“Always be learning” = not always fun

Note: I wrote this in December 2016 but wasn’t sure if I should publish or not. Let me know if you’ve had a similar experience.

A series of doors… which choice is the right one?

My personal mantra is “always be learning” and I generally experience learning in a positive, fun, invigorating way. In 2016, though, I came to understand that learning isn’t always fun. Of course, I knew that in theory and smaller past experiences, but a specific situation made it very clear. Here’s what happened…

First I picked a theme

At the end of 2015, while thinking about how the year had gone for me, I decided to pick a theme for 2016; a theme that would manifest as a word or phrase that would be a guiding light for the next year. The concept of choice had been bouncing around my brain for a while, peeking out here and there, so I thought I’d try it out. I wrote “choice” in a notebook and took some notes on how the theme might play out in my personal and professional life.

Then I set a budget

I kind of struggled with my theme for a couple of months. Then The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck by Sarah Knight entered my life. This book was recommended by a colleague on Twitter and sounded like exactly what I needed. I’ll admit I still haven’t finished reading it, but I read enough to clamp on to the concept of a “F*ck Budget,” which is a budget that includes three categories:

  1. Time
  2. Energy
  3. Money

Here’s an example of how I’ve employed a F*ck Budget: I like meeting new people, but I’m not the biggest fan of networking events. I much prefer one-on-one conversations where I don’t have to yell over the din of a crowd to be heard. However, it can be challenging to meet new people. Therefore, I go to networking events to meet people so I can then go to coffee with them and have the kind of connection I prefer. Going to a networking event means spending two to three items of my F*ck Budget. Time and energy are definitely used, but I can choose to spend very little money or only consume the free food and beverages that are available.

Practice, practice, practice

Throughout the year, with my F*ck Budget in mind, I thought about my options whenever faced with an opportunity or challenge. Sometimes this meant questioning whether or not something was truly an obligation or if there were multiple paths. (Too often what I think are obligations aren’t really.) If I had choices, what were they? Do something or take no action? Spend the time, energy, and/or money… or not? What impact would my choices make on me or anyone else who might be involved? What would bring me joy?

In the beginning, most of my choices were small ones. Should I stay in and watch a movie by myself or go out with friends for a drink? Ruminating on my theme of “choice” took only a second or two before I could answer. These many small choices added up over time, though, and gave me opportunities to practice for a bigger choice that was yet to come.

Time for a difficult decision

Real talk: This is still kind of hard for me to talk about. In 2016 I ended up leaving a volunteer leadership position with an organization that I loved and that had helped me grow significantly over the last few years. The organization was/is filled with awesome, hardworking, passionate people who continue to do important work. I’ll always be grateful for my experiences, but I came to realize that my levels of effectiveness and excitement were dimming due to feeling burnt out. I felt less useful even though I worked harder. The stress was more than an emotional nuisance; it began to take a physical toll on me. At one especially low point, I felt like an imposter that no one liked or wanted to work with. Everything seemed like a struggle. I wasn’t handling situations well and, I felt, it was impacting other people and their ability to do good work.

Through conversations with friends, family, and colleagues, I discovered that I had been overextending my emotional and energetic capacities for a while. It wasn’t good for me and it wasn’t good for the people I was working with. So, with encouragement from my support network, I decided to remove myself from a situation that depleted too much of my F*ck Budget. I decided I wanted to spend time, energy, and money in ways that brought me joy.

And finally, the bottom line

My decision to leave the organization felt like a no-win situation at the time. I experienced significant levels of doubt beforehand and even higher levels of guilt after. I’m pretty sure I burnt a bridge or two. In hindsight, though, I can see that I made the right choice for me in that moment. It’s taken time for me to process, but I’ve learned more from the mistakes I made than I ever would have if there had been zero conflict.

So, that’s my story. Learning can be hard. Painful, even. But I choose to continue learning, even in the face of challenging situations. I suspect I’ll need that mindset in in the future more than ever.

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