Contentment & Letting Go

For me to find true wealth I needed to give up some things:

  • I gave up a very secure job with great pay.
  • I gave up excess clothing.
  • I gave up saying yes to everything my parents or friends were getting rid of and offered to me.
  • I gave up my entire 2000 + CD collection, once my pride and joy.

Now I am giving up most of my musical instruments and recording equipment which has been sitting around collecting dust, taking up room, and hardly ever used.  In a sense I am giving up a dream as well.

However, I am of the firm belief that dreams can be reborn if they are meant to be.  Sometimes we have to clear away our past attempts to force our dreams to happen, and start back again with the simple dream. This is part of the path to contentment.

Contentment is partly about being able to let go of everything and partly finding joy in what you have. Holding everything you have loosely, but not carelessly, and letting go of what does not add joy.

If we hold on too tightly we risk loosing ourselves in the thing we are holding onto whether it be a house, a car, or a relationship. We also run the risk of losing the very thing we are trying so hard to hold onto, or losing everything else in our obsession with this one thing.

In relationships we run the risk of driving the other person away.

If we hold things carelessly, we do not assign proper value to them.  In this case we run the risk of losing them to neglect, or being weighed down by what we cannot get rid of because its value to anyone else has decreased due to our neglect.  In the case of a house, boat or car, we purchase it at a certain value, don’t take proper care of it, its value drops and we find ourselves stuck with an eyesore that now we owe more on than people are willing to pay.

If we hold relationships carelessly they will disappear, leaving holes in our lives that we try to fill with other relationships and other things. Continuing in this pattern we spiral downward into a state of despair.

But it doesn’t have to be that way, and there are ways to recover our sense of contentment, through setting boundaries in relationships, decluttering or tidying our homes, turning off the incessant voices that tell us what we need, need, need in order to be something better, and carving out time for stillness and silence every day.

Sometimes I find contentment in simply being alive.

“Be content with what you have;
rejoice in the way things are.
When you realize there is nothing lacking,
the whole world belongs to you.”
― Lao Tzu

Wealth and Work: Are you Burned Out?

Wealth & Work - Are You Burned Out?

Are you Burned Out?

We all experience burnout at some point.  I left a 17 year career because I sensed it creeping up on me.

At the time I left I had well over 15 years left before I could qualify for early retirement and I knew I could not last that long just for the full retirement benefits.  So I left, and even though my income has been substantially less, I am less stressed, much happier in general, and able to actually encounter the world in a way I would not have been able to if I had stayed.

I am not recommending you all go out and quit your jobs by any means, but I do have some recommendations from what I observed in looking back at my career that might have helped me avoid the impending burnout:  take vacations, observe a Sabbath day, and delegate more (read: do less).

Vacation

First things first, take a vacation!  Vacations (from the Latin vacare – “to be unoccupied”) are necessary to rejuvenate our mind, body and spirit.  We weren’t meant to work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

And take an “unoccupied” vacation – don’t plan out an itinerary that rivals your pace at work!  Take a vacation where you unplug, spend time just reading, spend time outdoors just observing and soaking in the the fresh air and, hopefully, some natural sunlight.

Unplug from your phone, your TV and the internet, at least for the majority of the time.

If you are married, with or without children, enjoy the time with your family and spouse, allow yourselves all the flexibility in the world for that time. Linger longer somewhere that is enjoyable and leave the next destination for another time.

Be present for your spouse and family – don’t spend your vacation worrying about work.  It will still be there when you get back.

Taste the food.  I’m serious.  When was the last time you can remember tasting your food?

Try something you have never tried before.

When you return from vacation and before the relaxed calm wears off, take a look at your schedule and set some clear work boundaries.  Block out times for future vacations, family outings, time to read, time to spend outdoors, and set a specific time to end your work day, every day.

Sabbath

The Sabbath in the Judeo-Christian tradition has long been made out to be a day of restrictions, but it was meant to be a day of rest each week – a gift to us – a day that we did not have to toil under the curse but could trust that God would provide.

In New England sports vernacular, you might consider the Sabbath day as a “reverse the curse” day.

A Sabbath day is essential whether you are religious or not.  It is also difficult for many of us to observe properly.  Relaxation is an elusive concept for me, but as I continue to get older, I recognize its importance for my health more and more.

Think of your Sabbath day as the day you get to enjoy the fruits of your labors, spend time with family and friends, and experience the wonders of nature.  It should be a day to recharge your emotional and spiritual batteries, and give your brain and body a rest.

Treat it like a weekly vacation – unplug, be present with those around you, take a break from technology, enjoy some nature or even yard work (yes work of this sort is fine, as long as it rejuvenates you)!

Delegate More

We can all find things to delegate.  These are things that other people can do as well or even better than we can, and distract us from doing the one or two things that only we can do.

This is a lesson I didn’t learn until after I exited my previous career.  I took on way too much and got stuck in the self destructive mode of continuing to do things myself because it was faster and easier than training someone else to do it.

The fallacy in this is that I was killing myself to get all these things done, while the things only I could do were not getting the full attention they deserved.  One of these things was developing and leading my team.  I didn’t know how to draw the line between being productive and helping others be productive.

The first thing to do is set limits on your work hours and prioritize your work schedule to get your work done in that time.  This might mean clarifying with your boss whether the project you are working on takes priority over some status meeting, especially if you arrange for someone to brief you on anything important to your project.

Then take a hard look at the tasks you are still trying to cram into your schedule and ask yourself two questions.  Can someone else do it?   Is this task taking up time that could be better spent on those things that only I can do?

If you answered yes to both questions it is time to delegate.

Wrapping Up

Unplug.

Taste your food.

Be present in the moment with the people in your life.

Do less.

Do nothing, on purpose, at least once a week.

…and just plain smile more.

Letting Go: Other People’s Problems

Observations of a Pattern

Over the years, talking with people about their lives and where they are versus where they thought they should be or would like to be, I’ve observed a particular pattern emerge. This pattern is not necessarily true for all instances, but was certainly significant enough to warrant some deeper reflection.

I concluded that many people are unable to reach their goals and dreams because they are too focused on fixing or dealing with the problems of other people in their lives.

For example:

  • Financially – A family member is struggling to make ends meet and get out of debt, but cannot say no to her family whenever they ask for financial help.
  • Emotionally – A friend who is having a great day, gets a call from that one friend who always seems to be going through some emotional crisis, and is unable to say no, eventually turning a great day into one of emotional stress.

This is not to say that we should not help others, we should, but within healthy boundaries, making a clear distinction between what is their problem and what is ours.

Boundaries define what is me and what is not me…we are not responsible for other people…[but] we are responsible to others and for ourselves. (Townsend, Cloud. Boundaries)

Burdens and Loads

Authors Henry Cloud and John Townsend make a distinction between burdens and loads in their excellent book Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life.  This terminology is taken from the following biblical passage in the book of Galatians:

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.  Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.  For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.  But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor.  For each will have to bear his own load.  (Galations 6:1-5, ESV)

This passage speaks of burdens as something to be shared, while loads are our own to carry.   Townsend and Cloud explore the original Greek words, defining burden as excess burdens – those so heavy they weigh us down, and load as cargo – the burden of daily toil.  To clarify this distinction in modern terms, the authors liken burdens to boulders, which require help to carry, and loads to knapsacks, things we are expected to carry ourselves.

The problems arise when we treat boulders as daily loads and refuse help, or we treat daily loads as boulders that we shouldn’t have to carry ourselves.

How do I know if I have a Boundary Problem?

For starters, we all have need of healthy boundaries, and we all likely have areas where these boundaries need work.  However, for purposes of our discussion here, Townsend and Cloud offer these three statements as a kind of litmus test for whether we are dealing with a boundary problem:

  1. Trying harder isn’t working
  2. Being nice out of fear isn’t working
  3. Taking responsibility for others isn’t working

Final Thoughts

  • If you are taking on someone else’s burdens or loads as your own, thinking that you can fix them, stop for a moment and let the following statement sink in:  You can’t fix them.
  • Now, answer this question:  Can I fix them?  (Hint:  The answer begins with “n” and ends with “o”).
  • Just like when you are on an airplane, when you are instructed in an emergency to put your oxygen mask on first before helping anyone else, you need to know your own boundaries and have them firmly established in order to most effectively help others with theirs.
  • Ask yourself, “Is this my problem, or someone else’s?” If it is yours, then get to work on it and seek some help if necessary, but if it is someone else’s problem, let it go.
  • Saying “No” to someone just might be the best way to help them

 

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