Creating a Vacuum (or, when to move on)

Careers and relationships are curiously similar, I think, and as a pair are quite unique in how we approach them. We dive headfirst into these commitments with only partial information – information which, more often than not, turns out to be inaccurate.

I don’t mean to imply that job openings and potential romantic partners are intentionally misrepresented (though, I’ll admit, they sometimes are). I mean to say that they are simply two aspects of life that must be understood experientially – initial descriptions and appearances suffice only to lure you in, and you’ll only truly understand them by experiencing them over the course of time.

And thus it is important to reevaluate once you’ve acclimated to a job or significant other. Do not ask yourself, ‘is this the person or job that I fell for initially?’ (chances are, they will be quite different). Ask yourself, ‘do I love the person or job that I know today?’

But I urge you to make a distinction between the two different types of love: that which is born from mutual respect and shared values, and that which is simply a function of time spent together. The former is what we yearn for – true love – a job that is congruent with our aspirations and provides a vessel through which we can improve our world, or a partner that is leading us on a journey of growth and transformation. The latter is simply a function of comfort – given ample time, our hearts grow accustomed to a presence and begin to accept them as a part of our expected emotional landscape. We are, after all, creatures of habit, and in consistency we find comfort.

One type of love is the gateway to expanding our soul’s potentiality for greatness. The other freezes us in time, perhaps not causing regression but certainly pausing our growth throughout the time period that it occupies. And though these two loves are infinitesimally polar, I fear that you’ll find them painfully difficult to distinguish between. Love is love – the feeling often manifests itself in the same ways, the symptoms appearing identically despite the underlying causes differing greatly.

And so I offer you two questions to help gain clarity:

Knowing everything you now know about the person or job, would you make the same decision today?

If they told you it wasn’t working out, would you be relieved or devastated?

You’ll find that the answers reveal the type of attachment that you’re experiencing.

We often speak of doubts – each of us has them, but a benchmark for normalcy is difficult to establish, isn’t it? The best I can offer is to assure you that while doubts are normal, persistent doubts are not. If you find that you’re mulling the same recurring apprehensions, it is time to move on.

And herein lies the most important lesson that life offers us in regards to love – that we cannot subject it to delay.

When we come to the realization that something is not right for us, we must not delay the inevitable decision – for we are not only costing ourselves the potential for growth that we would experience with a better fit, but we are robbing the other person of the opportunity to discover it as well.

And I believe the inverse to be true: when we finally identify the person or career that holds our passion, rush into it headfirst and with wanton disregard for patience or caution.

For while we can pause our own growth – stagnating ourselves with a situation that affords us only an opportunity to continue as we were prior – time can never be paused. Once spent it can never be recovered; it is our most precious resource by any metric. It is inestimably scarce and cannot be borrowed, traded, created, nor stored.

And if you find the post-decision dissonance to be agonizing – that is, analyzing, regretting, or second-guessing choices you’ve made as you replay the highlights reel in your mind – realize that arriving at this decision was no insignificant feat. It came only after careful and thoughtful consideration – and so, after the decision is made, simply refuse to rehash the same internal arguments unless new information presents itself.

I call it trusting myself in the past tense, and I find it invaluable for being comfortable with a decision as the days or weeks pass by and my resolve begins to waver.

And so, I’ll leave you with the most exciting prospect of all: that tomorrow you may wake up and find your purpose – be that a person or a career, whichever is lacking in your life. And that alone should make each day incomparably inspiring.

But seldom will these opportunities afford themselves to a crowded life. You must first make space for them – create a void by removing that which you can’t live without, and the magic will fill the vacuum.

Un abrazo fuerte,


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11 thoughts on “Creating a Vacuum (or, when to move on)

  1. Hey Zack! This is a wonderful post and I fully agree with what you have to say. There are two points I especially like.
    One: “If they told you it wasn’t working out, would you be relieved or devastated?” I think this is such a good benchmark and yet sometimes times, because the discomfort of changing is so overwhelmingly present, we choose to ignore the writing on the wall. The writing that tells us we are wasting our time and theirs and that we ought to move on.
    Two: space! Space is so important in order for new energy, ideas, and opportunities to enter our lives. First, we need to meet the discomfort, and then make the decision to rip of the Band-Aid and make new space in our lives. This is true for both jobs and relationships.
    I recently ripped off the Band-Aid that was my job. It took me three years to confront the fear of making a change but thank goodness I finally did it. Almost instantly, new energy and ideas are flowing into my life and I’m excited to see where it takes me.
    I’m glad I stumbled across your blog. Your writing and perspectives are very similar to mine and I look forward to reading your future posts.

  2. Thanks for telling me something I so clearly already know but don’t really have the guts to do. My bf and I have been arguing a lot lately and although he is a great man I know deep down he is not the one for me. Its hard to let go but I think in the long run its going to be harder to not.

  3. I’ve often thought that relationships and careers share similar principles so I really enjoyed your post. And in answer to your questions – because I feel like answering them – no, I would NOT marry my husband again, knowing what I know now, and yes, I would be so relieved if he decided to leave. My job is a job at this point and I am o.k. with it, but it is not what I want to be doing 5 or even 2 years from now. I am thankful for it, though!!!
    Have you read the book, Necessary Endings?
    Thank you again for another excellent post.

  4. This couldn’t come at a better time. I enjoy my job, but it has a lot of flaws that I didn’t expect when I joined. At the same time, I’m going through a big argument with my boyfriend right now. With both, I would still pick them knowing what I know today. I can deal with the bad that somes, because the good that comes is often very good. However, if I lost either of them, I don’t think I’d be sad for very long. The good that I have in both of them can be found in other jobs, and other guys, I think. Does this mean that I shouldn’t work here, and shouldn’t date this guy? I don’t know. I’d like to sit in a bit longer and work to improve my relationships in both the areas before I give up on either of them.

  5. Sorry if I’m being presumptuous but you look so young to have such insight and wisdom, normally acquired when far beyond your years. Your post rings so true and I hope any of your readers who presently face such dilemmas will be able to take heed! I wish I’d read it years ago….. though I probably did and just didn’t listen (being ‘in love’ can do that to a normally rational mind!). When you truly allow your ‘heart’ rather than your ‘head’ to dictate your life choices, you actually have no choice…you just blindly place your bet and hope to strike lucky. Disappointment may indeed follow – particularly if expectations were misguided to begin with – but you can always find a way to live with the consequences; by accommodating and with compromise. Not ideal, but such trials and challenges are what makes us grow….. If life becomes truly intolerable, there is always the option to change tack altogether – although stepping into the unknown also offers no guarantees. The truth, one eventually learns, is that personal fulfilment can only come from within anyway and the most common mistake is to place that responsibility externally (i.e. onto a partner or a situation). So for many: ‘Better to have loved and lost, than never loved at all!’ or ‘better the Devil you know’ remain the order of the day….. I know, even with hindsight, that if I had the choice to turn back the clock, rightly or wrongly I would probably make the same ‘choices’ all over all again…..for I also know it’s a life full of regret and ‘If only’s, that is no life at all…….

  6. Whoa, I wish I had read your post two weeks ago when it would have really mattered, before I renewed my employment as an expat also for another six months. Oh well, I guess I have to “trust myself in the past tense” as you say.

    It’s sooo easy to be caught up in everyday-business, with work and chores and hobbies and what-not constantly fighting for our time. If we’re not careful, years pass without us noticing it, certainly not because ” time flies when you’re having fun”, but because we do not live each hour, each day, consciously, “intentionally”.

    Thanks for the great post! I’m sure many of us need more posts from you!

  7. This article is so timely and has definitely given me a lot to think about, to consider. It’s true, it can be so hard to distinguish, and thus self-trust and asking these crucial questions of potential versus self-punishment are vital in order to create room for growth whether it be new or ongoing. Thank you ever so much. I really needed this.


  8. Excellent post and words of wisdom. I took a drastic life changing step in my life that has been incredible. But I have also been having to deal with the consequences and ramifications of that change and find myself doubting my intial judgement. Well timed post in my life – I just need to trust myself past tense!

  9. This is so true! But it’s also hard to go ahead with that inevitable decision. Sometimes we are afraid to face the truth

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