting to gobble him up.

    It’s easier to go for the temporary fix of checking under the bed and feeling the short-lived relief that brings… because, you know, if the monsters aren’t under the bed, they must be in the closet (and so on).

    Oh, and for the sake of honesty on the subject, I should say that I’ve hesitated pushing the submit button for over an hour now. Just sliding the mouse over it puts my stomach in knots at the mere thought of **anonymously** putting myself out there like this. See how logic doesn’t mix with fear?

  9. I think it comes down to a human being’s ability to adapt.

    I’m sure waaaay back when we were still living in caves and trees, drastic or serious change was bad. It probably meant no food, no shelter, sickness and death.

    And that probably created the fight or flight reaction – do we adapt, or do we run away? And when faced with prospect of change, I think most of us run away – we don’t adapt.

    I’ve talked to a lot of people about my move from a bank to a credit union – after almost 21 years. 21 years! I started at the bank when I was 18, in May 1988. I left in November 2008.

    That move scared the ever-loving crap out of me. Sure, it was time for a change, and the credit union was going to pay me a lot more, and it was move I don’t regret – but still, the bank was where I had worked for over half my live. I knew the people, the environment, blah blah blah.

    But in my mind there was always the “What if I don’t succeed? What if I absolutely hate it there? What if, what if…?”

    This kind of thing isn’t just related to your career either. It’s related to anything surrounded by big change: moving into a new house, having a kid, losing weight.

    If major change is involved, there will be some amout of “What if??” going on as well.

  10. Squid – That’s very cool. And very brave. I’m sure a brilliant solution will present itself.

    Trashy – The 7-9-year itch, eh? I guess it’s a good thing you found a different outlet for it this time around.

    Jazz – liking something 85% of the time is excellent. I’d stick to that too. I don’t think there’s anything you’re going to like 100% of the time no matter how passionate you are about it. I think you can consider yourself very fortunate!

    Lebowski – You absolutely have to give things a good shot before giving up; especially if it’s something you really want. And in a lot of industries things don’t necessarily happen overnight and it things take time. Most professions tell people to expect to spend at least 6 months searching for a job in their field.

    Dr. Monkey – That’s probably a good place to be – not afraid to change, but also not afraid to stick to something. Let’s call it the Monkey Camp.

    MM – Your blog changes are great. It’s just that a lot of people don’t like anything new – ever. I know people who are still wearing the same clothes and the same styles from 30 years ago because that’s when they became grown-ups and they’ll keep wearing those grown-up clothes forever.

    WW – Your situation sounds like what I meant by “crippling fear”. You’re not only afraid, but also afraid of being afraid. The longer you hesitate to make changes, the more difficult it becomes. So, you could try just making one small, tiny change – something that would only be noticed by you. See how that goes. Then try something else. The more times you are able to make a successful change, the more confidence you’ll have and the more your fears will be reduced. Something I’ve mentioned before, which I’ll share again, is how I deal with my daughter when she is afraid of doing something. I tell her to ask herself the following basic questions and answer them honestly and not from a place of panic: 1) What is the absolute worst that could happen? 2) How likely is it that the worst will happen? 3) What can you do to mitigate the worst happening and/or what can you do to fix things if the worst does happen? I wish you courage. And thanks for the comment.

    Ken – Adaptability is one of the keys to longevity they say. I would have thought that olden days people were much more adaptable than we are. They were at the mercy of the whims of nature and had to be ready to deal with something new every day – crazy weather, wild animals, enemies, illness, accidents, etc… We’ve built ourselves secure fortresses against all that. Anyway, I assume your move turned out to be a good one? I don’t think I have much of a “what if” thing. When I decide on a change, I spend more time looking forward to all the new stuff I will encounter, the people I’ll meet, the things I’ll get to do.

  11. Ah, but I think that’s why we built our secure fortresses, to protect ourselves from all that change, and having to adapt.

    Why make changes when you can build walls around yourself and keep things the way they are?

    As I’ve gotten older, I now look at the world in a more “What’s the worse that can happen?” view. That’s why I moved jobs. That’s why I have my kids in a bunch of activities – I want them to experience so many different things.

  12. Ken is right – fear of change is all about cave man brain function. If you used path #1 to get from the cave to the river and a lion jumped out to ambush you, if you survived, you would not take path #1 again. Likewise, if you took path #2 and never saw a lion, you would always take Path #2, even though it was an extra mile. The familiar is safe, even if it is inconvenient or worse than something new. The new is untried and untrue.

  13. Let’s see:
    ~In the middle of my senior year of high school, I decided to move from N.C. to TX to live with Mom just to do something different.
    ~I’ve been divorced twice.
    ~I’ve never worked anywhere longer than 18 months (I am talking employment and not counting my 10 years of volunteering as a MOW driver)

    So I guess it’s safe to say that if I’m not 100% tickled pink about something, I move on. Maybe your friends would also say that I give up too easily on people, places and things. But like you, I’ve enjoyed every change I’ve ever made.

  14. While I like routine in my daily life schedule, I’m all kinds of ready for big changes. When all my friends were going to college 20 minutes from where we grew up, I went several states away, just for something different. I picked up a different career path when I was in grad school, just because I liked the change. Since my husband and I have been married we’ve lived in 3 different states, many cities, and several different houses. And recently we picked up and moved to a different country with about 6 weeks of notice. I like to get out of the usual thing. I’m lucky because my husband is the same way. If we’re not trying new things, what’s the point? That’s how I feel.

    However, I understand people that like the routine and stability of no change in their lives too. For some I think it is the fear of what will happen if they make changes, but for some I think it is just a total inability to handle things that are different. So, some make a conscious decision to avoid change but for others I think it is just part of their make up (cave man mentality perhaps that Ken referred to).

  15. I’ve been kind of in a state of constant flux for the better part of 2 years, largely due to things sort of beyond my control–losing the job, then eventually having to move out of Ottawa, then getting things set up to go back to school, and all that other wonderful stuff that kind of goes on in between. I work fairly well in either situation, really. I figure, most of the reason I’m kind of in flux right now is sort of beyond my control anyway, so getting worked out about it’s not gonna do much. Either stuff will happen, or it won’t. All I can do is give random doors a good hard kick and see which ones open. Well, okay, maybe that’s not *all* I can do. But it sure is fun. 😉

  16. I crave major shake-ups on a regular basis. After high-school I moved 1200kms away from the small town to the evil big city, alone. A few years later I quite my normal, sane job to join the Army. A few months ago I quit my normal, sane job in the Army to be a full-time student in a completely different field. Through this period there were several moves across the country, two weddings and a divorce (obviously.)

    Change teaches us about our limits and how they’re not where we think they are. Change teaches us about the nature of friendship and the value of family. Change keeps us vibrant and young and flexible.

    I love change. BRING IT ON!

  17. I don’t really adapt well to change if it is imposed. If I make the decision, then I get excited about the possibilities and look forward to being in a different place.
    I used to move every year, and though I didn’t enjoy the physical moving bit, I loved exploring the new neighbourhood once I was there.
    Changing jobs, however, is a bit scarier. I guess because I have more control over my home situation than my work place.

  18. Well if the bus driver business doesn’t work out then maybe I’ll be come a skydiving instructor.

  19. Having moved 40 times in my lifetime, and left innumerable friends and family behind, I am ready for a few comfy ruts.

  20. Have you made a change that might have seemed frightening at the time, but turned out to be the best thing you ever did? I retired. That was, to a degree, scary, since I had been working since I was a teen.

    Is stick-to-itivness an absolute virtue? Sticking to a job and a savings plan was what allowed me to leave right after I reached 55, so in my case, “stick-to-itivness” paid off.

    Of course, if I had been canned when I was 54 1/2, we would be living off my savings and I would eventually have to find a job.

  21. I tend to have high inertia (i.e. it takes quite a bit of effort to get me moving and I am making a metaphorical reference and AM not talking about my weight – just so that’s clear). But as you know, I made some changes in my life lately and have taken a plunge into the unknown to pursue my own interests. I think there is a time when we should stick to it but jobs, activities, locations, even family and friends, though greatly valued must have less priority than our long-term happiness and health.

  22. I think loyalty is a virtue, but I think it’s like any other personality trait – it has a good and bad side. I think this is the case with all virtues.

    I think we need to examine our internal motivations when we are set on determining if stick to it ness falls in the virtue or vice category. It’s one of the virtues that can be easily manipulated by outside forces (employee loyalty, “brand loyalty” for example).

    In general though I think in our society there is a genuine lack of loyalty. People don’t stick to things that matter, but are hard sometimes. Generally, as a society, we seem to have impulse control issues and lack concentration.

    I mean, how many people take the time to mend clothes, take shoes in to be repaired, see a marriage counsellor before splitting up? In this hyper accelerated consumer culture we seem sure that everything is disposable and easily replaced with something better.

  23. I stayed in my first marriage at least 10 years longer than I should have due to having children at home and fear of the unknown. The change happened anyway and it turned out to be a blessing-just took about 7 years to get there.

  24. @mudmama
    I mend clothes and take shoes in to be repaired, but when my first husband (after I left) suggested marriage counseling it was a joke. It would have gone like this:
    Marriage Counselor: So what’s the problem?
    Me: I can’t stand this guy anymore and I am in love with someone else.

  25. Ken – Ya, that’s pretty much what I said…

    Julia – I don’t know. I guess that’s how we evolved into spending so much of our time sticking our heads in the sand.

    Geewits – You’re fearless. Odd that after sailing through all that you are anxious about much less daunting things.

    Kimberly – I think if you’re happy and content and your current circumstances are serving you well, then by all means stick to it. It’s just when your situation stops serving you well that change might be indicated.

    James – You’re like a leaf, buffeted in the wind. I don’t think there’s actually a lot of stuff in our lives that’s beyond our control, or that we at least have some ability to control part of. Knowing which is which is the tricky part.

    Susan – I’m with you. Life is only really interesting when I have a new life-shaking project or plan to work on.

    Violetsky – Being self-employed must present all sorts of opportunities for change and newness?? But ya, imposed change is sometimes not fun – although it can be. Except that change that’s imposed on you is usually not to your benefit.

    Lebowski – Too dangerous!! Just ask the Prime Minister.

    Woodsy – Yes, you woodland creatures need to burrow down and hibernate at some point.

    Mike – Boy, if I had to pick a million words to describe retirement, “scary” wouldn’t be anywhere near the list. But I do understand that it’s a frightening prospect for a lot of people – especially men. And yes, I would have chucked my job long ago if it weren’t for that pension awaiting me when I’ve stuck it out long enough.

    LGS – I know! What an exciting time for you. I’m always envious when I hear about people plunging into something new like that. I’m sure it will be a wonderful journey for you.

    Mudmama – I always wonder which came first in this situation – did we just suddenly become hyper-consumers or did loyalty just not become worthwhile anymore? Used to be if you were loyal to your job and worked hard, they rewarded you with security, promotions and appreciation. Now, no matter how hard you work, you can be canned at the drop of a hat. Your clothing and household items used to be worth repairing – there were professionals even who did that. Then manufacturing began to take place oversees, cheaply and the stuff produced was crap meant to last only a few months. No one repairs anything anymore and if you try to get an appliance fixed, you get laughed at.

    Linda – That must have been a long 10 years. But boy, when you finally go for a change, you don’t fool around, do you?

    Geewits – lol!

  26. @Xup: I think I agree with you, to a point. But we also often don’t realize exactly how little control, at the end of the day, we actually have over a lot of things. Just because you haven’t decided you’re fed up with that job and want out doesn’t necessarily mean someone else hasn’t decided you’re leaving whether you want to or not. Likewise, you may want to get yourself into a different situation–employment, living arangements, what have you–than the one you’re in presently. You may even go so far as to leave your job intending to take the first one to come along that looks marginally better. But if folks aren’t interested, you may very well wind up–through no fault of your own–right back in a job similar to the one you left, if only because whether you like it or not, bills still need to be paid. Also again, if other people aren’t interested, you may find yourself making other, more drastic changes–moving, going back to school, what have you.

    Re: loyalty etc, simply put–it goes both ways. If companies weren’t treating their employees like second/third class citizens, they’d probably see a lower turnover rate than a lot of them do. Companies often don’t take care of their own anymore as well as they used to, which translates to people just hanging around because they have to/it’s the only job they can get right now/they still need the paycheck, even if they don’t need the stress/whatever else. And if/when companies go under, it’s the business first, the people who help run/support it second. That’s a large part of why the second a company talks cost cutting measures, you know you’ll be reading about layoffs. Take a look at the Nortel mess for a perfectly good example–they’ve been sued, taken to local/provincial governments/otherwise screamed at how many times, now?

  27. James – I agree about your assessment of workplaces these days — I said the same thing to mudmama above. As for choices – yes life will throw you curveballs (a lot sometimes), but you still have choices in how you deal with them and your life in general. I know people who have been dealt a shitty hand by life events who let those events bury them. They allow themselves to feel helpless and unable to control things because of what’s happened and then they just sink deeper and deeper into loss of control over their lives. Then there are other people to whom equally shitty things have happened, who just dust themselves off, see the crap as just another challenge to overcome and fight back. It’s not always easy and sometimes we just need a break .. some time to regroup… as long as we don’t let that become permanent (which is really easy to do in some circumstances)

  28. i’ve only just begun to let go of things that do not serve me. some things are harder to figure out than others but i’m way more assertive now and very clear about boundaries with other people.

    i can honestly say that about 90% of the changes i’ve made have always turned out much better than i thought they would. i never want to settle for anything (except other people b/c we can’t change others), i think life is meant to be lived to the fullest b/c really what do we have to lose?

    i get frustrated when i see people that would rather be safe than happy.

    i used to have a very intense fear of leaving my home (for work, vacation, anything) but applied for a job that would require me to travel all the time, monday thru fridays. i was scared shitless but wanted the job and it turned out to be an amazing experience that served me in many ways.

  29. Leah – Well, I think some people need safety above everything else, so there’s no point in getting frustrated with them for living their life the way they need to. What’s frustrating is when they complain all the time about it.

  30. yes, that’s what i mean to add (the complaining about it). i can’t wait to try this out, a tip from “the dan savage”. to tell the person who repeats their records, “i am not willing to discuss this with you anymore at this point after having discussed it a million times”. not to be snotty or mean of course, but to set that boundary.

    i do not recall anyone ever saying that to me before, but when i’ve been stuck people avoiding me is how i finally figured it out 🙂