Paradigm Shifter #16: Know when to walk away

Paradigm Shift

In the song The Gambler, Kenny Rogers advised, “You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away, and know when to run.”

If you are a Type A personality, a perfectionist, or a high achiever, heeding this advice can be very difficult.  Instead, we try to “make it happen” – trying to force a “win” out of a losing hand.

I admit that I’ve succumbed to this entirely too often, usually for one of the following reasons:

  • Trying to change people’s minds that our point of view is the “right way”
  • Rationalizing other people’s behaviors as the result of a lack of knowledge, rather than a difference in motivation or ethics
  • Staying in a situation that simply isn’t achieving the necessary results because we’ve already invested so much time and resources

Often we perceive this inability to walk away as tenacity and stick-to-itiveness.  To walk away is the equivalent of being a quitter – something that contradicts the values of Type A’s, perfectionists, and high achievers.

But knowing when to walk away should be equated with the ability to fearlessly assess the ROI (return on investment) of the situation.  This ROI is not necessarily just related to financial considerations, but also to the emotional, physical, and stressful fallout of continuing to stay in a losing situation.

How to Know When to Walk Away:  I am not advocating that we “jump ship” at the first obstacle relating to the situation.  However, I am suggesting that the only way to know when to walk away is to first identify the desired outcomes of the situation.

By understanding what we want to achieve in a given situation, it becomes much easier to determine whether the current strategy or actions are contributing to the desired outcome.  If the intended results are not being achieved, ask yourself two questions:

  1. What am I currently doing that is affecting this outcome?  (Be honest:  it is very easy to feel like a victim.)
  2. What is currently occurring in the environment that is affecting this outcome?  (These factors might be easily seen or might require some “digging” to disclose.)

Once these questions have been answered, then it is time to decide between three options:

  • Option #1:  Should I “tough it out” by continuing on the current course?  This is a viable alternative when an evaluation of external factors reveals a more desirable trend that will affect our desired results.  Some things just take time to achieve.
  • Option #2:  Should I change what I am currently doing so that it is more conducive to achieving the desired results?  While we cannot control external factors, we always have the power to choose the actions that we take.  The key is to critically, objectively, and fearlessly assess whether our current actions are taking advantage of what is going on around us:  if the alignment between our actions and environmental factors is good, then “tough it out” – but if our actions are undermining our results, then it is time to change what we are doing.
  • Option #3:  Should I walk away from the current situation AND move forward to something more positive?  A very good friend of mine once sagely advised that, “Sometimes you just gotta punt.”  Maybe the timing isn’t right for the results that we want.  Maybe the environment just isn’t receptive to what we are trying to achieve.  Or maybe we no longer really want what we previously wanted.  If any of these situations applies, then it’s time to walk away.  Walking away in these situations does not characterize us as quitters, but rather as people who courageously know when to say “no” and move on to a more positive situation.

Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is the President and CEO of Change Management Solutions, Inc., an eLearning and Coaching company focused on eradicating workplace burnout through the B-DOC Model.  An entrepreneur for over 25 years, keynote speaker, author, blogger, business coach, university professor, and researcher, you can see her “in action” by watching her TEDx Talk on YouTube.  To contact Dr. Puleo, please go to

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