Welcome to Sing With Your Feet, my name is Lily Fields, and I am going to be your fairy godmother for what looks like it is shaping up to be an extremely long, extremely dense episode.
Next week I won’t be releasing a new episode, since you know, Thanksgiving, but this episode is hopefully going to keep you busy thinking for the next two weeks.
Today’s topic is one we’ve been building to for quite a while: today, we are going to talk about how to detach ourselves from a Commitment that no longer has its place in our life. I want to thank quite a few listeners for stepping up with their stories: Elsy, Tiffani, Helen, Joann and Alexia. I hope you will find something in this episode to help you through your conundrum, and I hope that all of our listeners will benefit from your vulnerability.
First, before I talk about anything else, I want to remind you why we are talking about getting out of a commitment at all. The theme of Sing With Your Feet the pursuit of your Ideal Life. And this begs the question: what is an Ideal Life? It isn’t a perfect, cushy, palatial existence, with Prince Charming and an endless fountain of champagne…although that would be nice.
The Ideal Life is the life that you are equipped for—the life in which every aspect of your being is put to work, in which each part of your life energizes you, and in which you are making the world a better place because you are holding nothing back.
The Ideal Life is the life in which you know what you bring to the table, and you have the self-esteem to step away from activities that don’t fit you and aren’t the best use of your time, talent and treasure, so that you can invest in activities that do.
The Ideal Life is one in which you love yourself, which becomes a springboard for loving others and behaving in ways that are authentically good for everyone.
I want you to keep that in mind, because our only goal here isn’t just to get out of doing something we don’t want to do. Our goal is to become the kind of person who does only the things that fall in line with who we are meant to be and the kind of person we want to be. It’s a subtle difference, but it is important.
What we are doing is by far harder than just backing out of a coffee date because we don’t feel like going. We are aiming to become the kind of person who either doesn’t make coffee dates that we would want to cancel, or, who doesn’t dread the coffee dates we make, because that coffee date is one that gets us closer to being who we want to be over multiple areas of our Ideal Life.
It was back in Episode 29 that we first started talking about Commitments. Back then, we talked about why we end up agreeing to things that we don’t even want to do, and why we sometimes end up dreading commitments that we make.
If you don’t have the 30 minutes or so to go back and listen now, which you probably should do if you haven’t already listened to episode 29, the Cliff’s Notes version is that when we commit out of a feeling of guilt or duty, and not from the place of who we are in our Ideal Life, we only have guilt or duty to fall back on to keep us motivated.
I argued that, going forward, it is a good idea to be articulating, to ourselves, the way this commitment gets us closer to who we are in our Ideal Life, and, ideally, in multiple areas of our Ideal Life. This helps us keep ourselves motivated as we are out there doing things that aren’t always fun or exciting, and having multiple areas of our Ideal Life overlapping can help us keep a relatively good attitude, when we inevitably start to get tired.
We established that there are 3 questions we are wise to ask ourselves when we are making a new commitment, and you won’t be surprised to find that when we want to gracefully bow out of a commitment, we would do well to examine these three questions, too:
Here they are:
1. WHO am I committing to?
2. WHO am I committing FOR? Another way of phrasing this question is “Who are the beneficiaries of this commitment?”
That second question, the who am I committing for, or, the beneficiaries question is one that we need be very clear about, because, as we will see later, those beneficiaries of our commitment are the ones that stand to lose out if we pull out of a commitment. So being very thoughtful about who we are committing for means that we are going to be lucid about who is impacted by our decision to leave a commitment.
Our concern this week is how to gracefully step away from a commitment. It’s a touchy subject, it’s uncomfortable, and I know that. I hope that you will come away feeling encouraged to face your discomfort, and find freedom.
Navigating the Ideal Life
In Episode 34; which was entitled Navigating the Ideal Life, I gave you three C-words that go hand in hand with making progress towards our Ideal Life: Those three words were Contest, Consent, Contentment.
We said that Contesting was the act of complaining and arguing about the circumstances of our life, specifically when it was not within our power to do anything about the problem. I believe at the time I mentioned the little lines forming perpendicular to my lips that are making me resemble my grandmother more everyday. There is nothing, aside perhaps from a little face yoga or a facelift (one which I am inclined to try, the other I hope never to desire) that I can do to stop this evolution. So contesting it is futile.
Consent is the act of receiving, gratefully, the circumstances of our life and maintaining a good attitude about it. It’s the decision to accept where we are, who we live with, our job, or car, our status, and to believe that we can become who we need to be to live our Ideal Life, but that this is where we are starting from.
And then we talked about Contentment–which is appreciating and enjoying what we have. It’s choosing to love our lives, in spite of its imperfections.
In no case am I suggesting suffering through abusive situations, or life-threatening situations. What I am suggesting is that we be lucid about who we are, what we are capable of, the decisions we have made; to forgive ourselves for our past failings and have hope for our future.
There is a fourth C-word that I did not bring up in Episode 34, because my goal in that episode was to build enthusiasm about pursuing our Ideal Lives, about seeking out the fairy dust that is self-reflection and how there is so much joy to be found in making progress.
But today, I am going to share with you the fourth C-word, a C-word which is a joy-stealer, and I want to make sure I am clear about this with you: This C-word is the bane of my existence, and it may be until the day I die. I don’t want to disappoint you when I share with you just how much I struggle in my own everyday Cinderella life…
The word is the word “Contempt.”
Contempt is what happens if we get stuck between Contesting and Consenting. Contempt is what causes us to become caustic and sarcastic. Sarcasm is very much a way of covering up contempt.
Contempt stems from a sense of feeling underappreciated or unacknowledged. It comes from that inner voice that tells us, like Belle belted out in Beauty and the Beast, “There must be more than this provincial life…” (And you saw what good that did her…I mean, she gets imprisoned against her will in a freaky castle by some awful beast. What could be more dream? Sorry, did I just use sarcasm?)
Now listen, and I want us to be very, very clear about this: I believe in you. I believe that you make this world a better place just by being in it. I want you to live in a constant state of Flow and find the ways what you love and who you are resonate with a need in this world, and I want you to pursue that with every ounce of energy, every bit of talent, and every second you have to give.
We are not all destined to change the World with a capital “W”. But we can change our world, with a little “w”. Our world, as in our families, our neighborhoods, our workplaces. We can bring more love, more truth, more justice, more patience, more care. When we love ourselves and believe in ourselves and the good that is in us, we are already being extraordinary.
But Belle’s proclamation, “there must be more than this provincial life” glosses over most of our reality. We have families, jobs, engagements, and maybe there isn’t more than this provincial life. And complaining about it won’t help.
If we stop complaining, because we know that complaining isn’t helpful–and I would argue that complaining is more than just not helpful, but that it is downright addictive (this is my entirely non-scientific theory, so take it for what it’s worth, but, in sum, my theory goes that it can feel pretty good to complain. And because it feels good, we can start to seek out that little burst of positive feeling as a way to make ourselves feel better when things aren’t going well. And then it becomes a vicious spiral, turning us into complainers.
If I know you, you don’t like to be around complainers and neither do I. So, if we let ourselves complain a little, we risk turning into people that we don’t like to be around, and neither will anyone else.
So, if we decide to just stop voicing our complaints, but never get to the point where we continually consent to our circumstances, we will, at some point, end up…as I have on many occasions…end up feeling contempt for the people around us. Contempt is equally addictive.
Contempt can be subtle. It can be a feeling of dislike of a certain person, but with time can grow to include an entire family, or neighborhood or profession or group of people. It can be just a discomfort around a certain person…the origin of which you simply can’t put your finger on.
To be entirely, completely honest with you, my interest in politics has made me incredibly contemptful of great big swaths of America who do not think the same way I do. Politics has made me cynical and sarcastic. Filling my brain with endless political podcasts and up-to-the minute breathless reports about the latest legal schadefreude hasn’t helped.
It seems like the more I think I know, the less I think anyone else knows. This isn’t helpful, it makes me miserable.
But it’s not just politics. Each time I don’t deal with an interpersonal conflict, deciding instead to just “let something go”, because I am not courageous enough to deal with a problem head-on, with love, truth, kindness and gentleness, I am creating a foothold for contempt.
If we don’t deal with an interpersonal conflict, but just decide to abandon the relationship to keep the peace, the peace will come with the price of discomfort. And over time, that discomfort subtly becomes contempt.
This has happened a thousand times if it has happened once, and over the last few years, I have been trying as hard as I can to trace the origins of the contempt I feel, and try to deal with it. It has led to some odd conversations, which have dredged up situations from more than a decade ago.
Contempt is awful. Contempt can keep us from fully consenting to our circumstances. Contempt allows us to blame others, even some theoretical “other” for us being where we are, in circumstances that we don’t love and aren’t happy with.
This contempt can be found in every single area of our Ideal Life. And part of our self-reflection as we seek to make progress in our Ideal Life should be to deal with the contempt that is holding us back.
Assuming our contempt is traceable to a specific person who is still alive, and a specific situation, it can be dealt with, even years after the fact. This can be done with humor, without blaming. It’s not particularly comfortable, but the freedom that comes from bringing the situation into the light is really remarkable.
In a recent situation, I made an appointment to talk to someone who had once, in 2009 said something I had found incredibly personally offensive. This person and I had rarely ever needed to be in the same circle. But because of a twist of fate, I found that I was going to be in regular contact with this person for the next 18 months.
I knew I couldn’t let the situation continue as it was: my contempt was so great that I felt almost something akin to disgust when I thought of this person. So I did it. I made an appointment.
I apologized that I was coming out of nowhere with this, but that since we were going to be working together on something now, I felt like I really just needed to clear the air about something that he had said…13 years ago! I explained that I have been doing work on myself, and have been trying to get better about being honest and frank with people, and that this was part of that work.
And then I just came out and said it. And told him why I was so offended. And you know what? He apologized, because he had never considered that what he had said might be taken the way I took it. He also defended his comments, and explained, quite clearly, how I had misunderstood, but admitted that I might not have been the only person to misunderstand his comments that way.
I forgave him, and then something weird in me caused me to ask him to forgive me for holding a grudge against him for thirteen years, even if he had no idea that a grudge was being held in his honor. He extended forgiveness. It all felt really healthy.
And in the end, I had to laugh, because 13 years is a long time to hold onto a grudge for something that I had misunderstood.
I’m giving you this example, because later in the episode, when it comes time to talk about how you will disengage from a commitment that you want to end, you need to know that there will probably be some discomfort, and maybe even some conflict.
But facing your fears makes you free in a way that is very healthy.
All of this works together to get us closer to the people we are in our Ideal Life, people who bring more truth, more peace, more love into our small “w” world. And that is a worthy goal.
The Seasonality of Commitments
About twenty years ago, my husband and I signed up for a fencing class. I think it was a six-lesson class. We found that of the four people in the class, one of them thought he was Dartagnan, and kept jabbing at us with his épée. Neither my husband nor I wanted to actually swordfight to the death. We just wanted to learn how to hold a sword and do the gestures, and parry, and have a healthy outlet for our conflict.
We quit after two lessons. This was an easy commitment to escape. We had little skin in the game. We weren’t broken up about not getting to continue. We lost a little money, but we considered that nothing, compared to how much we hated the prospect of getting stabbed by a muskateer.
I don’t even think we even told the teacher we weren’t going back. We just never returned. I like to think that if we had it to do over again today, with the maturity we have gained over 20 years, that we would do it differently.
My indulgent husband and I have two little boys, as you know.
Currently, they both have two extracurricular activities: my youngest takes both introduction to dance and intro to music classes. The eldest takes both double bass lessons and is on a kiddy track and field team.
These commitments that my indulgent husband and I made on our children’s behalf were done with our children’s input. They agreed to the commitment, inasmuch as at almost 6, or 7 years old, anyone can commit to anything.
With these commitments, we signed up for the school year, in the hopes that they would enjoy these activities, and want to continue them next year. But truly, we only signed up for this one year.
Because we are serious about the investment, both financial and time that we are all making in these activities, we are careful to make sure that both are 1. Enjoying the commitment and 2. Doing the work they need to do to progress. This isn’t easy, as anyone who has ever taken piano lessons or violin lessons knows. So, needless to say, my husband and I are as committed as the scalawags are to making sure that everyone gets the most out of the experience.
We all know that not everything comes easily, and I live by the motto “hard work always pays off.” So the enjoying the commitment, at this point in the game, is less important than the doing the work they need to do piece. But we are sensitive to their reticences, their points of fatigue and we try not to wear them out.
Okay. So. What if one of our boys decided they wanted to quit one of their commitments, like one of them announced to me no later than last night he wanted to do?
At this point in our lives, it’s pretty easy. We committed for this school year, and I think, at their age, they are mature enough to understand that. Yes, I might end up bribing him to finish out the year with promises of lollipops or maybe even cold, hard, cash. But right now, today, I am doubling down on helping him work hard on what is most troubling to him.
Maybe if he had had a visceral negative experience at the beginning of the school year, I would have had a second thought and withdrawn him. But short of something extraordinary, I’d say that we signed up for a school year, and we will keep our commitment.
When we make a new commitment, we need to always consider the period of time we are committing for. Except for marriage and parenting, I can think of no other commitment that we should enter into without a period of time that we set for ourselves to reconsider our commitment, and I do mean even professionally.
And, on the professionally sidenote, this is made pretty easy by the yearly review process. But outside of the expectation that we have a yearly review, I think that it is wise of us to set a period of time to consider how things are going in our joy at regular intervals, and re-commit ourselves every so often. But we’ll talk about how to do that when we get to talking about the New Year.
So, even if we didn’t enter into many of our current commitments with a timeline for reconsidering our commitments in mind, it would be of great benefit to make a list of our commitments, one by one, and think about how long we have been doing them and what kind of reconsideration frequency we should allow ourselves.
Now, this is where it is going to start getting sensitive, and believe me, I have easily offended in-laws and strong-willed, overbearing friends too, so I know that this can get uncomfortable.
There are commitments that we have made to people we are related to, or are friends with, about which we have grown contemptful through years of silent suffering. Or…come to think of it, maybe not so silent suffering. Like, maybe our spouse knows. But we put on a good façade, and no one else might even suspect that we dread this commitment.
These might be commitments like, I don’t know, doing Thanksgiving at Aunt Betsy’s house every year, or Christmas at your in-laws. You probably don’t remember how that decision was reached, and it might be that with every year that passes, you start hating this arrangement even more.
Our dread of this kind of commitment does not have to be permanent.
But getting to the point of dealing with it means a lot of soul searching, a lot of courage and a willingness to sit with discomfort for a while.
If you are, year after year, participating in something out of guilt, or out of duty, but you are consistently feeling, thinking, or talking negatively about it, then you have yourself a contempt problem. And there is no way to escape this than by dealing with it.
And that is what we are here to do today.
So: First things first, on a blank sheet of paper, write the name of the commitment that you are wanting to escape from.
I want you first to write what the seasonality of your commitment is…that is, how often it recurs, how long you have committed to do it for, and how you got involved in this.
Like, (and here I am taking an example from a listener, so, thank you Elsy in Tampa for letting me share this with our other Cinderellas!): I lead small group Sunday School for five year olds every week, and have been for ten years. I started because my kid wouldn’t go to Sunday School unless I was there, so I became a default helper at first, and now I am stuck. I never committed to a specific time period, and it was just always assumed that I would continue.
(Now, there is more to her example, but I want to just take piece by piece…)
Do you understand the exercise? Okay. Take a few minutes to think about this. I’ll be here when you get back.
Commitments are very often about others—and I just caught myself there, because I almost said other people, but that’s not even true. I mean, when we adopt a pet, we are committing to caring for an animal. So it’s about doing something for an entity that is not ourselves. (Unless we are committing to ourselves to do something, which is not the topic of this episode. But it would be a really great topic for a future episode, note to self.)
But let’s, for today, put aside our animal friends, and talk about the commitments that involve other people.
We make commitments to our spouse, our kids, our family in a larger sense. Our friends, our colleagues, our teammates, our neighbors. We make commitments to the kid who mows our lawn, or a lawn service company, our hairstylist, our babysitters…
Some of these commitments comport relationship elements, and some don’t. Alexia wrote in an example of feeling guilty about changing hairstylists, and let me tell you, I felt that in my bones! Wherever there is relationship, there is bound to be some kind of commitment. Relationships are what make commitments complicated.
Let’s review something real quick: the Golden Rule says we should “Do for others what we would want done for us,” and we should “Love others as we love ourselves.”
So. When we have made a commitment to someone, but that commitment has become a burden to us, we need to ask ourselves, “If someone I loved felt that a commitment they made to me is a burden, would I want them to continue carrying that burden?”
It’s a genuine question, because it could depend on the burden. But I think that in general, we want people to commit to what they are capable of, in an honest way, free from guilt or coercion. We want, in our hearts, for commitments to be made and kept with joy.
We talked at length about guilt in the past, but I want to remind you that Guilt is a feeling that says “I OWE you something.”
A feeling of constantly owing something to someone that you can never “payback” is a surefire way to develop latent anger and, eventually, contempt.
This is a real question I want to ask you, for you to consider freely: Is your commitment one that you entered into because you felt like you could “pay someone back” by doing it? Listen to me: Guilt is never a reason to do anything. I am as much talking to myself as I am talking to you right now. But please believe me: in most cases, no matter how much you want it to, no commitment will relieve your sense of guilt or of owing something. What it will do is start stoking a fire of contempt.
So, before I tell you to make an appointment to confront the person you want to escape a commitment from (which, believe me, is coming, but not yet;) I want you to do something for yourself. I need you forgive yourself. Whatever that thing is that you are feeling guilty about, whatever that debt is that you have been working to pay back? I need you to write it down on your paper.
This may not apply to all of you, but based on the responses I have received from listeners, this is a heckuva lot of you.
Listen to me, your fairy godmother: You cannot repay everyone for everything they have ever done for you. Please stop trying.
If you need to, I want you to perform a symbolic gesture…whatever that feeling of guilt or of owing something might be, write it down and crumple it up. Tear it into a million pieces. Forgive yourself, and then get that guilt out of your sight.
Take however long you need to. This is for you. This is clear your own conscience.
Because the next step is a big one.
You need to start thinking about the origin of the guilt and how you can confront the feeling of owing something head on, with the person in question. I am going to give you a real-life example from my life in a minute, but I want to name to give three possible reactions you might have had (among dozens, I’m sure) to what I just said:
- I can’t deal with the person, they are dead.
- I can’t deal with the person, because it is too scary to me, or too hard for me to imagine confronting them.
- But Lily, I have talked to them before.
If the first reaction, that is, it is impossible to deal with the origin of my guilt because the person is dead, well, then, I need you to double down on forgiving yourself. Do this. Forgive yourself HARD.
If the second reaction was yours, then I need you to start meeting with a counselor. You need some professional mental health support to give you the tools to move ahead. There is everything to gain by starting to comb through these problems. Starting now.
And the last reaction, but Lily, I have talked to them before and nothing has changed, I want you to consider this: One thing has changed since the last time you talked to them. You have forgiven yourself. This may seem like a small thing, but it is a small thing that can make all the difference. You have unhooked yourself from their peg. It’s worth trying again.
Remember Elsy, from Tampa? She was the one who had been teaching five year old Sunday school for ten years and wanted to quit? Well, she told me that she has tried to quit before. The person in charge of Sunday School seemed to not even comprehend that she wanted to quit, and made her feel all shades of guilt. What about the kids?
The beneficiaries of our commitments are one of the reasons we got involved in the first place, right? Whether it’s building houses for habitat for humanity, or Sunday School, or seeing the same hairstylist year after year… stopping a commitment means that whatever good thing we were doing…
….well, it simply won’t be done by us anymore.
I am going to say something which I hope is not controversial. Here goes: By staying in a commitment for too long, we might be getting in the way of the person who can do that good thing even better than we do.
Getting ourselves out of the way, especially when we have become lukewarm about a commitment, is often the most compassionate thing we can do. Staying, simply because we feel guilty, or because there is no one else to do the work, means we could be clogging up the works.
Our obstinate refusal to leave a commitment because we don’t see a solution, could be exactly what is keeping our replacement from stepping up.
Stay humble and get yourself out of the way.
Accepting the Consequences
What is the worst thing that could happen?
I strongly believe in letting ourselves imagine the worst…I mean, letting ourselves, for like five minutes, get bogged down in the absolute worst possible scenario of what could happen if we confronted a situation.
I believe that fear of the unknown is actually worse than the actual unknown itself. Or, as Antoine de St Exupéry says, “Only the unknown frightens men. But once a man has faced the unknown, that terror becomes the known.”
So letting ourselves imagine our worst possible situation, that thing is now known. And it becomes less scary.
When I asked Elsy, “what is the worst thing that could happen if you quit teaching Sunday School?” she said, “I suppose the worst thing that could happen would be that I would be sitting in the church service, and all of the parents of the five year olds would be judging me because they have to entertain their five year old during the service since no one else stepped up to take over.”
To which I would say, “And that parent who is judging you? What if that person is the very person who has been thinking about getting involved, but who was sitting comfortably in their pew every Sunday and had no reason to actually move to action until now?”
You see, imagining the worst possible scenario also can help us see how that worst possible scenario is not as scary as it seems, and even, it might even be a good thing.
Now, I hear you, when you are taking care of orphans in Uganda, the worst possible scenario can seem pretty dire. But no change can happen unless you are willing to do the next right thing. And if that next right thing is for you to step away from your work in an orphanage in Uganda, then there will be a solution.
When you look at the possible consequences of your decision to leave a commitment, you need to then decide, “Am I willing to face these consequences? Is my discomfort in this commitment so great that I can believe that there will be a solution to these consequences?”
Our pride can be a huge problem when it comes to leaving a commitment. If we believe that no one else can do what we do, then we are part of the problem. So, there is an element of faith and hope that have to enter into play, along with a ton of humility.
Now, when we are wanting to get out of a commitment we have already made, and one that we have been engaged in for a while, there are going to be, potentially, beneficiaries of our Commitment. I’m thinking of, for example, like one of my listeners mentioned, she was teaching Sunday School to five year-olds for the last ten years, and she just doesn’t feel like this is where she should be anymore. Those very same beneficiaries are the reason we keep doing what we are doing, and they are the ones who stand to suffer if we stop doing what we have been doing.
We need to, in our heart of hearts, be able to accept that there will be, potentially some consequences for our beneficiaries. And we must accept that we alone are not responsible for everything. The world does not rest on our shoulders. When it is time to move on from a commitment, we must forgive ourselves for the consequences our departure will have on the beneficiaries.
Last year, I had to pull the ripcord and escape a family commitment, and let me tell you. The fear of the consequences were so bad that between the time I decided I needed to do something about the commitment, and the time I actually confronted the situation, four years had passed.
Four years! Do NOT be like me. Get good at working through the worst possible scenarios so that fear does not paralyze you.
My indulgent husband and I moved to France in 2007, so that is fifteen years as the crow flies. At the time, my sister-in-law had two children, both under the age of five. They lived about an hour away from my father and mother in law, who live about six hours from where we live. My brother-in-law, who was single until 2019, lived in Paris, about six hours from us or six hours from the in-laws.
Because my sister had small children, Christmas quickly became something that we celebrated in a way to facilitate things for her and her children. At the time, they were the center of the family. This made sense.
Nothing changed for a long, long time. And every Christmas, except the ones we spent with my family in the US, was spent at my sister-in-law’s house.
This remained true even when my husband and I had children. And this…this is where the problems began.
My eldest didn’t deal well with all the travel. That extra hour drive was a killer for him. He doesn’t deal well in places he doesn’t know. There was nowhere for him to nap. We ended up spending the entirety of Christmas day on an unheated set of stairs.
This repeated itself the next year, only this time, I had another baby. I dreaded this commitment, the drive, the cold stairs. And I’ll be darned. Nothing had changed.
And I began to feel so much anger…contempt. I felt like we had been forgotten about. I felt so angry, because when we had entered into this agreement, 15 years ago, the circumstances had been to facilitate a family with small children, and here, we were the ones with the small children, and we were being ignored and forced to sit on an unheated set of stairs without anyplace to go.
I couldn’t think straight, I was so livid and rabid with anger. I was, however, terrified of confronting the situation, both with my mother-in-law, who I know is oversensitive about traditions, and my sister-in-law, who I didn’t want to upset by saying that this just wasn’t working for us anymore.
I felt guilty for not being thankful for the meal. I felt guilty for being too self-centered. I felt guilty for making my husband feel bad. I felt guilty for wanting something else for my own children.
It was around that time that I started thinking about my Ideal Life, and I had started to articulate the kind of person I was in my Ideal life.
There were all kinds of statements that pertained to this: in my Ideal life, I am a person who does what is right for me. In my Ideal Life, I am a person who doesn’t dread holidays. I am a person who speaks her mind. I am a person who creates special moments for her children. I am a person who stands up for those she loves.
Then COVID came, and thankfully, we didn’t have to deal with this. In the meantime, my brother in law had a baby. So there was another kid in the fray.
And then…finally, when it came time to start talking about our Christmas plans for last year, I finally found the courage to call my sister-in-law, and just lay it out.
I said something like this:
This isn’t working for us, and while I appreciate how you have hosted us for all these years, something needs to change, because there isn’t enough space for the boys to exist and for everyone to have a pleasant meal. I know how much work you put into the meal, and all the organization you have to do, and since the boys have been around, we haven’t been able to enjoy it.
Can we change the tradition?
Was it uncomfortable? Yes. But the consequences were worth it to me.
And there you have it. We changed the tradition. We all met on Christmas day at my in-law’s house, and all the little boys were happy and had space to play. It was the first time in a long time that I can say I really enjoyed Christmas.
I don’t know what this year is going to look like, but last year, I stood up for my family and my children and for my sanity, and it was a relatively good experience for everyone. One small success brings more courage. This can happen for you, too.
Leaving a commitment is, essentially, about facing our fears.
We are afraid of conflict. We want to please everyone
One of my favorite internet strangers, named Tiffani, shared with me about a commitment she had made: to feed 25 teenagers after a play for two nights. She soonafter learned that it was more like 55 teenagers.
Tiff is, like I am, a people pleaser. It seemed unthinkable to back out, but 55 teenagers, more than double the original number, over two nights, it was an impossible task. Tiffani managed to hand off one of the nights to someone else, and today, this is a victory. But facing that fear of failing to keep a commitment was no small feat.
People pleasers of the world: it is so, so, so important that we really understand the contours of our commitments before we make them, that we ask lots of questions, that we not hold ourselves to impossible standards. By knowing ourselves, and knowing what we are capable of, being lucid about what we can really do, means that we won’t be making commitments we can’t keep.
But when we have made a commitment we can’t keep, for whatever reason, we must accept that we are not a failure. We must forgive ourselves, and as quickly as possible, confront the truth. The sooner we make it known that we can’t complete our commitment, the sooner another solution can be found. Forgive yourself, people pleaser! Then move on to being part of the solution.
Do not drive yourself to contempt, anger or exhaustion trying to complete work that was never yours to begin with.
As you work through your thoughts about what the worst thing that could happen might be, you need to identify what your fears are. And then you need to either talk yourself through those fears, or get a mental health professional who can help you.
There is one last thing I want to address, because as long as I am going long, I might as well go whole hog, right?
You’ll surely never believe this (sarcasm) but I am about to wax on about the Golden Rule.
If you want to be able to free yourself of commitments in conflict-free, healthy ways, then you also need to be the person who doesn’t hold a grudge when someone else leaves a commitment.
As someone who has committed and uncommitted in dozens of poorly planned, uncomfortable ways in my life, and have seen how people in charge of my various commitments have reacted to my decision to leave, I have come away with a kind of extremely high standard for myself, when it comes to being a person with responsibility.
Here is my number one rule: if I am in charge of something, and someone tells me that they want to uncommit from our activity, I make sure to send them on their way with my blessing. It is my one goal as a leader to make sure that people are never held back by my insecurities and fears.
Recognizing that someone who works for you, no matter how precious and irreplaceable that person seems, is ready to move on, your job is to make sure they know how appreciated they were, that they are thanked and that they are sent on their way in a conflict-free, joyful way.
This is equally as true when someone cancels personal plans with me at the last minute. I make it a point to say, with words, in the most sincere and absolutely guileless way I can, “The most important thing to me is that you take care of yourself.”
Seasons change, people evolve. If you are a person in any kind of leadership position, or if you just sometimes have coffee with a friend, you need to set the example for healthy relationships.
The Golden Rule is even at the heart of this topic, just like it is at the heart of everything else we talk about here. Loving someone as you love yourself presupposes that you love yourself. And sometimes, loving yourself means you have to leave a commitment.
So as much as it depends on you, make it easy for other people, too.
I have said so so much today, and I barely feel like we have scratched the surface. But I genuinely hope, with all my heart, that there has been something in this episode that can be an encouragement to you, to help you claw back your life from the commitments that are cluttering up your schedule and stealing your talent and treasure, but aren’t bringing you an iota of joy.
I care deeply about you, Cinderella. I want you to be free and healthy and courageous as you head into this holiday season.
I wish it were as easy as waving my magic wand and you would be free of the things you dread. But if I did that, then you wouldn’t get the chance to grow. I believe in you, and I know that you can do this.
Thank you so much for listening to the podcast.
I’m looking forward to talking about living out the holidays with our Ideal Life in mind. We’ll start doing that on December 1. Until then, keep your fairy dust handy.
A special thank you to Seven Productions in Mulhouse France for the use of the song La Joie as the intro and outt ro of the show, to Matt Kugler who sang it and Claude a Ekwe who wrote it.
This is your fairy godmother signing off. Just remember, it’s never too late to start singing with your feet.
Talking points: Contempt: the commitment killer; facing our fear of discomfort; accepting the consequences of leaving a commitment; forgiving ourselves.
If you have a question about the Ideal Life Exercise, drop Lily a line: firstname.lastname@example.org
A great big thank you to Seven Productions, https://7prod.fr/, here in Mulhouse France for the use of the song La Joie for the Intro and Outtro to the show. Also, thanks to Matt Kugler who sang it and Claude Ekwe who wrote it.