When Do You Walk Away?

Several things happened over the weekend that made me think about dedication, motivation, and patience. I watched a TV show where one character should have walked away and didn’t, while another character walked away and shouldn’t have. I had three separate conversations where I tried very hard to help friends see all their options without influencing their decisions. I also watched The Waterboy, namely the part where Vicki Vallencourt is talking about her horoscope:

Vicki Vallencourt: [An astrologist] goes, “You’re going to be faced with a difficult decision today.” But the thing is, we’re all faced with difficult decisions every day.

Bobby: Maybe by leaving her predictions vague and generalized, there’s less of a chance of someone finding out she’s a phony.

There’s a lot of truth in that conversation. First, we do face difficult decisions each day. These decisions may or may not be related to finance. Second, a lot of advice about decision-making is vague and generalized in hopes that it will apply to a larger number of people. Personalized advice is a hot commodity these days, but it’s not always time- or cost-effective.

What happens when there IS no good advice out there for your situation? Where do you turn when you’re so frustrated, you’re ready to just give up? Maybe you have to choose between paying two equally important bills, or you need to decide whether or not to pursue a dream. The pressure of deciding what to do can be enough to drive a person crazy. All of us have breaking points - do you know yours?

A Decision Making Process

1. Determine what values are at stake.

Many dilemmas involve a conflict between two ideals or principles you believe in. For instance, a former friend used to ask to borrow money constantly. Each time, I was torn between the belief that I should help those in need and the knowledge that I was enabling her behavior. More often than not, I loaned her the money; I valued her friendship more than the concept of personal responsibility. However, eventually there was a tipping point where I had to walk away from the friendship - it had become overshadowed by the realization that she valued my wallet more than me.

2. Assess the level of risk.

There will always be situations where the risk is worth the reward. I took a huge risk by quitting my job to freelance full time, but only because I felt it would be worth it even if I had to return to a “real job” later (still crossing my fingers that I never have to do that). However, one of the first things I did was purchase private health insurance, because I’m not willing to risk my health or future insurability to save a few dollars. The amount of risk you’re willing to take depends on your values, circumstances, and past experiences - no one can answer that question but you.

3. Imagine all the potential outcomes.

If you open Door #1, what’s the worst that can happen? The best? What about the best and worst possibilities for Door #2? What is the likelihood that any of those things will happen? Sometimes thinking in extremes can help us identify our hopes and fears about a problem we’re facing. Let’s imagine you’re in a convenience store and you’re deciding whether to buy a lottery ticket.

Door #1: You buy the ticket
Best case: You win millions of dollars.
Likelihood: Probably not going to happen.
Worst case: You throw away five bucks that you could use for something more important.
Likelihood: Very good possibility.

Door #2: You walk out of the store with no ticket
Best case: You just saved five bucks.
Likelihood: Definite, unless you buy something else instead.
Worst case: The person behind you in line wins millions of dollars.
Likelihood: Probably not going to happen.

Not all situations are as black and white, but it’s much easier to see the pros and cons of a decision when you take time to think of all the possibilities. This is also a good way to exercise some impulse control.

4. Set limits.

Before you make an important decision, choose the circumstances under which you will walk away. If you agree to cover for a coworker who is having personal problems, for example, you’re making a very nice gesture. But without firm boundaries, you could end up resenting that commitment later. Instead of saying, “I’ll work your shifts anytime you need me to,” consider something like, “I can cover your shifts on Mondays or Thursdays for the next three weeks if you’re having a hard time.” By defining what you will and won’t do upfront, you’re saving yourself the guilt that can stem from escaping a bad situation.

5. When all else fails, go with your gut.

Sometimes all the thinking in the world won’t help you shake the feeling that you should take a certain action. This does NOT mean you can buy that handbag at the mall because your first thought is, YES, I need this! It’s amazing and on sale and I’m pulling out my credit card! Don’t confuse gut instinct with impulsivity. I’m talking about a true feeling, after careful deliberation, that you need to act in a particular way.

Example: I stayed married to my (now ex) husband for 3 years after he cheated. I was raised to value marriage, and I still did (even though he obviously didn’t). When I thought about the risks involved with getting divorced, it made much more sense to stay married - financially, emotionally, and spiritually. I thought about all the outcomes and it seemed that divorce would be stupid. I set limits with him regarding what behaviors I would and wouldn’t tolerate. Yet deep down, at the end of all that reasoning, I still felt that divorce was the right choice. I finally followed my gut and my only regret is taking 3 years to do it.

When Do YOU Walk Away?

No matter what you’re dealing with, personally or financially, it’s important to make your decisions carefully. As you wrestle with your choices, spend some time planning for the actions you’ll take if it doesn’t work out the way you planned.

None of us want to think we would ever walk away from our responsibilities, but sometimes it’s necessary to do so if we want to maintain our sanity. Otherwise no one would ever file for bankruptcy, lose a home to foreclosure, or leave a bad or unhealthy situation. The question is, do you know what it would take for you to take that kind of leap?

When you make decisions, do you spend time thinking about your breaking point? Do you know what it would take for you to walk away from a poor choice? Or do you say things like, “I made my bed, now I have to lie in it” to avoid admitting it’s time to give up and move on?

  • http://www.youngcheapliving.com/ Kraig @ Young, Cheap Living

    I think about “when I would walk away” in many areas of my life. I think about it at work. I think about it with my living situation. I think about it with my family and friends. I think about it A LOT with my finances and the places I send money every month. I think I have a pretty good idea of when and what it would take to talk away from the different things I’m paying attention or money on my my life. Some areas I would never or almost never walk away from and some I would with only slightly more frustration that I already have. With some, it may just be a matter or time. Like you mentioned her, I think it is important to know yourself and where those boundaries are and what your values are in each area.

    • http://www.sooverdebt.com Andrea @ SoOverDebt

      I think it’s great that you’ve spent time thinking about those things - that just means you would spend less time agonizing if a situation actually came up where you HAD to walk away. Sounds like it would be pretty easy for you to choose, which is awesome! I’m finally getting there, but it hasn’t been easy.

  • http://www.moneyaftergraduation.com/ Bridget

    I have trouble walking away.

    From situations because doing so makes me feel like I failed, and from things because I become so obsessed I’m certain my quality of life will decline if I’m without the item.

    Things to work on =(

    • http://www.sooverdebt.com Andrea @ SoOverDebt

      My biggest fear is failure. It is SO HARD for me to admit I can’t make something work, even when it’s clearly not within my control. But then I let that spill over into other things, and for awhile I could even convince myself that I was a failure if I couldn’t buy certain things I wanted. That’s how I ended up with so much credit card debt! Definitely not a great place to be, but it’s hard to figure out how to stop doing it.

  • http://www.makingsenseofcents.com/ Michelle

    I have trouble walking away also. A lot of people say this is due to my stubbornness. And I’m not going to deny that, I need to work on this.

    • http://www.sooverdebt.com Andrea @ SoOverDebt

      Hi, fellow stubborn person! Welcome to the club. Your member badge should arrive in the mail any day now.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_NNQTITGQC3L7GHWAKXTTBRIDVA Rachel

    Making the decsion to walk away is a hard one. I think as people, we tend to make decsions emotionally rather than logically. We stay in situations that are bad for emotional reasons. Gut instinct is a powerful force. I can’t think of a situation where it has led me wrong, but I can think of a ton of situations where I’ve gone wrong not listening to it. I think you’ve made a great point about setting boundaries. I’ve had some tough situations where that was a key element to getting me out of the situation without feeling like a horrible person.

    • http://www.sooverdebt.com Andrea @ SoOverDebt

      That’s the hardest thing for me - trying to avoid feeling like a bad person even when I knew it was the right thing to do. I grew up with a strong sense of obligation to help others (I call it my social worker gene) and that’s hard to ignore. But at the same time, I can’t help anyone if I run myself ragged and have a nervous breakdown. That’s where I try to draw the line.

  • http://www.balancingmoneyandlife.com/ Kris @ BalancingMoneyandLife

    I know my walkaway point when it comes to work - I’ve had to wrestle with that decision at a couple of (former) jobs, so I’m not committed to when I will walk away. I walked away from my first marriage too - perhaps too soon, but in the long run the right decision.

    I tend to take a lot of time making big decisions about walking away - too much, sometimes. But I need to feel like it is the right choice.

    • http://www.sooverdebt.com Andrea @ SoOverDebt

      I’m similar in that I don’t make decisions lightly. But when I feel something is right, i can’t shake that feeling no matter how hard I try. For example, I knew within the depths of my soul that quitting my job was the right thing to do, even though many people think I’m nuts. I’m not saying that it will work out exactly the way I’d like it to, but I know it’s going to turn out better than staying would have.

  • http://moneymamba.com/ JT

    How timely.

    Walking away from financial matters is more black and white than any other decision, I think. In particular, I have a very clear walk away rule that if I start spending a lot of time trying to convince myself of an investment I have to walk away. Maybe I’m missing out on the biggest diamond ever found in the proverbial “rough” but I know I also walk away from disaster.

    • http://www.sooverdebt.com Andrea @ SoOverDebt

      It’s a coincidence, I swear!

      I think it’s definitely a lot easier to walk away in situations where you can use pure logic instead of emotion. My problem is that I tend to get emotional about EVERYTHING - I don’t know if that’s my gender or my personality, but it’s an issue. I’m getting better at turning it off, but I find myself wishing that I could see more things as black and white.

  • http://www.brokeelizabeth.com/ BrokeElizabeth

    I try to follow my gut, and if my gut’s telling me something that clashes with my values, I know that I need to think about the decision very carefully and/or get some advice from people I trust.

    • http://www.sooverdebt.com Andrea @ SoOverDebt

      Good call re: getting advice from others. One thing I’ve noticed is that I usually know what I WANT people to say, which tells me what I need to do.

      It’s kind of like flipping a coin - it’s not where it lands that matters, but what you hope for while it’s still in the air. I make a lot of decisions that way.

  • http://retireby40.org/ Joe

    It takes me a long time to make “walk away” decisions too. I can write down all the best/worst case scenario, but if I’m not ready, I ‘ll stick with what I know first. It’s difficult to make changes.
    I’m slow, but I get there eventually.

    • http://www.sooverdebt.com Andrea @ SoOverDebt

      Nothing wrong with taking your time! I’m one of the slowest human beings on the planet about certain things. Every now and then, though, something hits me like a bolt of lightning, and I have to take action before I obsess to the point of exhaustion.

  • http://retireby40.org/ Joe

    I thought you went back to work recently. Will drop by and see if there are updates on your site.

    • CentsToSave

      The stress of this particular imaging facility was too much. It was affecting me physically.

  • http://www.dqydj.net/ PK

    In most negotiations the person who is willing to walk away first has the upper hand… use that to your advantage whenever discussing… anything, haha.

    On a side note, I’d like to point out that JT has made many diamond related comments on various PF sites that I frequent. Coincidence?

    • http://www.sooverdebt.com Andrea @ SoOverDebt

      I walked away one time negotiating a car purchase. Got in my car, ignored the salesman blowing up my phone, and drove all the way home (an hour from the dealership). The next morning they sold me the car for even less than I wanted to pay. It really does work, if you can keep emotions out of it! I am now a ruthless negotiator when it comes to vehicle purchases.

  • http://www.goodcentssavings.com/ Anna

    I think sometimes the walking away is so tough because you’re also giving something up by walking away. A marriage you know is over probably still has some aspects that you’ll really miss, saying no to someone means you might disappoint them, etc - as long as you prolong the decision all outcomes are still possible. But that state of limbo can be paralyzing and exhausting - and I really admire the courage it takes to walk away… or definitively decide not to.

    • http://www.sooverdebt.com Andrea @ SoOverDebt

      That’s a great point. The limbo feeling can feel like comfort for awhile, because sometimes just thinking about walking away can be empowering, but you can’t stay there forever. And the relief that comes from a well thought out decision is sometimes priceless.

  • http://www.myyearwithoutwastingmoney.com/ Ella

    My ability to “walk away” really depends on the situation. In any situation involving my personal and sentimental life, it would be very difficult for me to walk away. I would be stubborn and want to fix things.
    But in work areas I am not the same at all. I had once a boss who went from treating me really nicely for more than a year to totally changing his behaviour and being the nastiest most horrible boss ever. I said nothing, didn’t pick up a fight or anything but started looking for a new job from the moment he started behaving badly and got a new job within 2 months. Me leaving this position without a fight was the best “F*** ***” I could give him. He was totally caught off guard and left with a huge problem: a key position was suddenly vacant
    So walking away can sometimes be your best weapon!

    • http://www.sooverdebt.com Andrea @ SoOverDebt

      I’m definitely more passionate about personal situations than work situations. Of course, that could be because I’m allergic to working for other people. But I have never once hesitated to walk away from a crappy job, other than making sure I had another one to go to first.

  • http://twitter.com/MaldivianFB MaldivianFinanceBlog

    I always have a hard time “walking away” from something. Mostly because that will “hurt” others. But I think that is very important that you make that decision so that in the long run it will benefit to everyone.

    But I am trying to change and learning the perfect time when to say “no”

    • http://www.sooverdebt.com Andrea @ SoOverDebt

      Saying no is tough! Especially if, like me, you’re a people pleaser. In the past few years, though, I’ve worked on being a ME pleaser instead - being happy is a radical change, but it’s much cooler than wearing myself out to make everyone else happy.

  • http://www.thefreefinancialadvisor.com/average-joes-money-blog/ AverageJoe

    It’s a tough question. I make so many decisions that I rarely go through the
    ramifications of each one. As I type this, I think that’s not completely
    true…I DO think about ramifications, but it’s such an automatic process that I
    rarely question it.

    That said, with relationships, I’m nearly always the “duct-taper.” I will
    save ANY relationship….for no apparent reason, sometimes.

    • http://www.sooverdebt.com Andrea @ SoOverDebt

      I don’t always need to go in depth with my thinking on a topic, but sometimes when I’m stuck, it’s the only way to figure out what to do next. I’m definitely more apt to band-aid a relationship with another person than anything else I can think of. Which can be both a blessing and a curse, as I learned with my marriage.

  • http://flourishinprogress.com Elizabeth-FlourishinProgress

    Thank you so much for this. I read a lot of articles which mean to guide a large audience and sometimes, I don’t find the help I’m looking for. What I really wanted was for someone to BREAK IT DOWN FOR ME. Like you did here.

    So valuable. And very needed.

    • http://www.sooverdebt.com Andrea @ SoOverDebt

      So glad to know it helped! Really - thank you for taking the time to let me know it wasn’t a useless post.

  • http://freedom48.net/ Julie @ Freedom 48

    It’s so difficult to know when to draw the line and walk away. I think so many of us feel that once we start on something - we’re committed.

    • http://www.sooverdebt.com Andrea @ SoOverDebt

      Especially in American society, I think there is an expectation that we are supposed to give everything our best effort, and that quitting = failure. And while I’m all for trying hard and working for what we want, I think it puts too much pressure on people and prevents us from learning how to walk away when we really need to.

  • http://www.sooverdebt.com Andrea @ SoOverDebt

    I’m really glad you had the cuts to walk away from that job. I know a lot of people are freaking out and thinking, “How can you do that in this economy?” but you knew what you could and couldn’t handle. I really admire your bravery and I hope you find something soon!