Learning to say “yes” again (except when I have to say “no”)

I needed a photo to run with this post, and Bailey taking a dip in the Fountain of Eternal Life at the cemetery seemed as good a choice as any.

It’s been a crazy week, what with my outing to McGraws last Thursday and my last minute decision to attend my 30 year high school reunion. That’s more social interaction than I’ve had in the last six months.

But I’ve been mulling something over in my mind and I think maybe it’s fermented enough to mull over out loud.

Regular readers of my blog (or my column) already know I freely blab about my creative fears, hopes, successes and failures. I sometimes feel like a creative train wreck.

But I had a long chat last week with an old friend, Pastor Samme; we know each other from my days in Christian music. I had finally reached a place where, before I imploded, I needed desperately to talk to someone who knows and understands me (as opposed to, oh let’s hypothetically say, a relationship counselor of some sort who knows jack about me but still needs to offer advice because I’m paying her). And while I don’t attend his church (or any right now), I just knew in my heart Pastor Samme would understand what’s going on in my head and be able to offer some insight.

I was right. He gave me two plus hours of talking and crying and pondering.

He was particularly helpful with my creative struggles, and suggested that one reason I’m so creatively exhausted is because I’m focusing on the wrong gift. That I should consider the possibility that my gift is teaching, rather than writing,  that I have the ability to share information, offer insight, make people think, and bring issues to light for consideration.  (This is my condensed translation of our two hour conversation, just for the record.) That teaching is the gift while writing is the avenue to share the lesson.

An example? Paul (of Bible fame, for my non-religious readers) was a teacher and not a writer, Samme said, and yet his writings make up the majority of the New Testament. Gift? Teaching. Tool to teach? Writing.

I know that seems like a very minor distinction – what’s the difference if you write to teach or write to … well, write. But for someone always questioning their creative output, it’s a distinction of the highest order.

For most of the last few years, I’ve been actively helping other people achieve their dreams. The writing group I helped lead. Meeting with other writers to brainstorm ideas for their work. Giving pointers, offering advice, opening my phone book to share contacts. I wish I had a dollar for every time I met with a writer and they sent me a note saying I’d inspired them, while I sat here crying and empty.

There were other non-writing things draining me as well, and after several years, I was simply exhausted. I’d turned on my emotional, creative and spiritual tap to allow everyone around me a non-stop supply of refreshment, and all the while I had nowhere to turn for renewal.

I gave until I had nothing left to give. I was empty and feeling like a failure, because while everyone around me was moving forward my own work (and life) was stagnant and uninspired.

I took a hiatus from my column, switched genres, and hoped for the best. But I was still empty, until last February I made a conscious (and public decision) to say no to toxic people, draining situations, and other soul sucking experiences.

It helped for sure. God, it was hard to say “No, I can’t help you” … hard the first time. Hard the second time. It required me to actually disengage from certain relationships, conversations and situations, simply because the round and round was unproductive and exhausting. But it got easier. Surprisingly easier – and without the guilt I’d expected.

And if my well is not filled right now, the water is at least flowing back in. Beautiful, wonderful spirit-renewing refreshment.

But that can’t be the end. What Pastor Samme suggested may actually be the key to continuing to move forward with a clearer goal. He suggested that my dream is not to write a book (despite all of those super wonderful ideas) but to teach a lesson about something. Writing a book is just one tool to do that. So, he suggested, rather than focusing on success or failure in publishing something on some topic, focus on sharing the message in whatever avenue is in front of me.

Ta da! If that doesn’t make sense to you, that’s because the lesson wasn’t for you. But if a lightbulb just went off in your head, then maybe you’re in the same situation: Going in the right direction but focusing on the wrong destination.

So that’s what I did. I bled all over the page last week about my reunion, and when I realized the number of people who connected with my blathering, and how many graduates of my class also write, I knew that we need to somehow connect and work together.

For the first time in a very, very long time, the ideas are flowing. Flowing out and refreshing back in, because I understand now that my ability to help someone else achieve their goal is actually my gift. And rather than being resentful of it, I can allow myself to be renewed by it.

In fact, it might be time to start saying “Yes.” With boundaries. With a clearer vision. With an understanding that I need to fill my own creative, spiritual, and emotional well first in order to be able to offer anything to anyone. Which means, of course, that sometimes I still need to say “No.”

That clarity was Pastor Samme’s gift to me. I’m forever grateful.

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3 responses to “Learning to say “yes” again (except when I have to say “no”)

  1. Writing and teaching do go hand-in-hand, and you do it beautifully!

  2. They do go hand in hand – what was enlightening for me was that I can still be “teaching” – ie: fulfilling my purpose – even when I’m not writing. Which helps me understand that failure to write is not necessarily failure to serve my purpose. If any of that makes sense, lol…

  3. Pingback: writing, distressing, resenting, and respecting « power of language blog: partnering with reality by JR Fibonacci

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