I have a friend who wrote a song about what its like to say no to ourselves, no to opportunities that speak to our hearts and no to moments that will nourish us. Lately I’ve felt my schedule so packed with details that it seems I’ve been saying no all the time, in all the small ways that add up into the big ways. No, you can’t write, you must make phone calls. No, you can’t dabble in craft projects, you need to check the budgets. No, you can’t go swimming in the sunshine because there are meeting notes waiting to be written. No, no, no. Until my heart got very few yeses.
I recently took a job with an organization I participated in as a little girl. The organization runs camping programs. I used to be a camp director. I love being outside. And so I thought, I can save this dying organization, which a board member described as “coming up from the ashes.” And you know, I could have. Except I quit.
I wasn’t getting much out of this part-time job you know. I took it in part because I was scared. Scared of all the uncertainty that cloaks academic and artistic life. It would be a paycheck. I could write and make in between, as long as there wasn’t too much mind-numbing work. But the promises made during the interview process started to fall away and the data entry became mind-numbing. Again and again, the big, fun, juicy pieces fell away and again and again, I found myself in front of a computer, attempting to madly answer emails, return calls, do data entry. You know what I hate? Administrative work. I’m not even good at it.
I felt committed. Like I owed it to this organization that was paying me less than I made as a teenaged lifeguard. Finally a mentor said to me, “I hear you telling me what you’re doing for them, but what are you getting out of this, Chels?” In that moment I realized I was getting nothing. I was squeezing it in at night, resenting the extraordinary amount of data entry eating away at hours I could have been playing peek-a-boo or writing with my postdoc supervisor about issues I love.
They wanted to move me into an Exec Director position and I knew it. I was flattered, even though it would be an Exec Director position that would pay be a salary below the poverty line. I thought I could fix it, be a grand savior, and everyone would celebrate me. I was wrong mostly because I don’t actually want to fix this sh*t. I wasn’t getting much out of saving anyone.
I mulled over it for weeks, trying to figure out how to decide if I should stay or I should go, counting the weeks on the calendar until the start of summer camp. My mentors’ words haunted me: “But what are you getting out of this, Chels?” I knew I wasn’t really getting much.
Saying yes to myself would mean quitting. It would mean allowing myself the time and space to write. It would mean slightly less income, but a ton more time to focus on my projects. So I said yes to that little voice. I gave my notice. I felt relief, and mostly, reorientation to what matters to me. I felt my whole body shift, back to creative energy forces and writing what matters and collaborating with people on social justice issues. I said yes. It was hard and it was risky, but I’m so proud of myself for saying yes to me.