Walking away is often as much a choice as it is an obligation.
It comes with sacrifice as much as joy. It comes with times of unbelievable laughter and that of exquisite loneliness. It comes with uncertainty coupled with hope, and new experiences hidden behind doors that feel like a magic you never believed in.
I had left love. My career. The future I thought I would’ve settled for, and the people I knew always had my back. I had left everything I’d told myself I was certain of, and somehow, I hadn’t walked out on any of it.
They don’t tell you there’s a difference. Between leaving and giving up.
They don’t tell you how to recognize which moment means you’re almost there, and the sorts of moments that become evidence that it’s gone on too long. They don’t lead you to understand that you’re asking the wrong questions, rather than losing control.
And so, the lines become blurred. The advice becomes repetitious. And you begin to live a life you’re not sure if you’ve created or fell into.
Your experiences become tasks, and your giggles become sounds you don’t believe in. You start to question who you are, and suspect that this is all there is. You start to lose faith in the idea of purpose. And assume “passion” is a word for the privileged.
And you begin to thread together stories. Ones of how you’re not cut out for a different life, or how your current one isn’t so bad. You create excuses that sound like crashing trees in a burning forest. And you lose yourself, in the hope that everything will work out like it’s supposed to.
There aren’t words to describe that kind of betrayal.
The betrayal between you and yourself. The betrayal of looking into the mirror and seeing someone you don’t recognize. The betrayal of wanting to love your life and not knowing how.
The advice will seem obvious. Leave the job you don’t love. Walk away from the man who hurts you. Become the woman of your dreams.
What they don’t tell you — what they fail to mention, is that it doesn’t happen that way.
But you don’t hear stories of how they quit in their minds a hundred times before finally quitting in reality. You don’t hear inspirational speeches that reflect all the planning it took to finally walk away from the life they couldn’t bear to live. You don’t get to see how many times they failed to be the person who was brave enough to walk away, before they became the person who did.
To the untrained eye, I left my stable job, consistent income and comfort of my home, in a day. To the outsider, I packed as much as I could into a suitcase and effortlessly purchased a one-way ticket. To those who didn’t know me, I was brave, and adventurous and didn’t care about my career.
But they’re all wrong.
I began by leaving my job every day. For months. Until parts of me were so far removed, they had become capable of doing the work without asking what it was I was doing. I started packing in my mind long before I moved each piece of clothing from my closet to my suitcase. I started saying goodbye well before anyone even knew I was leaving.
And it wasn’t courage that led me to that place. It was holding my breath. It was jumping in before I was ready and continuing to swim after it was too late to turn back.
I think when it’s chalked up to bravery, it simplifies all the anguish. It casts a shadow over the uncertainty. It neglects the days and weeks and months of nothingness before I felt like my heart was beating again.
When it’s chalked up to bravery, it becomes a matter of who I am, rather than what I’m capable of.
And I wasn’t brave, but I’m capable of bravery. I wasn’t sure. But I’m capable of surviving uncertainty. I wasn’t ready, but looking back, I’ve never been.
The ‘doing’ is rarely the outcome of deciding.
Because deciding comes after the instances you chose to ignore. It follows the circumstances you allowed to play out. It’s right behind the bargains you made with destiny, and the “one more chance” after you said “no more.”
Deciding buys you time on your journey to doing. Deciding gives you space to hash out every possible thing that could go wrong. Deciding is a remedy for sitting still, but it isn’t the guarantee of a better life.
Deciding is just a chance to question your truth. A dress rehearsal for what your new choices would feel like.
I recognized it was time to go when I was standing in front of the mirror asking myself if the person I was becoming was the person I wanted to be, and the answer made me tremble. I recognized it was time to walk away when I realized the people I loved were not the ones receiving my love, and I had forgotten how to let them in. I made a choice between the fear of the unknown and the fear of what I knew would destroy me.
And I learned. I learned that I needed plenty of days to get it wrong and only one to get it right. I learned that only I could create the answer I was looking for, regardless of to whom I asked the question. And I learned that the things you were never meant to leave, will still be there if you come back. Because sometimes leaving is an obligation — and that makes it a duty, not desertion.
Salma Elbarmawi is a writer, activist and aspiring social entrepreneur. She has a special love for culture, meaningful conversations, politics and dance. She writes about the intricacy of love, contradictions of self, heart of business and beauty of travel. Though typically you can find her nose hidden behind a book, she also works passionately with businesses to help articulate and narrate their stories. She can be found on Facebook.
Image courtesy of Thomas Kelley.