How to know when to change course?
I recently ordered a book that won a big prize and had been recommended by a writer that I liked, thinking that I couldn’t possibly be disappointed. The book arrived, all 700 pages of it, and it became clear right away that the writer was immensely talented, yes, but that the political slant and the manipulations between the characters were just not well suited for my tastes. One thing I know about myself is that I don’t like to abandon something I’ve started. Sometimes, even when I should! I spent hours, read at least 100 pages before I decided that the time invested in the story, the money invested in the book, was just not worth the many more hours that I would have to spend, reading a story that was not appealing to me, and quite frankly, was torturing me! Prize or no prize, highly recommended or not, the story and I, the author and I, the book and I were just not a good fit. I would have read the whole book if I hadn’t stopped one evening and put the book down on my lap to ask myself: «Why am I reading this book that I don’t like? Why can’t I accept to put it away and declare that I am done with it?» All the time spent reading it and investing myself in the story, in the characters, certainly weighed heavily. Wouldn’t all this be wasted if I just dropped the book? Would I just start quitting things if I allow myself to not push through? All the signs of a good book are there, I must not be able to appreciate it’s value, it’s quality. Something is wrong with ME, not the book, not the story.
The truth is that nothing is wrong with the book, or me. In fact, there is nothing wrong. Maybe I felt a twinge of an impulse early on that the story wasn’t one I would appreciate, but continued because I trusted other’s opinions over my own. I gave it 100 pages before confronting that uncomfortable feeling that showed up whenever I picked up the book. We can agree that reading a book is not a major undertaking, such as starting a new job or enrolling in a program, etc. Is it possible that there is some element in your life that you keep doing, or cannot stop doing, because you can’t bring yourself to let go of the time already invested? It feels frustrating to even imagine «giving up» after putting in so much of your time, effort and energy… Doesn’t it? Your 100 pages might be 10 years of work, your book might be a person, a situation, a move, a house… How can you then even consider ending the movement forward that was launched by your past decision? Will you put the «book» away or will you continue reading it?
You might think that everyone in their right mind would put the book down. But imagine that you paid 10 000$ for the book (rare edition and such) and that you waited 2 years to finally get it and that during those 2 years, you pictured yourself in a hammock reading this book, pina colada in hand, blissful smile on your face. This, in a nutshell, is what some clients face. It seems impossible to them to even consider putting the book down, letting go of their idea of the book, their idea of what it was going to do to them, when it finally arrived. It took me 100 pages to revise my decision, to be sure that I wanted to stop reading that book. For some people, it can take 500 pages of agony, of feeling out of place, out of alignment with who they are, before a cry for help emerges from their being in various forms.
What would be a way out of this? If you have a lingering feeling that this is happening to you now, you might feel torn between the investment you have put into the project or whatever form that «book» takes for you, and your present feeling. You might hope that your feeling about it will change during the next chapter; maybe chapter 6 gets more captivating? Maybe. You spent years reading a book you didn’t like? Isn’t that reason enough to stop now and read what you want to read, in this moment? Your years reading the book with no pleasure cannot be changed. The only change that is possible is the one you can do now. Whatever investment you have made, financially or emotionally, is it worth living out of alignment with who you are? What does expressing your self in the world mean to you? Is it possible to see those years and that money «lost» as an investment into growing, learning and becoming more you? Can you let go of it in a way that frees you now to explore other avenues?
I cannot say for you. What is available to you now though, is the realization that you are free. True freedom lies in the relinquishment of appearances, or attachment to past decisions… You can live your life freely, as you want, or as imprisoned as you let yourself be. Nobody else but you has the power to free your self.
«Before you embark on any path ask the question: Does this path have a heart? If the answer is no, you will know it, and then you must choose another path. The trouble is nobody asks the question; and when a man finally realizes that he has taken a path without a heart, the path is ready to kill him. At that point very few men can stop to deliberate, and leave the path. A path without a heart is never enjoyable. You have to work hard even to take it. On the other hand, a path with heart is easy; it does not make you work at liking it.» -Carlos Castaneda
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