Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Scraping the Barnacles Off One’s Soul: How to protect & preserve You

This past weekend, for lack of a better way to put it, I broke up with the writing group I had started and run for the past five years.  Over time it had ebbed and flowed, at low tide there were only two of us, at high we were eight eager women coming together to share our work and support each other.  As life changed and participants moved on, I did all I could to entice new members.  We met once a month for a few hours, but the group provided fresh perspectives and other voices, tools one could use to take one’s writing to that next level. 

It wasn’t that the participants weren’t amazing, it wasn’t that they didn’t have a lot to offer, it was what they were offering that finally led me to say “I’m through.”  More often than not I would find myself sitting and waiting in a living room I had just frantically tidied up-after tossing my husband out of the house-while listening to the kettle boil on the stove beside a row of tea boxes and empty mugs.  I would sit, pen and journal in hand, copies of my newest work beside me, and wait. Eventually I would get a text or phone call; a member notifying me that she was cancelling.  Others would show up, sometimes up to two hours late.  Some would not show up at all. 

Like many commitments I’ve made in my past to bad friends, bad lovers, bad jobs, and bad situations, this one elicited advice from those closest to me about how it was obviously well past time to move on.  But you see I tend to be a “drag a dead horse until its nothing but a pile of few sparse bones” kind of person.  I want to give bad friends, bad lovers, bad jobs and bad situations the benefit of the doubt, no matter how outrageous they are.  So in writing this I’m hoping you can avoid losing the time/energy/resources I have by sticking with bad for far too long. 

The older I get the more I recognize that life is very, very brief.  You have only so much time/energy/resources to go around.  Time/energy/resources (your material and emotional processions) are for the most part irreplaceable. You must carefully decide where to invest.  We have all had commitments go sour.  At some point, hopefully sooner than later, it becomes obvious the situation is a waste of our time/energy/resources.  It is how quickly and cleanly we can remove ourselves that will determine how much we waste.

As I announced to the two participants who had bothered to show (one ten minutes late, the other about an hour) that we would no longer be a writing group, it was all I could do not to mentally shoot lasers out of my eyes.  In the subsequent days of doing all I could to organize a final get-together and arrange for borrowed items to be returned to their rightful owners (the end of any type of relationship equals returning stuff) I continued my silent fuming.  I’m a compassionate person.  I know how easy it is to screw up and to find yourself stuck in the muck of those screw ups.  I know life often throws unexpected curve balls, knocking you off your feet.  I also know it takes only a momentary email or phone call to say you can’t be there, not today, not in the near future, not at all.  It’s hard not to be offended when people act so careless, so unappreciative. But just like my friend from Tennessee used to say, “You can’t raise other people’s children.” And if I’m being honest, the person I’m most angry with is me.  Because yet again I find myself in the predicament of having to painfully and tediously scrape off the barnacles.     

A friend of mine in high school used to call certain people “psychic vampires”.  You know, the people (or for the sake of my argument, the commitments) that leave you utterly drained and completely depleted.  Do you have someone or something in your life that does this to you?  Now the thing about psychic vampires is that they may not mean to be one.  They may not even know they are one.  We shouldn’t assume that just because our circumstances are wrong the others involved intended for the situation to be negative in the first place.  What may work perfectly well for another might be completely toxic for you.  And there’s only so many times you can buck up and keep going, giving it your all until you have nothing left to give.  Over the years I have walked away many a time (again usually well after I should have) after providing a polite explanation that sheds some light on the truth without offending, and while those left behind were perhaps scratching their heads,  I felt thrilled at the opportunity to channel my time/energy/resources into more positive endeavors. 

Please know that I am not endorsing bailing just because you’ve hit a rough spot.  Some commitments can seem hopeless (like a rocky period in a marriage, for example), even for quite a long while. It may feel like they’re begging you to evacuate, when what they really need is more of your time/energy/resources. There are also occasions when a commitment changes because you have changed.  What may have been positive in the past becomes unproductive.  You can appreciate what you’ve gained from the commitment while having the wisdom to say goodbye. At the end of last year I let a local artist group know I no longer wanted to be a member.  When I had first moved to the community this group was instrumental in helping me develop a full-time art career. Over the years my career had outgrown the group’s offerings.  It wasn’t a costly group to be a part of, the annual fee was nominal.  But it was too costly when it came to my investment of time/energy. So I thanked them for everything they had done for me, I wished them all the best in the future, and I moved on. 

If you are trying to accomplish anything in life you have to figure out as concisely as possible where you are going to focus your time/energy/resources.  This is going to require some sacrifice.  You won’t be able to see certain people or do certain things as often, if at all.  Gain always involves loss.  Decision always involves relinquishment.  If you’ve been reading this and thinking, “Hmmm, this reminds me of so and so”, or “my current job”, or “that group I’m in”-the list is infinite-it’s high time to say goodbye. 

When you do walk away, no matter how much vitriol the situation is egging you to spew, don’t.  Why?  Because this would be you investing yet more time/energy/resources into what you’ve already decided is a waste.  Simply brush yourself off, give a knowing smile and walk away.  No turning back.  No raging, gossiping, slandering or sobbing (though a good solid cry can be very cathartic).  Just take some quiet time to ask yourself what you could have done differently and listen to your answer (write it down if you need to) so you can avoid getting into this mess ever again. 

We all deserve to be appreciated.  We should as much as possible immerse ourselves in circumstances that grant us knowledge, balance and inspiration.  Remember the vast majority of life is mapped by the paths we’ve chosen, so if you find yourself dealing with the adverse, most times you need only to look in the mirror for the source.  I don’t say this to shame you, but to empower you.  Whatever you’ve stuck yourself in; you can get yourself out of.  This may mean pain, withdrawal, heartache and loads of change, but you’ll be better, stronger and more complete when you come out on the other side.

Want to save yourself the aggravation?  Try following your heart and listening to your intuition whenever a new path is presented to you.  You can preserve your time/energy/resources just by staying true to yourself.  Nancy Reagan tried to teach us to “Just Say No” in the eighties.  Learn how to say and stick to “No” when necessary.  Not so good at saying “No”?  Well, keep in mind, “No” is a lot easier to say than “Goodbye.”