Should I Stay or Should I Go: The 4-Phase Model to Address Toxic Situations

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I was an association executive. I started right out of college and within six months I became an executive director. I was in over my head, but worked 10-14 hour days to cover my lack of knowledge. I didn’t sleep and when I did it was from exhaustion after a complete emotional breakdown. I drank 5-6 nights a week. My digestive system was a mess.

“I just need to get through this dues renewal cycle.” “In a couple of months, the event will be over and then I’ll get sleep.”

This was my life for eleven years and became my normal. I thought this was how life was supposed to be – work hard, play hard, sleep when you have to. I tacked on a marriage, a house and a fitness business and my days started at 5am and ended at 11pm.

“The business just needs to be profitable.” “It’ll be better when I get promoted.”

The business became profitable and I was on track to be promoted, but it didn’t get better. I was done and in a way I knew I couldn’t come back from. I asked for help and hired a coach. Within the year I was divorced, my house was sold, my business was transferred, I moved back to Washington, DC and I walked away from my career.

You may be thinking I’m crazy or brave or a little bit of both. But what if I told you, I woke up and saw the truth behind burnout. Here are the lessons learned and a snapshot of the phases I experienced.

Situation – I no longer found my work to be rewarding. Each event was faced with the same challenges and expectations – revenue, attendance, expectations, room pick up. What I loved was creating new projects and events, creating efficiencies and motivating others. My environment did not foster those opportunities. My values and goals were in daily conflict of my situation both personally and professionally. I knew I had to make a change.

Once I realized my situation I moved onto the first phase of the The Clash Stay/Go Model (Should I Stay or Should I Go).

Phase I: Stay Hope and Cope


In this phase you rationalize the situation. You may think you can suck it up. What’s one more event? You make a good living. This isn’t so bad. You’ve been here for this long, what’s another year?

You can make it work on a temporary basis, but those feelings come creeping back in and then you move into Phase II.

Phase II: I Got a New Attitude


In this phase, you acknowledge your role in the problem. You haven’t been the easiest person to work with, so you move the blame and responsibility into your corner. You ask for help. Sometimes you get it and things are great, but when you don’t get what you need, Phase III comes steaming at you head on.

Phase III: Get the Hell Out of Dodge


You don’t care what anyone says, you have to leave. You may take off for a month or you may quit on the spot. Your baggage goes with you and the bridges are ablaze around you. In this phase, you get immediate relief, but you may end up in a worse situation or without a job. Why? Because you’re still you as a victim of the situation. They did this to you and you had no other choice. You may regret how you did it, but not that you did it, which leads us to Phase IV.

Phase IV: Reflect, Reconcile, Reach Out, and Rebuild


Yes, this is a lot in one phase, but it’s meant to make you think about your decision and its impact on every aspect of your life. What do you need to learn to step into a better situation? How can you maintain your boundaries? How can you practice better self-care or ask for help when you need it?

I have experienced every phase and each one is uncomfortable. Every decision you make or don’t make is a choice. Once I realized my power of choice, I was able to build a plan with the help of a coach and transition into my new career and value-centric life.

Full disclosure, I don’t have kids or large financial obligations so I was able to make bold and quick changes. This is not a recommendation to uproot your life, but burnout is not an isolated condition.

Once you can realize the full impacts and options, you are back in the driver seat of your life, which is the first step to relieving burnout.