Dumping Your Toxic Boyfriend
Before you ask- no, I have not suddenly made a strange and uncharacteristic switch into the realm of dating advice.
The toxic boyfriend (or girlfriend/partner) that I refer to above alludes to a different kind of relationship.
The complicated partnership between you and your work.
As a creative freelancer (among other careers, as well), it is all too easy to define yourself by the work you do, throwing all of your energy and everything you are into it. However, the truth is, you are not your work. What you are, most definitely, is in a relationship with your work and as with any relationship, it takes careful conversations, listening skills, and the ability to know when you are compromising too much. You must always make sure that you are heeding both your internal instincts and your passionate heart. Otherwise, the relationship is doomed to turn sour.
This whole analogy of the “toxic boyfriend” came up when I was talking to one of my best friends, A, here in Tangier, to whom I always turn for creative and professional pieces of wisdom and advice. We had a talk a while back when I was thinking about leaving a job I have had for quite some time that was starting to become nothing but a drain on my energy. I felt like it was wearing away that creative spark and making me focus on all the wrong things. None of those feelings were visible from the surface, but my gut kept telling me that something about it was off and that it may be time to let go. A said that she could relate, having disposed of a big defining part of her own business for the same intangible kind of reason. The second she let it go, her business began to grow and flourish because she had the space to focus on what she really loves about her work. She said to me “It’s as if we are dumping our toxic boyfriends!” I laughed at the metaphor, but mostly because of its undeniable truth.
Some things do not start out toxic. They begin as good opportunities, giving you new experiences, information, and teaching things you may not have known about yourself. This job that I recently released taught me a lot and made me stronger- for that I am grateful. However, when things are left stagnant for too long, that is when they begin to fester and the toxicity grows. There is a right time for everything and some opportunities have an expiration date. That is when it is time to release your toxic relationship from its hold on you.
Sometimes avoiding toxic situations means saying a lot of the word no, and that is not something that comes naturally to me. I used to consider myself a 100% yes to everything kind of woman. I read in a travel memoir once that the way to get the most out of any trip is to say yes to every opportunity and I took that deeply to heart. Because of that mentality, I did have some incredible new experiences, met new people, and was presented with projects that I could not have even expected to come my way. It was the right attitude for me to adopt during that particular phase of life.
However, lately I feel like I have been saying the word no much more than yes. I would like to think- and do think, really- that this is not because I have suddenly become a negative person, but because I have found much more focus. I am concentrated more deeply on my path through this creative life and I have a much better idea of what works for me, personally, and what does not.
The tricky part of this whole ongoing process is how to hold on to that focus when shiny, sparkly opportunities and offers are presented to you with open hands. Twyla Tharp wrote in The Creative Habit that a friend of hers once told her,
“If you have four hundred reasons to say yes and one reason to say no, the answer is probably no.”
Just one speck of negativity or toxicity is usually a sign of something that is not worth the time or energy. So, in order to stay concentrated on those things that want to say a full-bodied yes to, I have started asking myself the following questions about everything I take on:
-How does this contribute- to myself, to the community, to the world around me?
-How does this represent my values and goals?
-Am I vocally and confidently proud of this work/project/opportunity, or is it something I feel like I have to defend or explain to my peers?
If the answers to any or all of these questions do not feel sincere or I can’t come up with an adequate response, it is time to say no. Dump it.
I am not pretending that this is an easy thing to do. Saying no to people is a difficult thing and it takes practice to be able to do with grace and confidence. I am definitely not all there yet. Plus, sometimes we do find ourselves having to say yes to things for other important reasons- salary and keeping oneself financially afloat being a heavy one that can’t be ignored. Even so, it is important to always have an awareness of where we channel our energy. If we find that too much energy is going towards something that doesn’t sufficiently answer the questions above or is creating a toxic atmosphere in our lives, it is time to let that thing go and open up space for the opportunities that will lead us in the right direction on our individual creative paths. Always take some time to reflect on what you are doing, where you are going, and if necessary, dump that “toxic boyfriend” with grace, kindness, appreciation, and a confident dose of certainty. You won’t regret it, I promise.