Yesterday a friend got discouraged and thought she might have to give up on her dreams and objectives. (I’m using the feminine for sake of ease and convenience. It could be any man or woman, boy or girl. It could be me. It could be you.) She was told why her dreams were impossible. She was presented with all of the attendant difficulties of moving forward with her life. She was presented with the financial and logistical challenges. She was told how much harder her life would be. Worst, she was accused of being selfish, irresponsible and hurtful towards those she loved. Being a good and kind person, she seriously reconsidered her path. She didn’t want to hurt anyone. “Perhaps,” she thought, “I should give up. Perhaps I am being selfish and unloving.”
So how does one make choices to move forward? And, when, if ever, does one give up?
First, there is no easy answer.
Second, there is no answer that is right for everyone at every time.
Experience has taught me this: my heart knows. By heart, I don’t just mean emotion. I mean, all of me. I am not a quitter. But there have been a few times in my life when I knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that it was time to let go of something. Why?
1. I had given it my best, sometimes for years, and there were no significant changes in me or in the situation.
2. I really didn’t want to be in that situation in the first place.
3. When I thought about letting go of that situation, I immediately felt happier and lighter.
4. When I finally did let go, events seemed to conspire to confirm the correctness of my choice.
As difficult as it was to make those choices, and as long as it took, I was glad when I did, and while I won’t say I never looked back, I didn’t look back with longing and I didn’t look back very often, because looking forward made me a happier, more loving and more effective person.
At other times, it wasn’t so clear. I remember struggling over leaving a teacher aide job in an urban school. I liked the job and I liked the kids, but for reasons that escape me now, it was time to move on. Occasionally, I did look back and I wondered if I had made the right choice. Another time I chose one educational path over another. Had I made the right choice? Yes.
Occasional regret or wonder is not necessarily an indicator of the correctness of a choice. Neither is difficulty. What I have found in these cases is that a choice either way would have presented great difficulties and great opportunities. In other words, both choices were right and wrong for different reasons.
Very few choices are completely irrevocable. Or if they are, then there are new opportunities that await themselves.
The most difficult choice I made to leave a situation was when I left the ministry. For reasons I didn’t completely understand at the time, it was time for me to let this go. The process was painful and long, because I loved it and was good at it. Why, then, did I leave? It was just time. This decision was painful. More accurately, arriving at this decision was painful. When I finally made the decision though, I felt a huge wave of peace and certainty and the next steps became clear. This didn’t mean there wasn’t sadness and a lot of looking back, but this decision opened the door for new opportunities and relationships that I needed. I needed to move on even though I didn’t want to. Eventually, I understood this.
Have I ever made a choice that I completely regretted? Only two (which I won’t share). I regretted them because I didn’t listen to my heart and I didn’t pay attention to the evidence when I made these choices. If I had, I would have done things differently. Still, I was doing the best I could at the time, given my age, my lack of understanding and my life situation at the time. I will only say three things about those choices:
1. They were disastrous and they caused me great unhappiness.
2. Good things came out of them.
3. I was able to unmake them at any time and eventually I did.
Every choice we make means we are saying no, not only to other choices, but to other people as well. Does this hurt? Sometimes. But it is not the people I am leaving; it is the situation. Often I can be still be in relationship with those people. Or I can move on to new relationships and so can they.
There is no perfect answer because every choice comes with consequences and rewards, but when the consequences outweigh the rewards consistently and continuously, and when desire is gone, it is usually time to move on. It is time to Get Started and to Keep Going.