Monday, January 10, 2011

On Quitting...and self importance

A few years ago my mom took me to lunch at Biaggi’s. She told me she was quitting her job with the virtuoso series at the University because she didn't care about it that much anymore and she wanted to focus on being a grandma. I wondered how she could do that because she had started that series – she’d put her heart and soul into it. At first I saw it as a baby she birthed and now she was just abandoning it. But she seemed totally cool with it. And so I thought, “Good for you.”

A colleague called me today to tell me she was proud of me. Why is she proud of me? Because as of January 1, I resigned as Program Director and left her alone to deal with the Gallery Stroll. Well, that’s my perspective. I was dreading the "I quit" meeting. Fortunately this person really cares about me so the conversation was virtually painless. She said she’s proud of me for following my heart rather than enduring something that was weighing me down. I know I torture myself to some degree by enduring undesirable situations (because I'm strong, I can handle it), but this past year I think I really did a number on myself. She told me I had been sighing a lot lately and taking breaks before answering questions she asked me. I had NO idea I did that.

I kind of feel bad for anyone who’s had to deal with me since September – maybe even July. I feel like I’ve been scattered, distracted and selfish. I don’t think I let it seep into my behavior too much (I just spelled behavior with a “u” until spell check got me) but come late September I think my brain had just about had it and told my body “you take it from here.” Instead of shutting down and going into a deep hibernation my body opted for “fight or flight” (probably because my brain gave up its voting rights) and I’ve been awake for about 3 months now. OK, not really. But for a couple weeks I thought not sleeping was killing me. Unfortunately I had no one to fight and nowhere to flee. I remember lying on the floor one Sunday morning, resentfully awake but equally disengaged in anything going on around me. I was aware enough to acknowledge an infomercial about stress and simplifying your life that was on TV before the Sunday morning session of General Conference. After several minutes of passive listening I looked up to my roommate Annie and said, “I think I’m going to quit the Gallery Stroll.” I don’t remember what she said because I was completely self absorbed at the time, but what was going through my mind was “How can I simplify my life and focus on the things that really matter to me right now?”

I thought back to my lunch with Mom as I contemplated quitting something I had nurtured back to health, something I developed and grew for the past eight years. I wasn’t so much worried about what would happen to the organization if I left, it would be fine without me, but it has become a large part of who I am and a lot of the people I know identify me with that organization. I guess one of my fears was that's why people liked me.

For the past three years (wow, that long) I’ve been part of a discussion group. We talk about important things as well as inane ideas – whatever the group fancies and plans for.

One of our discussions was about the Great Depression. The Depression was difficult for those who lost their jobs not only financially, but because back then, your occupation was your identity. When your life’s work is what supports your family and determines how people view you and how you view yourself, and then you lose that, I can see how it devastated many individuals. Today things are a little different. Many people have 3 or 4 jobs, or they change jobs every 5-10 years.

Before our group opens a discussion we go around the room and introduce ourselves (we get newbies all the time). The month following the Depression topic I paid close attention to how people introduced themselves. They always said their name and what they did for a living. The next month I suggested we not mention our occupation, but share what’s currently on our mind or what we’re passionate about. Instead of polite follow up questions and nods of approval the room came to life with genuine excitement as people shared their current interests, obsessions and passions. It’s amazing how you get to know a person more intimately when you ask them what they truly care about rather than how they make their money. I may not remember what everyone does for a living, but I know Mark was having nightmares about zombies, Brian was obsessed with raw milk, and Spence was in love with the clouds. Last month, I couldn't stop thinking about everything I wanted to mix into fudge.

A lot of these people I sit and talk with once a month have prestigious degrees. They have a lot of influence and high impact projects they do for work. I used to be intimidated by them. But now that I see more about who they truly are, I know they’re not necessarily what they seem. Their accomplishments don’t make them who they are – it’s their loves and passions, their insecurities and nightmares. And that’s why I love them.

So I’m excited about quitting the Gallery Stroll. It has delighted me long enough (that’s for you, Mom). Hopefully I’ll be sighing less and smiling more. I’m on a bit of a spree as I quit one of my church callings last week and I still have to quit one other side job.

Sigh. I feel better already.


Annie said...

I was pretty self-absorbed too that day and don't even remember that conversation in that setting. But I'm glad you quit and hope it helps ease your life and give you room for new passions and activities. And that may be the only part of dialogue I miss, other than you and Carri.

Chicks-with-Sticks said...

Your thoughts remind me that I have always felt like I was someone's daughter, sister, mother or wife. I applaud you for figuring this out now. You are remarkable and I only hope that one day I will figure who I am, not based on someone else, an occupation or a title. Thanks for the post Laura.

SRA said...

Quit a calling? Eh? Congrats on leaving Gallery Stroll...I too hope it is the freeing experience (in more ways than one) you need & desire.

Lisa Marie Trent said...

Ha, ha delighted you long enough..

Your suggestion in your discussion group is exactly what Josh is studying right now. Instead of asking someone he meets "so what do you do," he changed it "so how do you spend your time?" Most people are immediately taken aback, but are much more excited to answer the question because it gets them thinking and catches them off guard. So good work with that. Let's change the world.

dre said...

I've had those feelings, it wasn't until I read your post that I realize it's okay to have those feelings, and the brighter rainbow of endless possibilities.

I'm sure I'm going to have to go through the same process in 2 years, so thanks for the words of encouragement so I won't be so scared.

Take care Laura

Kell's Belles said...

I have so many thoughts on this excellent post.

#1-I love the idea of using something besides occupation as a means of introduction. Mine is the not the most glamorous of occupations and sometimes isn't even counted as "work" because I don't get paid for what I do. Once, when I answered a man who asked me what I did for a living at a swanky party in LA, he turned around and walked AWAY from me (I guess "staying home to raise my daughters" wasn't an interesting enough reply--but I doubt I would have had much to say to that jerk anyway). I'm so much more than my job. I promise I can talk about more than laundry and diapers if you give me a chance.

#2- I think the things you DON'T do can be just as important as the things you do. Being true to yourself and who you are is important. I'll never forget the look on my dad's face when I announced I was quitting competitive soccer (I was 14). It had defined my life for years and it brought me NO joy. He was disappointed, but I never felt so relieved in my life! Letting go of things that do nothing but drain you is just as much a part of life as finding the things that bring joy and meaning to it!

#3- I will ALWAYS smile at the "it has delighted me long enough" quote. Jane Austen via Becky Durham sounds so wise :)

Ilene said...

Quitting Gallery Stroll?

Now what are we going to talk about?!

I must start making lists of alternate conversation topics... I'm thinking prescription sleeping medications might be a good place to start.

I am coming down this weekend for an appt. on Monday. Lunch?

Good for you, by the way.

Laura Lee said...

SRA -- Yes, I quit one of my callings. I had been doing one of them for almost two years. So I told him if there was anyone else in the ward that needed something to do, they were welcome to take one of my jobs. It has delighted me long enough :)

Liz said...

Thank you for such wonderful insist. I too am trying to release myself from things that I just can't do anymore, and make my life as simple as possible so that I can concentrate on the things that matter most (my family) right now.

Speaking of family, thank you for your last post. I didn't catch it fast enough to make a meaningful comment, but I do want you to know that I have always treasured our relationship as cousins and friends. Growing up, you and Lisa, and Katie were more like sisters to me than cousins, since my own sisters were so much younger. You have always been loyal, and thoughtful, and someone I look up to. I am grateful that I can look back at my childhood and teenage years and remember so many fun times we had together!

Next time I'm in town we need to have a cousins sleepover and play the dollar game, gamble, and maybe climb the Statue of Liberty!