The question: why leave a well paying job that you’re good at? The reasons are both common and cosmic, tailored to be presentable to the audience in question at any given moment. However, the reasons are not the answers. The answers are still few and much less articulate. I see them as a basket of warm laundry, straight from the dryer, digging into my hip on the walk back from the laundry room, jumbled together and inside out. I do the work of lifting and folding so that I will eventually have something to wear.
The part I’m folding recently? It’s an urge to redefine/add to/claim/practice an unacknowledged form of strength. I can’t yet name that strength, that thing I’ve been hesitant to install, but part of it has to do with knowing when to leave something alone. Until recently I have never, and I mean never, been able to do that. From twenty minute earwax cleanings to replaying a conversation in my head for a month, I have always been a stickler for detail, dogged perseverance, and my favorite, ownership.
A few years ago, the night before my student’s biggest paper of the year was due, I was driving back from dinner with a colleague and friend after twelve straight hours of teaching and managing people’s anxiety around the project. We saw Fernando, a young man who was supposed to come to the computer lab after school, riding his bike across the intersection we were just about to drive through. My friend made a quick lane change and swung around the corner where we started to shout his name. “Fernando,” my partner scolded when he stopped, “don’t you know that Miss Delaney and I have been driving around all night looking for you?? Why weren’t you in the computer lab??” I marveled at her quickness, and tried to keep a straight face, but the thing that sticks with me the most? He didn’t seem even mildly suspicious that we were lying. You can chalk that up to caring educators, a not-too-academically-bright student, or the simple fact that he knew me as a person that squeezed, picked, and pushed with some regularity.
The contrast between the demands on a teacher and the demands on a camp counselor are sharp, and yet I still struggle. I had just started a scheduling task that had been given to me on Monday–not future altering by any means–when it was time to go on break. A sweet, younger counselor offered to do it for me. I hesitated. Would she mess it up? Would she understand my directions completely? Would she ask questions if she didn’t? Would I be held responsible for her mistakes on this non-important project? I’m sure my thank you and directions sounded a little strained when I said yes, because washing my hands in the bathroom a few minutes later I was still tempted to go back and regain my jurisdiction. I looked at myself in the mirror: “Leave it alone or I will smack the micromanagement off your face!!” I went to break and, surprise surprise, the world had not ended when I came back. It hadn’t mattered. It was wholly unremarkable, unless you count the young counselor who now felt closer to me.
I saw the same thing as I taught Creative Writing in the last few years. Students blew my mind as they planned schedules, divvied up the workload, mediated disputes and gave each other high caliber revision feedback on their group projects. What I’d always said I wanted: a classroom where I was invisible and they did the work, was happening. It was as close to true co-creation as I’d ever gotten, and yet a part of me was horribly bored during project days because I wasn’t needed to make the rules, assign the importance, say what made it “good” or “bad.” True, it was enormously pleasing to see them sip, lick, and guzzle from their own fountains, but I didn’t know what to do with myself without all my fingers in all the pies.
So, why can’t I take the advice of Elsa from Frozen and…”Let it go, let it go!!”? Why does it feel like doing so will be a part of a newly emerging strength? Mostly because the self-doubt and accusations can sometimes be VICIOUS when I don’t keep a careful eye on everything!! The following is a dialogue where I will be playing the part of me trying to give less fucks: “Come on lazy, what’s so special about you that you can’t put in the extra few minutes? So what, you’re trying to rationalize and deify slacking? Everyone else is doing their part. People expect a certain standard of quality from you,” and on it goes. Sometimes, in their most logical sounding form, they remind me of the magic I’ve been able to create for others through my willingness to shoulder large loads for untold miles. Yet this new, inside out part of me with pockets flapping and buttons burning, quietly asks, “Is there more to your strength, your value, than your perfect service to others?” I don’t know. There seems to be all sorts of world changers big and small who really go in for heavy lifting…
but not everything is mine to lift.
And so for a while I’m going to be leaving some things alone that I normally would not. In retrospect I see that it’s already been happening naturally on occasion, right outside my conscious vision. Those times are delightful because of the space they open for help, for community, for rest, for ripening. However, sometimes I know I am going to have to say to myself, as I did in that bathroom mirror: it is not yours, leave it alone. I’ve experienced the end of the spectrum where I (try to) hold, control, and take in the effects of everything. I need to now practice giving fewer, or even (gasp) no fucks, before I can find the middle. For those of you that grew up with healthy boundaries practiced and modeled, this must seem like a duh, but for me it is…