Sunday, May 04, 2008

Catching Up

Wow, I actually skipped the whole month of April! I don't think I've ever missed a whole month of posting before. Sorry about that!

Here is a short run-down of the news:

1. I've been trying to adjust to the realization that I have to continue as chair for two more years. Given this information, it is impossible to continue doing all that I have been doing. There were some things that I took on because I thought this was my last year as chair and so I thought that some new time would open up for me starting next year. So now I have had to re-evaluate what to continue with. I have tried to include others in this conversation, to help me discern. I came up with what I thought were very good ideas about how to keep going with the most important things that I uniquely could offer (and that I felt called to offer), but the powers that be would have none of it, unfortunately. I finally summon my energies to assert myself, my needs, and my priorities, but the world does not budge one inch. Feeling defeated, I am now having to let go of some things that I have put a lot of time and energy into in recent years. The other people who have been involved are disappointed. This has been hard.

2. (Related?) I came down with a bad case of strep throat in early April. Then it came back! I've now finished a second and quite powerful course of antibiotics and am glad to be off of that and feeling better!

3. (Related) I have renewed my vows to take better care of myself. Now that the weather is getting nicer, I'm going to reinstate an exercise plan. Phase 1 will be the modest (but highly effective) 30 minutes/30 days walking plan. It's very simple. Walk at least 30 minutes for 30 days in a row. That's long enough to establish this as a habit and build a base of fitness from which I can then start running again if I wish. Or I can just continue this much for the rest of my life and still be much better off than I have been lately! The "rules" I'm establishing around this are: (1) I am not allowed to try to run before these first 30 days (because I don't want to pressure myself or burn myself out with over-enthusiasm), and (2) I can walk longer than 30 minutes if I ever should wish so, but I still have to keep going out every day no matter what for at least 30 minutes.

4. I've recently come to terms with how severely burned out I was after the ridiculous busyness of last year. This year has been much more manageable, and slowly I've been healing from the burnout. Burnout is not only exhaustion from working too hard for too long, but also includes a sense of discouragement (some sense that all of that effort had not really been worth the cost). The more manageable load this year has helped me recover from the exhaustion component; the psychological component has been more challenging. It requires careful analysis of the causes of the sense of discouragement. In my complex life, this is complex work. There's no easily identifiable single element. But I've been making real progress and am starting to feel a real sense of hope that, even with continuing as chair for two more years, I can still bring my life closer to how I want it to be.

5. Related: A lot of the work I've been doing this year has been to shift from an essentially apologetic orientation to the world ("I'm sorry for taking up space on this planet. To make up for this, let me do something Spectacularly Good to justify my existence") to something so different I don't yet have a name or phrase to describe it. My long habit of living apologetically and orienting myself to (thinking that I could be) making everyone else around me happy ended up trapping me within a huge set of obligations and responsibilities that began to be too much for me, leaving me with two daunting tasks: (1) find a responsible way out of this tangled web, and (2) learn to live in a new way that would prevent this from happening again. I have been making my way out of the tangled web, one strand at a time. And I have have mostly succeeded in not adding new strands to the web. And I am slowly creating new habits of setting my own agenda and taking better care of myself.

6. I do need to come up for a name for the new way of being I am trying to establish for myself. It involves setting my own agenda, and taking better care of myself, and this kind of shift initially feels like a shift to a more selfish way of being, but that's not really it at all. All along, what has been centrally important to me is what I think of as "trying to discern what God calls me to do."

All along, the discernment process has included both looking within and looking outside of myself for clues and guidance. What do I like doing? What I am good at? What gives me joy? What is easy? What is hard but feels like an exciting challenge? What feels like it goes against my nature in potentially harmful ways? What do the people I trust ask for from me? What needs in the world do I feel most drawn towards addressing? What builds me up? What brings me down? What do people appreciate about me? What do I most value about myself?

But I had been giving priority to responding to what others want from me, lately in life. Now I am shifting priority to the more inward modes of discernment. The people around me may like me and appreciate me, and may want things from me that I am glad to offer, but they still don't know me as well as I know myself, and their caring for me is limited and somewhat conditioned just because there are limits to what any person can know about another.

Ultimately, I have a kind of responsibility for and to myself that no other person can do for me, no matter how much they care. And I owe it to others (as well as myself) to take this responsibility seriously, so that I can be the best person I can be. It is up to me to do this, precisely because no one else can do this for me. This is why it looks selfish but actually is not.

I know I have been working on this sort of thing for a long time, and maybe keep repeating it here in this blog, but this is, I think, a hard point for some people (such as myself) to "get." Maybe it's harder for women than for men, because women are acculturated to value and exemplify a certain model of "unselfishness." I certainly don't want to abandon unselfishness altogether. But there's a difference between a self-sacrificial unselfishness, and a non-self-sacrificial version of unselfishness. The latter is what I have been trying to find.

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