Everyone comes to a point in their life when it’s time to leave something behind and move on to a new thing. By the time we are adults, we’re already experienced with making these transitions, but even with experience, a time of change and a move away from the certain and familiar into the untried and unforeseeable comes with tension and hesitation for most of us.
There are some people who thrive facing such a challenge and truthfully, it can be fun for any of us if the change is of the right kind. On the up side, change does open the door to personal innovation and a shake-up in the routines of one’s life can be pretty invigorating, but even taking that into account, contemplating the unknown and the loss of the familiar still brings with it some trepidation. Most of us prefer to remain safe inside our comfort zones, after all.
Just recently I unexpectedly found myself at just this type of crossroads. I had worked with an addictions group at my church, running meetings every week and hosting for several years. Over time, I sensed myself losing steam as a leader and knew I would have to bow out at some point, although I didn’t think further as to when to do it. Then, circumstances took a turn and pushed the decision on me and things came to a quick and unexpected end, but one that seemed very right.
Only when it was a done deal did I fully realize just how burned out I had become, even though the signs had been there. The rewards of serving had lessened and it had started to feel like a chore. At times, I had to force myself to go to the meetings. My focus was off and my empathy was lagging, and though I had been careful to make sure that I fulfilled my obligations as a leader, my heart wasn’t in it any more.
Looking back I wondered why I had kept going or more particularly, what had kept me from taking an honest look at how at how I was really feeling. The answers were only good things. First, it was comfortable and I was working with people who had become my friends. My service gave me a role within my church community and the satisfaction of knowing that I was needed, and I was also appreciated for what I did. I was just not sure what to do next if I gave up all those things I liked about it. Then, I wondered who would take my place and what would happen if nobody was there to step in. So, I stayed where I was past the point where I should have.
If you are a person like me and you prefer stability, you’re dutiful, stick to commitments, and you give of yourself to help things go right for others, then we may share a common blind spot. Like me, you might linger in a job, a relationship, a city, or another type of commitment (I have done all of those things) when you should really be moving on, but obligations to others are a big part of why you don’t see things for what they are.
Somebody once challenged me with a question – “What is the defect of your virtue?” That is, whatever strength or asset you have, what is its shadow side. For me, as I explained, constancy and duty led to complacency and inertia, but what about other virtues and their defects?
Have you ever known a person who was always funny, but used it as a shield against pain and self-reflection? Or the “rules guy” who is very orderly and detailed, but who can’t flex when he needs to? Some people who are very competent won’t trust anything to others and end up having to be in charge of everything (later, they will resent that everyone leaves things up to them). And then there is the starry-eyed romantic with the rose-colored glasses who is blind to the truth about her relationship.
I liked that idea, of seeing the defects of virtues, and thinking of how we can be too rigid with even the best of us. Maybe when you get in a rut or find yourself frustrated, you should consider if this doesn’t explain something about why you are stuck.