Trial Periods

I’ve been thinking a lot about trial periods lately. I’ve been unemployed since November and getting by with help from my friends and family. During this time, I’ve tried lots of things with free trial periods. As soon as I start them, I carefully mark their expiration date in my calendar so I don’t incur any charges when I can’t afford it. When that date comes up, I cancel whatever it was, and make a few notes about what I thought of it so I can decide if it’s worth paying for later.

There’s another side to it, though. The things I paid for after the trial period expired… Some of these are monthly services I could cancel at anytime if I’m not using it or stop liking it for some reason. I’ve had many experiences where I kept putting up with something long after I stopped liking it, or it stopped being useful, because I felt I passed the decision-making portion of that transaction already. I tried it, liked it enough to buy it, and that’s it. I didn’t have to think about it anymore after that. The evaluation period was over, so I tended to discount the input I received after that time.

I’ve done this with many things and situations. Not just software and apps. I’ve done it with cars, jobs, houses, relationships… everything, really. There’s some perceived “point of no return” where I felt that once I passed that point, my opinions were somehow invalid. Actually, I don’t think I ever even get that far in the thought process. I think it’s more a matter of thinking about more pressing things, and just letting other things go; not wanting to give them my mental energy anymore.

Illustration of evaluation periods

One evaluation period vs. many

Evaluation can be exhausting, after all. Really looking at things and scrutinizing them… it’s not easy. I think a lot of us have a tendency to just settle for “good enough” and leave it at that. “Sure, I’m miserable at my job. I dread waking up and going there every day. But it pays the bills.” “I suppose I do feel kind of trapped in this relationship. I’d like to do a lot more things on my own, but I don’t want to rock the boat. It’s nice to have the security of knowing that other person is always there.” “I hate having this hour commute to work each day, but I bought the place when I had a job that was closer, and now I’m stuck. I don’t want to move.”

There are hundreds of lies we tell ourselves that keep us stuck in situations that no longer serve us. We are comforted by things that are familiar, secure and stable. We live in a society that rewards the latter two quite a bit. “Oh, that’s good. You stayed in the same job for seven years. That means you have a good work ethic.” In my case, that’s more like “Good job dying inside every day for more than five years while you were too scared to leave and thought that you couldn’t do any better.” I suppose that also describes a few of my relationships. Yikes.

It’s not good, though. I’m not saying it’s bad to stay in a job or a relationship for a long time. I’m just saying that bad things can happen if we eliminate evaluation periods from our lives when we think we’re comfortable. For the most part, I think we do that out of fear. We’re afraid we won’t like what we see if we really look at it. “Don’t lift that rock, thar be creepy crawlies! I lifted it once and there were creepy crawlies, and I never want to see those again!” There is also “I’m fine. Everything’s fine. We’re fine. EVERYTHING IS FINE, OK?!” If that were true, taking a closer look wouldn’t be so scary.

A lot of good can come out of evaluation periods, too. Especially in relationships. So many relationships fail when one person starts to feel like things are falling apart or going awry, but they don’t talk to the other person about it. They assume that they’re alone in their feelings. The level of communication decreases, rifts appear and widen to chasms. It’s usually at the point where that person feels things have become irreparably damaged that they finally let the other person know they can’t do it anymore. And quite often, the response they get is “You were feeling like that the whole time?! SO WAS I!” More frequent and honest evaluations and communication of the findings can go a long way to keep a relationship healthy.

Jobs are easier to check. If you’re living for the weekend, and get a crippling sense of dread as Monday morning looms near, you could probably stand to make a change. I’ve referenced Switch before, and I’ve been listening to Drive on Audible. Both are great tools to help you get unstuck.

I was walking with my friend, Andrew, the other day and he mentioned a Steven Wright quote: “Everywhere is walking distance if you have the time.” It got me thinking… Trial periods don’t ever really expire. Sure, there comes a point when the consequences for quitting change and make that less appealing, but most perceived points of no return are an illusion. And maybe you can’t go back to the way things were before you started. But you CAN go on to see what’s next. Even when that part is unclear.

I’ve been living like that for over a year now, and I’ve never been happier. I’ve done some things that worked really well for me. Those things I’ve incorporated into my daily life as much as possible. I’ve done other things that didn’t work out so well, and I let those go relatively quickly. I note what I like and don’t like in situations, and move toward what I like. Sounds simple, but the results have been quite dramatic. In the past couple years, I’ve met and befriended some truly amazing people. That never would’ve happened had I not let go of the things and people that weren’t working in my life to create space for them. It’s that knowledge that propels me forward. If I’m holding onto something I don’t like, what am I preventing from coming into my life? Odds are that it’s something better. And that notion is good enough for me.

So take a look around at your life. What situation would you cancel before the trial period expired? What would you gladly keep? The answers might surprise you. I know they’ve surprised me.

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