Seeking the Final Straw

Here’s an interesting pattern: When people are heading towards a major transition, they often wait for a “final straw” incident before making a move.

In other words they wait until some arbitrary event happens that’s good enough to quality as the final reason that pushes them over the edge.

So an incident happens at work, and that becomes the reason for quitting. Or an event happens in a relationship, and that becomes the reason for breaking up. But of course those events are just catalysts for the transition, not the true reasons for moving on.

These inciting incidents serve as convenient triggers to finally take action to deal with a long-term misalignment. Such events may also be used for the purposes of explanation – to a boss, to a relationship partner, to coworkers, to friends and family members.

It’s hard to justify transitioning. You may feel you need a big enough reason to justify what looks like an extreme action. Otherwise you’ll seem unreasonable or crazy, like your announcement is coming out of the blue. Moreover, you need a reason not to feel guilty afterwards. You may feel better if you can point the finger at someone else for pushing you out and giving you no other option. Then the decision seems like it’s out of your hands – you had to act based on the inciting incident.

The incident can be big, but it doesn’t have to be. Sometimes people latch onto the most trivial of events to use for their final straw moments.

Some unwashed dishes left out could be the final straw that sparks a relationship breakup, but is that the real reason? Even the ensuing argument may not contain the real reasons for the breakup. The final straw event is just a convenience.

This is something to watch for within yourself. Is there any area of your life where you may be waiting for a final straw moment? Are you waiting for your boss, a friend, or a relationship partner to cross some arbitrary line, so you can finally cry foul and transition away from that connection? Is it possible that you’d even feel relieved if such an event occurred, like you finally had permission to move on without looking like the bad guy?

I’ve also seen this pattern come up when people are challenged working on some aspect of their lives. The struggle builds to the point until they’re actually looking for a good enough reason to quit. They just need some kind of socially acceptable trigger moment to make it happen – an illness, a minor injury, a disagreement, a small failed project, an unexpected bill, etc. Then they can justify quitting, leaving, or transitioning.

What if people wait and wait, and a qualifying incident doesn’t come up? Then they’ll usually engineer one, often subconsciously. Have you ever seen someone go through a transition after an inciting incident, observing that they actually caused that incident and that it wasn’t something that anyone else actually did to them?

If you put a certain cause in motion, you’re basically baiting someone else to help you move closer to a transition.

I’d say the key lesson here is to be aware of this pattern and stay on the lookout for it, both in yourself and others. When you spot it in another person, encourage them to share their honest feelings and transition sooner without the need for an inciting incident. When you spot this pattern in yourself, question why you need an inciting incident to lean on and whether you can just be honest and change course.

The final straw event is a crutch. You don’t actually need it. When you realize that you’re waiting for a final straw event to occur, let that be your final straw right there – a clear enough signal that it’s time to make your move.

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