We often use the expression "something feels off" to explain that nagging feeling in the gut we get when anxiety over life creeps in. I’ve had this feeling many times. Two of the most memorable were as an attorney and during a relationship. Although the job and relationship differed greatly, the pattern of discomfort was the same.
Everything was perfect on paper: lots of benefits, giving to others so that I felt purposeful, and plenty of security. Everything seemed fine — tough, but fine. Then, there was a little voice that chided, “Keep looking.”
Something felt off.
In both situations, I lived out the confusion, clumsily and painfully, until it became clear that something must be done. Indeed, in both the job and relationship the remedy was leaving, but that’s not always the answer. Before I came to that conclusion, the issue was what to do when something felt "off."
Now that I’ve lived out my confusion many times, as well as watched and coached others through the discontent, there are five questions that made living it a bit easier:
1. What is the real cause of my discontent?
Identify the players. Are you really unhappy at your job, or does one co-worker get under your skin? Is your relationship not right, or are you just not getting one of your needs met? Be clear on what is really bothering you.
2. How does [person, place, or thing] make me feel?
In this expression “Something feels off,” we tend to focus on the "something," i.e. how can that person, place, or thing act differently? But this is about how you feel. Things will always occur externally, but ultimately you create how you feel internally.
You create your experience of reality. No one else can or will save you. Take a run, meditate, eat your favorite food, or call your BFF. Do something to raise your spirits and your circumstances may alter with it. Be the hero of your own life.
3. What are my choices?
You are NEVER stuck. You ALWAYS have a choice. Complaining about how difficult things are only perpetuates this feeling of discontent.
By recognizing your alternatives, whether that’s leaving, voicing your concerns, or altering circumstances, generates perspective on what’s possible in or out of your current situation.
4. Do the pros outweigh the cons?
In the midst of confusion over leaving my job, I asked a friend when she knew to quit her position. Her response: “When my alarm went off one morning and the first thing I did was cry.”
For my friend, deeply dreading weekdays and crying frequently outweighed benefits, salary, and security. That was my friend’s definition of the cons outweighing the pros. What's your definition?
5. Am I seeking a resolution when resolution isn’t possible?
It’s the human pattern to project onto the world thousands of possibilities for resolution: we can have a worry-free life, a weed-free lawn, no wrinkles, or raise perfect children. We can live happily ever after. This pattern keeps us constantly discontent and suffering.
When we feel that nagging, we want to move to the right or left and resolve the questions immediately. Often the lesson is to get comfortable with the ambiguity and uncertainty. This situation is here to awaken the bravery that exists in everyone, without exception, to sit and feel what we feel.
When we can sit and rest with the discomfort, not striving for the illusion of security, we can turn the discontent upside down.