10 Questions to Free You From Status Quo


10 Questions to Free You From Status Quo

Photo by Sean McGrath

Do you find yourself stuck in the same rut over and over, or trapped in a situation you want to break free from?

From leaving a day job I didn’t connect with and moving to more balanced lifestyle, here are 10 questions that have helped me move forward recently.

Let me know if these questions trigger any insights with decisions you’re facing.

1. What will be different next time?

When I was in my 9-5 jobs, I thought finding a job at another company, moving departments or taking an extended vacation would make things better. Each time, I was happy for a few months but the dissatisfaction always returned.

When we’re stuck in an unfulfilling situation, a job, relationship or lifestyle, we often start playing the “If only I had [insert desire], I would be happier.” Would you really be happier if you got paid more, took a vacation, or found a new lover?

If you’re unhappy now, what’s really going to be different at the next job or in your relationship? Before jumping to another situation, ask yourself if the next situation will give you better results than what you have now.

Don’t worry, if you don’t identify the source of your discontent, you will go through more unfulfilling situations until you understand the root cause of it – life is a very persistent teacher like that.

2. If you forgot how much energy you’ve invested, would you still stay?

Deep inside we know we need to make a change, but it’s easier to rationalize staying with the status quo. We remember the time, money and energy we’ve already exerted and get attached to our past investment.

But just because you spent the last 6 years in a profession or in a relationship, does it really mean you have to spend the next 6 months in the same thing?

It’s never too late to start again, and better late than never.

3. If not now, then when?

There’s never a good time for change.

If you want to leave your work position, the economy will never be perfect, your company will always be understaffed and you will always have living expenses.

If you want to end a relationship, it’ll always require difficult conversations and the strength to separate.

No matter what your desires or goals, the only way to get there is by taking action in the present moment.

4. What’s the cost of not making a change?

Time will pass no matter what you choose. If you continue a job, relationship or lifestyle that you don’t connect with, you still won’t connect with it 6 months from now – except that you’d have let 6 months of your life pass by. That’s time you could have used to cultivate something new.

Think of achievements you’ve made while doing something you only moderately liked, knowledge you accumulated or connections you established. Wouldn’t you accomplish even more if you spent your time on what captivates you?

5. Who are the biggest critics in the way?

Who are the voices in your head causing doubt and negativity?

Are they colleagues, friends, or your own? Is what they are saying really true, does it actually affect the outcome of your choice?

On leaving my full-time job to pursue my interests and travel, unconstructive comments I’ve encountered include “What was the point of getting a math degree if you’re just going to be web designer?” or “What makes you think you can make money doing this?”

These comments were initially hurtful, then I realized that comments like that have no impact on my actual abilities, nor the outcome of the projects I undertake – they’re just noise.

No matter road you follow, there will be fans and critics. The most important approval is your own. If freeing yourself feels like the right thing to do, but you’re scared or are full of self-doubt, take a deep breath, follow your gut and go for it. It may hurt like hell, but you will live and grow stronger in the process.

6. 10 years from now, what will you wish you had done?

Time puts everything in perspective. Think of stressful milestons in your life – your first exam, your first date, your first real job – many of these you barely remember because in the grand scheme they’re not so important.

Leaving your current situation may seem daunting, but in the future it may only seem like a minor event in your life, and perhaps even an obvious choice.

If you don’t make a change now, will you regret it years later?

7. If a loved one was in your situation, what would you wish for them?

We always want the best for the ones we love, whether it’s opportunities, time or attention, yet we sometimes forget to give that to ourselves.

If your best friend, sister or child was in your shoes, would you tell them to stay in a circumstance that makes them unhappy or would you encourage them to set themselves free?

8. If money or security was no issue, what would you do?

Fear is a major barrier to change. We’re scared of losing the security of a stable income, or the companionship of a person.

Is it really true that a job or a spouse provides security? After all, both of those can be taken from us quickly – we can get fired and our lover can leave us at any time.

Are you sure you can’t have want by making use of the resources you have now? Is it really impossible to start a new career, travel the world or be single with less than a million dollars?

9. Imagine yourself in 10 years. What guidance would that wiser person give to you now?

We’re much more than what we currently appear to be. It’s may be to fathom how great we can grow with time and experience, but deep inside ourselves we know we’ve only reached a bit of our potential.

Consider how much stronger, braver and kinder you are today compared to 10 years ago. Another 10 years from now, you will be an even greater than the person.

What would that wiser, braver and more creative future you say, if they were in the same room as you now? Would they tell you to stay in an unfulfilling situation or to stay the scarier path and explore your potential?

10. What’s the worse thing that can happen?

Are you scared you’ll let your colleagues down, hurt your partner or offend your friends?

Sometimes we overestimate the impact of our decisions. We think our work department will fall apart without us, or that our boyfriend/girlfriend can’t get through life without us. Your actions may cause inconvenience or anxiety, but people are resilient and they will move on.

We owe it to ourselves and others to need to speak up for what we want. No one can mind read your mind or stand up for your dreams more than you can. Being honest and yourself is the best thing you can do for everyone.

What’s the worse thing that can happen? I can’t say for certain, but I bet your choice won’t kill or make anyone sick.

11. If a higher power was guiding you, what would they tell you to do?

Would they want you to stay stuck, unhappy and guilty? Or would they want you to do what makes you feel light, radiant and joyous?

Deep inside, you know that you weren’t put in his world for the purpose of being miserable.

>> What questions would you add to this list to help others get “unstuck?” Leave your comments below.

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  • How funny. Q & I were trying to figure out if we should celebrate NYE at home or start our RTW trip beforehand. This is where question #6 came up. While it would’ve been nice to celebrate the new year with friends. 10 years from now, we would probably look back and be thankful we were able to celebrate NYE abroad instead of another year at home. That’s why we’re starting our RTW right before the new year. =)

    • Hi Gerard,

      I’m so excited about the start of your RTW. A few times this year (especially Christmas, New Years and Chinese New Year) I felt guilty for not feeling guilty for breaking tradition by being away from home, but then I told myself there comes a point where it’s worth it to break the “rules”.

      Looking forward to more of your updates :)
      – Lily

  • Question 10 is the one I’d zero in on and the one so many forget. What IS the *worst* thing that can happen? It’s a great way to focus your fears and face them. Lovely post, Lily.

    • Hi Theodora,

      I love question 10 too. The first time I asked myself that became a turning point in how to think about the trade-off between the safe path or the bold path. The bold choices always seemed so risky compared to the known path, but when I started asking myself for the worst downside of the bolder choice, I realized the downside actually isn’t bad at all compared to what I could gain.

      Thanks for stopping by!
      – Lily

  • Wow – Deep questions. I feel like you have got right inside my head. I am going through a bit of a life crisis at the moment and quite a few of the questions stuck there as if the answer was already in my head.

  • These are very relevant points.  In my opinion, I think one has to get passionate about making the trip manifest into reality; on the other hand, clearing obstacles that would get in the way or prevent one from doing it is an absolute necessity.  For somebody sitting on the fence, I would suggest hanging a poster or something on your wall at work or home of the destination of your wildest dreams & keep thinking about it and noticing it all the time, soon enough you’ll be there.

  • Great list! I’m a big fan of quitting. Asking and answering these questions honestly (which is harder to do than it seems) is a great way to evaluate big decisions for life change.

    I’m often my own worst critic and too concerned about what other people think.

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  • Yung9620

    Lily – Very insightful points. I have the same ´worries´and it´s helpful to see that I´m not the only one concerned over the same matters. No day but today!

    • Hi Yung, I used to feel like I was the only one too… Now that I’ve been travelling for a few months, I’ve met so many others people who went through the same thoughts and questioning. It’s a great reminder for me whenever I feel alone that there are others out there going through the same thing, even if I don’t happen to know them at the moment.

      Cheers to “No day but today!”

      – Lily

  • Mnztr1

    Hi Lily I am older then you, but I have some the same questions…. and I will say as a younger person you forgot a very important one. Will you live as long as you expect to? I am in my early 40’s and have seen perfectly healthy, clean living people in their 40s and 50s simply drop dead. Cancer, heart attack you name it. The bottom line, don’t assume you have all the time you think you have. I travelled for a few months, now hoping to get back to work for about 3-5 years then I am done for good.

    • Hi Mnztr1,

      You make a great point with the “Will you live as long as you expect to?” question. We often have the illusion that have complete control over our future and forget that many events happen beyond what we expect. Thanks for the reminder to live life fully, everyday.

      – Lily

  • Kim

    Lily, I love this- each and every one of those questions resonated with me. Thanks for putting things in perspective. You’ve got a knack for doing that!

  • All of the above are questions that make me feel even better about turning in my resignation last Tuesday. Yipee for me! (and Husband is terrified!)

    Oh, and I love the "this list goes to 11" after announcing it has 10 points. That's awesome!

    • Lily

      Hi Bon, congratulations on your big step, I'm so happy for you!

      I wish you (and your husband :) ) excitement and great success.

      I subscribed to your newsletter and I follow you on Twitter, so I look forward to more of your updates.

  • Great questions, Lily!

    I like very thought-provoking articles like this because, well, they make me think :-)

    "If you’re unhappy now, what’s really going to be different at the next job or in your relationship?" How true this is. I seem to be in the 3-year cycle of change whereby I need something to shake up my life every 3 years (new job, city, etc). But, this is a great question to ask myself – what will be different in the next job? Same cubicle, same stuff to deal with. Something to ponder. I also like questioning whether I should have done something 10 years ago. The time will pass anyways, so what's stopping me?

    Excellent article!