Edited: This is the second time I’ve posted this essay. I initially posted it a couple of days ago with a ridiculously boring title and NO ONE read it! (Unless my site stats aren’t working, in which case, I’m sorry for putting it in front of you again.) For someone wanting to enter the book publishing industry, it’s concerning that only three(!) people even opened the original post. Something clearly isn’t right considering my typical audience reach, so I’ve livened up my title to make it more appealing to readers (and search engines) and removed the profanity-riddled opening paragraph to make room for this long explanation. Breathing Room is probably more accurate anyway. This post is about learning to pause instead of being instantly reactive in order to create the necessary breathing room to help decide when and where I direct my finite supply of energy. It’s about taking a moment to carefully decide when to engage. It’s about protecting my sanity. It’s about being true to me. It’s about making better business decisions and being a better friend and family member. And it’s also very complicated.
It’s complicated because it’s a process. It involves a lot of discernment. Lord knows I have a long way to go. Mostly, this is complicated because people are inevitably involved and I love people. I feel a great sense of social responsibility and I empathize with EVERYONE. But I’ve found myself dedicating way too much of my energy on things and people that are essentially as productive as hitting my head against a brick wall and sometimes just as painful. It’s unhealthy for me to spend this much time and energy worrying about other’s priorities and decisions. It’s unhealthy for me to spend time feeling hurt by or worried about people who are simply abusive, disloyal, greedy, or careless. It would be easier and faster to stop caring about everything and everyone, but that is not at all where I’m headed with this. On the contrary, I simply need to be more selective in how and where I allocate my daily supply of energy.
The phrase I keep going to is, “I can’t care more than X does,” which is essentially the same as, “You can’t help those who can’t help themselves.” There is a great deal of truth to this. What makes me stumble is knowing where my loyalty to friends and family and my Christian responsibility lies. Maybe X is going through a rough time and really needs his friends to pick up the slack and carry him through the fire until he is ready to stand on his own feet again. Don’t I have a moral obligation to love & support that friend? But at what point is enough enough? I think if we listen, we know the answer, but it is terribly difficult to “give up” on someone. That’s an incredibly painful phrase for me to accept: giving up on someone.
I don’t know that I can ever totally give up on anyone, but it doesn’t mean I have to be dragged through the coals with them.
So although I will still love someone and pray for them and even direct them toward resources, it is necessary to do it from a safe distance. Unfortunately, this is sometimes easier to do in some instances than others.
I’m already learning the benefits of creating breathing room apply to a myriad of daily frustrations. Today I was on hold with the IRS at work for an hour and 15 minutes during an already frustrating day. Nearly 30 minutes into it, my call was answered and redirected to a different department where my new estimated hold time was said to be between 30-60 minutes. I lost my temper at this point and made quite a commotion in my office. At exactly 4:00, after a total of 78 minutes on hold, the phone went dead. My assumption is that their phones shut off at 4:00 pm. Honestly, the idea of this post was born during part of this on-hold hell so I’d had time to think about this. When the phone went dead, I calmly took off my headset and wrote a note to call back earlier in the day tomorrow.
I’ve often described myself as having a low bullshit tolerance. I think this is merely an extension of that, but I will admit it’s difficult to slow down and breathe. And sometimes (depending on the situation) it’s very difficult to distance myself from someone I love who is just not good for me. There is a lot of grey area; choices are not always cut and dry, black or white, especially when people are involved. But I’m learning that breathing room is immediately created in the timeline when I slow down and am less reactive. And in that breathing room, in the space where I go to think and discern, I often find the answers I’m seeking. Stick it out or let it go? Try again or move on? Throw a fit or have a laugh?
Having said all of this, I am still a passionate and temperamental person. And I’m still compassionate and caring and a natural nurturer. I will never change these things that are so deeply part of my character. I’m not cutting people out of my life right and left. I’m not neglecting friends. I’m not turning my back on those who are struggling. I’m just being more cautious about when and where I devote my attention and energy.