Real Change Requires Courage

by | May 17, 2024 | Lifestyle

Many people stay in unfulfilling careers or relationships despite feeling a nagging sense of fear and frustration. Why do they do this? In some cases, difficult circumstances or factors outside our control can make leaving a job or relationship extremely hard.

Many of us, however, do have the option of leaving, yet still stay in our unfulfilling careers and relationships. Why? Perhaps we’ve simply given up on our goals and find it easier to suppress them or treat them as unattainable than face the reality that achieving them is hard. Alternatively, we may be fully aware of our goals and current suffering, yet refrain from changing our lives because we’d rather scrape by than put ourselves in a possibly worse situation by further disappointing our parents, peers, or worse, ourselves. 

In predicaments like these, we probably lack courage. We may lack the courage to acknowledge that we’ve given up. Or we may be aware of our predicament, but still lack the courage to do something about it. In either situation, we won’t confront what we’re afraid of. The result of not confronting these kinds of fear are the same, however: an unsatisfying life.

There are myriad reasons why you might be unhappy with your job or your relationship. Perhaps your boss does not see your potential or refuses to raise your salary despite your achievements. Perhaps your coworkers treat you badly or gossip about you. Perhaps your partner does not spend enough time with you or is unsupportive of your aspirations.

If you are dissatisfied with your work or your relationship, the worst thing you can do is evade or passively accept it. Sometimes, simply discussing your dissatisfaction with your boss, coworkers, or partner might help improve your situation (as long as they’re open-minded, empathetic, and willing to work with you). Of course, doing this comes with risk. They may not react constructively. Your boss might fire or demote you. Your coworkers might talk badly behind your back to your boss. Your partner might become less engaged in the relationship or even end it. 

However, these risks are worth taking because it’s also possible that positive outcomes will occur—your relationship with your boss, coworkers, or partner may improve or you may learn something new, including that those relationships may not be worth preserving. But if you do nothing, your situation may never improve (or worsen). At best, things will stay the same for a while and you’ll never get to see what could have happened if you took a risk. At worst, you might mentally snap from the current situation. Neither of these options are great if you want to be happy and productive.

Perhaps you feel that your job provides you with a stable income and that your partner is important to you because he or she cleans your apartment and cooks you dinner every day. All of this provides you with a comfortable lifestyle. However, if you look closer at the facts and at your own psychology, you might realize that this situation is a house of cards. If your values and virtues do not align with those of your boss or your partner, the whole relationship could come crashing down because of the wobbly foundation it was originally built upon. You’ll be unable to find the internal comfort that comes from having deep relationships with people who share your interests.

In addition, staying in an unsatisfying relationship bars you from cultivating other potential and more rewarding connections. You’ll stay stuck if you focus on avoiding the negative (the emotional turmoil of breaking up with your current partner, for instance). However, if you concern yourself with the positive (the joy and liberty you may gain from becoming single or the prospect of building new, healthier relationships), you might realize that there’s much more joy to be found in doing a “hard thing” than you thought before.

Our time is limited. Each and every minute we spend on pursuing a goal that is no longer worthwhile to us (or even detrimental to our lives) is one minute we cannot invest in seeking real values. When dedicating our time to attempting to save a toxic relationship, we tend to become more depressed and pessimistic. Be it out of fear or anxiety, we then often forgo other values, such as spending time with our loved ones, enjoying our hobbies, or making new acquaintances. More fundamentally, if we simply accept our unhappy state as our natural fate, we might give up potential opportunities. Our sense of loyalty and our wish to improve a relationship which cannot be saved often prevent us from looking beyond the known and searching for another job or partner. 

To pursue these potential values requires courage to break out of the vicious cycle and give up (at least some of) your security. If you want to regain control over your life, you should honestly evaluate your present situations, envision what your life could be like, and take action. Even in your worst moments, a clear purpose will remain your guiding light for creating a better future.  Yes, it is tough to end a business relationship or a romantic relationship that meant a lot to you and start from scratch. Yet such a radical change, including the destruction of a former value, might sometimes be necessary to stay alive and realize your highest potential. Perhaps German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche had the same idea in mind when he wrote, “You must be ready to burn yourself in your own flame: how could you become new, if you had not first become ashes?”1

  1. Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra: A Book for Everyone and No One, translated by R. J. Hollingdale (London: Penguin, [1883] 2003), 90. ↩︎

On Solid Ground is a community blog where we publish articles by guest contributors as well as by the staff and officers of OSI. The ideas offered by guest contributors are their own and do not necessarily reflect the ideas of the staff or officers of OSI. Likewise, the ideas offered by people employed by OSI are their own, and do not necessarily reflect those of others in the organization.

Latest Posts