Hanging On/Letting Go

Yesterday, I mentioned to my therapist that I felt guilty about having stepped down from the Board of Directors of the Friends of the Santa Cruz Public Libraries. I produced their first-ever annual report, I took the lead in re-imagining their website (the new, less-sucky website debuts soon), I took part in re-thinking the relationship between the library and the Friends.

But then I started grad school (December), I bought a house that needs an entire new kitchen (January), I moved my mother from Phoenix to San Francisco (February),  my husband went back to work (February). While I’m all for doing good in my community, I can’t feel good about it when it’s at the expense of taking care of my own family.

My therapist told me about a woman he knows who used to be married to a friend of his. She left his friend for a man she worked with. They moved from a relatively unpopulated state to San Francisco, where she rose to be one of the most powerful people in her profession in the entire country. He said that she wouldn’t have thought twice about pulling out of anything that didn’t suit her, and she wouldn’t have wasted time feeling guilty. He described her as powerful, but also ruthless, uncaring and bitchy.

I’ve often heard that people with lots of power are assholes. That the way to acquire and keep power is to stop caring about the feelings of lives of other people. So, in a way, I could view my guilt as a sign that I’m a good person, that I care about the fact that, by stepping down from responsibilities I had taken on, I’m effectively foisting them off onto someone else, which ultimately isn’t very fair.

But frankly, I don’t think I’m that good a person. The truth is so much less flattering. The fact of the matter is that, from the day I accepted the responsibilities, they were MINE. I got the fun of dictating how things would go. I got to pick fights with people with the self-righteousness of I’m Getting Things Done. I got all the acclaim once those things were done, because they were done well. I owned my shit, and I am not good at sharing.

Perhaps that’s it. I’m not guilty because I’m a good person and I recognize that I’m causing inconvenience to others. It’s more like I’m feeling guilty because I realize that I’m being a selfish 2-year-old and my superego has caught me and scolded me for being a Very Naughty Girl.

I’ll figure it out before my next therapy session. Mostly because I’m sitting in my room here on Time Out until I do.

2 responses

  1. I was there when you decided to drop the FSCPL. You were freaking out because you could not deliver work to your standard on each of:
    * grad school
    * non-school writing
    * FSCPL
    * family interaction and support
    * contractor management

    Something had to give. There just was no way to keep up with all of these and of the list, FSCPL was giving you the least reward per input work unit. That, by that time, it was actually a *negative* reward is interesting and possibly contributes to you feeling like you were selfish, but really it still just comes down to the simple arithmetic. You had to stop doing something, so you cut the activity with the least ROI. That doesn’t make you a bad person; it makes you a smart person.

    Moreover, I don’t believe that saying, in effect, “My health, career and family are more important to me than ,” makes you an asshole. I think it indicates that you’ve got your priorities straight.

    If the team wants you to take a bullet, ask yourself: in other circumstances, would the team take a bullet for you? If the answer is, “no,” then step back from the team.

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