Friends and family have championed my decision to walk away from a job I’ve held for 15 years rather than swallow an arbitrary dictate I knew would make me miserable. I have been infinitely grateful to receive nothing but the buttressing of the choice to honor my peace of mind and happiness, to stake a claim to my worth. Yet while quitting on faith and principle has indeed been an act of courage, I sometimes want to shrink from the bravery ascribed to me.
It feels like too grand a commendation, the kind reserved for epic feats of daring that risk so much more than complacency or the mild chafing of the adequately familiar. But this is a time of expanding, of stepping into a place of bolder becoming, and to deny my courage would be akin to settling into the very smallness I have been shaking off.
For the truth is, the word “no” can be two of the most courageous letters we have to offer. When circumstances threaten to set us adrift from what we hold sacred and dear or who we know ourselves to be, taking a stand for our own happiness can feel like a revolutionary act. Faced with another’s vision for using my time and energy that didn’t align with my own, I had no choice but to heed the “no” that erupted, with forceful certainty, to storm the fears and doubts that could have led to halfhearted acquiescence or paralysis.
But I’d been building up to that “no” for some time. It seems, in fact, as 2014 closes, that much of this year has been about reinforcing its power.
I entered January, after all, having ended a relationship where staying would have been an easy default. We loved each other deeply, and over five and a half years, had built a partnership that had blessed both of our lives in innumerable ways. Neither of us wanted the ending that had been trailing us as we struggled to emerge from a particularly painful passage.
Yet as we sat next to each other at dinner one night last December, with another year about to unfold before us, I suddenly couldn’t imagine myself at that threshold carrying the same burden that had frayed our togetherness. Even with the sturdy threads of tenderness and kindness lacing, as they always had, our every interaction, something in me knew the time had come to let go.
And so I said “no” — to the plans he was making and pushing into the year ahead. I said no to my own hopes yearning so desperately for that future. Even if my heart, bruised and exhausted, were ready to rally again, I chose to trust a small yet valiant voice that steered me to my truth.
I greeted 2014 anguished and alone — and somehow certain of the good awaiting me on the other side of that “no.” It has indeed been a year of amazing growth and opportunity and still I’ve had ample invitation to practice that word. I’ve become more attuned to the people and experiences that feed me, and thus more mindful of where I choose to spend my time, even if it means disappointing someone else to care for myself.
That has included falling, over the course of the last six months, for the considerable charms of two very different men and letting them go once I realized being with them would mean repeating some of the unhealthy patterns I was working hard to unravel. They were both balm for my heart, assuring me I could and would love again, but, as much as I wanted to, I could not invest in either relationship, having already felt the pinch of compromised happiness.
Saying “no” has been a deliberate affirmation of my worth and my desires. With every utterance, I give myself permission to take up more space, to claim all I deserve. For recognizing what we don’t want is as vital as knowing what we do, and the willingness to cast that refusal can be the clarifying force that ushers us into the arms of the latter. It can also teach us the value of our choices. Now, when I say “yes,” I’m doing so with a greater appreciation for what will bring me alive, will spark a sense of joy and expansiveness.
If I’ve grown in courage through those choices, I believe they’ve all been preparation for taking my last, and biggest leap, of the year: leaving the company where I’ve worked for more than a decade and trusting in better and brighter to come.
It’s fitting that among the Christmas gifts we exchanged before saying goodbye last year, my ex gifted me with a wall hanging by one of my favorite artists, Kelly Rae Roberts. Perhaps he sensed what was to become of us when he bought it, but the words, a recipe for embracing change, are just as fitting now as I step into another year as they were then:
Surround yourself with good people.
Surrender your fear.
Feel the brightness of being alive.
What is calling you?
Take flight toward your dreams.
Wear red shoes.
Believe in possibility.