I attended Columbia Business School for one week in 1983. I learned all I needed to know.

Always have an escape plan.

I promptly escaped and enrolled in the Masters of Public Administration Program (MPA), along with my Masters of Social Work Program (MSW) and set out to change the world.

 
 

Somewhere along the way, however, I forgot that one business school lesson: Always have an escape plan.

It’s an important lesson, especially as we move into a phase of life where every moment counts. We want to choose our path and not have it determined for us. Follow these tips to keep the lesson of having an escape hatch in front of you.

Know When It’s Time to Let Go

How often do we overstay our welcome? And it’s not just in relationships. It’s about favorite foods that don’t really make me feel so hot anymore. Note to self, don’t eat that delicious cheesy yummy pizza. Or a perfume that doesn’t resonate on my skin the way it used to.

This can also be a style of clothing or a specific color that fills my closet: items that I have always loved and now look washed out or droopy every time I wear them. These unneeded items create drag. It’s emotional, it’s personal and it’s unfinished business. The truth is, it just doesn’t matter anymore. Let them go.

Scientifically, our taste buds regenerate every seven years. A business cycle used to be seven years and now it’s even faster. Dogs count their lives in seven year snippets. It’s the natural rhythm of nature – the seasons change, the ocean tides ebb and flow – so why don’t we know how to let go?

I’m a Disney fan with billions of other women. We learned to be brave, to save ourselves and to know that our Prince Charming might not come as we expect. Disney is smart, teaching the younger generation now through Frozen, to let it go. Don’t think. Change a behavior and change will come. We were taught if we understand it then we can let go.

No! Let go now and move on. If you are holding on, you cannot make room for the new gifts and abundance that are supposed to come into your life.

Exiting Gracefully

A graceful exit is a skill that comes with practice. Yes, you can replace practice with the word age. It reminds me of a funny story.

I was in my early 20s. My older sister by two years was already pregnant and huge. She accompanied me to a doctor’s appointment. It was a rainy, miserable day. When we were leaving the waiting room, she spotted a co-worker with whom she didn’t want to engage. She tried so hard to just saunter out of the office. But here she was hugely pregnant.

When she grabbed her umbrella, her coat got caught on the umbrella stand. She tried to be unnoticed heaving her 200+ pound body, holding a huge umbrella, like a sword. Charging for the door, she dragged the full umbrella stand behind her. I’m sure everyone in the 10 X 10 waiting room saw her.

As we got on the other side of the door, she turned to me and said, “That was a close one!” Giggling 34 years later as I write this, she had no clue how ungraceful that exit was. And that’s the lesson. It may not look like you want. It may not be graceful, but did you get what you needed? Did you get out?

Graceful is the goal, although I like to think about how much worse it could have been. My sister could have tripped me or herself or brought down the coat rack too. I have that picture in my head like it was yesterday. She made it through the door. She exited not so gracefully but she got out.

Set New Expectations

When I let go of something, especially those thoughts, ideas and rules that I have carried around for such a long time, I open a space for new things. New friends. New lovers. New clothes, okay maybe thrift, but new to me!

When I think about what I need, instead of what I want, the clutter in my life, what I am supposed to let go of, becomes clearer. It’s a skill set to learn to let go. One that age and wisdom teach us. Think about the rules, the voices in your head, that don’t serve you anymore. Create new rules. My latest inner voice is saying, “I will not retire, I will refire!”

What’s Next?

Think about what you must let go of. Look at it objectively, such as if I saw someone I loved, wearing that ripped stained sweater, what would I say? Make a plan; have a ritual if need be. Set a new goal, make a new friend, wear your best sweater as your everyday sweater. If not now when? Let it go. Build your escape plan, run free and reach for your stars.

Have you ever had to use an escape plan to change direction in your life? How have you made a graceful exit from a relationship, job or other life situation? When have you let go of something and made space for a new opportunity? Please share your thoughts and join the conversation.

Ilene MarcusIlene Marcus, MSW, MPA, is founder of Aligned Workplace. A recognized workplace expert, speaker and author, Marcus mentors business leaders to drive their agenda and build workplaces where success, inspiration, kindness and joy define the culture. Please visit her website at AlignedWorkplace.com.

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