What to Do if You’re Trapped in a Failing Relationship

I’m one of those smug people who insists I don’t believe in regret, but whenever I talk to people who might actually be able to learn from my mistakes, I always say I regret not having the courage to do more things I was bad at. But now that I’m four and a half weeks into the Fantasy Football season, I remember why I never did: It sucks.

At first it feels great. In the two weeks before the first game of the season, I was pulsing with so much enthusiasm I barely slept for several nights in a row. My mind raced with thoughts of how great everything was. (Come to think of it, it was probably a lot like having an overactive thyroid.)

Then, reality struck. I lost my first game. And my 3rd. When game four ended in a landslide, I couldn’t contain my misery.

“I hate Fantasy Football!” I shouted into the abyss of my cubicle at work.
“But you have someone helping you with your team, don’t you?” My boss asked.
“I HATE HIM TOO.”
“Right, fair enough,” he agreed as he quietly backed away.

The mere idea of even opening the ESPN Fantasy Football app made my body recoil. I wanted go back to doing something I was good at, like advising other people to take more risks. I wanted to quit. And I might have, except that you can’t actually quit Fantasy Football.

As far as I could tell, my only two choices were: 1) ignore my team and lose or 2) pay attention to my team and lose. I knew that I had to go with choice 2, and that somehow I had to make it worthwhile. Here’s what I did.

Took action. I wasn’t joking that I felt sick to my stomach when I thought about opening the ESPN app, but it was Tuesday afternoon and I knew that if I didn’t start thinking about the Waiver Wire, I was going to be effed. So I….

Took a different approach. As my boss said, I’ve had someone sort of helping me with my Fantasy team, but as I (inarticulately) explained, it wasn’t really working out. The problem was that inconsistently texting with a person who lived four states away didn’t lend itself to me learning and making decisions. (Or maybe the problem was that I made things weird by giving him a “safe word” to use in case I was overwhelming him with too many questions…and that the safe word was “broccoli.” We’ll never know.) Either way, I accepted that it was time to change strategies. So what I did was…

Took a deeper dive. Apparently, doing things you’re not good at takes a lot of effort. When I realized I was going to need more help than I was getting while trying to decipher pronoun-antecedent agreement over text, I went to a coworker who is also commissioner of our other office league and politely requested that he spend a solid chunk of time helping me out, face to face. He was willing and patient, and I got an actual window into how someone who is experienced approaches the game. I noticed that as we (he) searched for players to pick up, my instinct was to grab the first player who seemed decent. Instead, we researched several players and compared them. I realized that reading 1 report and making an impulsive decision is probably worse than reading none. I also learned news terms like “handcuffing,” (not the kind that requires “broccoli”) which is when you have a starter and his backup on your team. Even learning one or two new things made my visceral hatred of the ESPN app start to wane. In fact, I felt much better after I…

Took another look at my objectives. In life, I’ve found that in many situations, we don’t learn what we expected to learn, but if we’re paying attention, we can almost always learn something.This is especially true in the workplace – for example maybe you’re the intern and you thought you were going to learn about marketing technology but what you actually learn is how to entertain your co-workers by putting together the toys in Kinder Surprise. In the case of Fantasy Football, although I got swept up in the desire to win, that wasn’t really my objective or expectation. I did it because I wanted to prove that I could try something new. Not only have I learned new things, but I’ve been able to keep the risk-taking momentum alive and have done other things I was afraid of failing at, such as signing up for a coding class and quitting drinking for 8 days. But the most important thing is that I don’t think I would have gotten any of those benefits unless I…

Took it seriously. In what I like to call “one-foot-out-the-door” syndrome, there’s a tendency to put in just enough effort to create activity, but not enough to drive progress. Even if deep down you know you’re in a failing relationship, half-assing it means you’re deprived of all the other benefits, like positively interacting with others and developing as a human. As my coworker who helped me with the Waiver Wire explained, “all the fun of playing is in picking up new players. You get to start over every week.”

Even though starting over every week might not help me win, it changes the experience, and more importantly, it’s the only way to get unstuck. There are plenty of hopeless situations that are easy to bail on, but if you are in a situation where you actually feel trapped in a situation that sucks, that week-over-week change is really the only way to get out. So, in short: when quitting is not an option, you have to accept that fact that iteration is the path to escape. But also realize that Monday-Wednesday of every week might hurt like a bitch…

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