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A Time to Choose – some thoughts on sacrifice


MaliseLast time I talked a little about why we creative nut jobs do the things we do, despite the things we have to go through and give up. This time I’m looking at some of the sacrifices we need to make in order to do the things we love, the things we need to do, and how we choose.

Nobody can do everything. Nobody can be everything. When our plates get full, we have to choose – not just for the whole linear time thing (which, sadly, we humans have still to live with), but for the sake of our own health and sanity. Sometimes we have to say no. Sometimes we have to give up things we already started, or time with people we care about.

I sometimes feel like we get trained to feel bad about not being able to do and be everything.  This is wrong. This is part of what makes us burn out: both the guilt and the loading up our plates with more than we can reasonably manage.

The fact is, we have to choose, and we have to sacrifice some things in order to be better at others, and that’s ok.

As usual, I have some thoughts, based on what I’ve discovered. Go right ahead and disagree with me in the comments, or add in your own!

Other people

Sometimes those sacrifices are other people. Friends we can’t spend as much time with as we’d like. People we might care about, but who we simply don’t have room for. Family we don’t visit as often as we should. Relationships that fail – or don’t even get started – because we don’t have the capacity to give what somebody else needs.

People take time and work, they require space in the heart and in the brain, and it doesn’t matter who you are: you only have so much of that to spare. You can choose not to take on a project in order to keep that bit of space available for someone, but you can’t do both. At some point you do have to choose who is important enough to you to put first.

Needing to do that doesn’t make you a bad person, but refusing to do it when you need to can make you a pretty bad friend. I’m a bad friend every time I forget that.

Friendship requires understanding and sacrifice and the people fastest to give up on me – or the ones I’m most willing to leave behind – are the ones who aren’t willing to work around whatever else is going on. The ones who I’m still close with despite that we’ve gone completely different ways into completely different worlds, are that way because we worked hard to understand and exist around the different lives we have. Part of that is being understanding during the times when one of us isn’t around as much, and part of it is understanding what the other person needs.

In the long run, those friendships give energy to me and to them rather than taking it away.

It’s rare I’ll make a point of cutting someone out. I retain a wide circles of friends with whom I keep in touch when I can, but the people unwilling to compromise and reach mutual understanding, or make the same effort they demand of me, are the ones I’ll let go, and I’m better for it.

I know I mentioned romantic relationships and family earlier, but I’m not wading into that one. Mostly because I’d be a terrible girlfriend, an even worse parent, and I’m already a pretty awful Aunt/daughter/sister/etc. I already sacrificed those things.


Saying No

If you’re anything like me, you find it hard to say no. Being offered roles on projects, being offered collaboration, somebody needs help…whatever. I find it very difficult to say no.

The first step, for me, is beginning to understand my worth: beginning to understand that I have worth, to be precise. I’m not very good at that. Fortunately I have that well-chosen circle of friends (some of whom are also peers) with whom I can talk, who know this and will remind me of it without even trying. Remembering that I have worth means I can say no to quite a lot of things.

It’s important to know your worth – because all of those skills and talents you possess should be put to their best use. The luxury isn’t always available, I know, but whenever it is, exercise that judgement. Take on only that which will make your abilities stand out. Do not take on that which will wear you out more, which is badly run, which you don’t trust.

You are your own investment – remember to protect yourself. Working with someone, no matter how cool the project looks, who you can’t trust to follow through properly is a very bad idea. If they’re on the level, they won’t mind answering a string of well thought-out and important questions before you jump aboard.

I think again we get trained to feel like saying no makes us bad people – that we’ll be hated and never get work again. Not true. Well, ok, if you feel the need to refuse by dousing the offering party in petrol, lighting them on fire and dancing around them singing a song about it, then…yeah. Most of us can resist doing that, though, and a polite refusal does not close as many doors as you might think. It keeps them open, and can even open a few more.

In the end, you have to think about yourself – even if the project is one you really want to do, if you’re already committed enough that you won’t be able to give it your best, then you’ll only do yourself damage by trying to do it all anyway.

Say no to a few things, and you’ll come out better. It feels like a sacrifice, but it’s one that will be better for you in the long term.


Everything else

Hobbies, sleep, time to ourselves, time spent with friends, passion projects…

Getting up at the crack of dawn, working out, studying, rehearsing…

We all have one set of things which are a sacrifice because we have to give them up to some extent, and another set of things which are a sacrifice because we have to commit to doing them even when we don’t want to.

I get bored easily when I have to do the same things over and over. I’m also really bad at keeping on doing things which bore me. It’s how my brain works, and I’ve learned the discipline to keep doing the boring parts because, at the end of it, I can do something that I enjoy. Not all sacrifice has fun at the end of it, though.

I mentioned relationships and family – and I said no more on them for a reason. I’d be a terrible girlfriend, and an even worse parent: these things are one of my sacrifices, for right now. I have set them aside to do things which I choose to make more important. I chose friendship, I chose study, I chose getting involved with the projects I’m working on.

Here’s the fun thing about sacrifices though – you can remake the decisions every day. No you can’t necessarily take on something that you said no to a year ago, but you can decide to take on something which you would have said no to a year ago.

Sacrifice and priority are important, but they’re also fluid. As you change, as what you want and need changes, it’s just as important to adapt as it is to make sure you don’t take on more than you can handle (that changes too, by the way – today what you can handle is different from what you will be able to handle in a year).

The sacrifices are important: we do what we do because we love to do it, but in order to give it our all, we have to give up other things.

We ask: is it worth it? Is this thing that I want worth giving up these other things?
If the answer is yes, then we learn to choose what to let go.

I feel like there should really have been more of a point to all this, but there isn’t. Life means making sacrifices, we all learn this pretty early on, but sometimes we need reminding of the importance of making those sacrifices in a world which often tries to demand that we juggle everything at once. I know I need reminding of that.

Have there been things in your life you’ve had to sacrifice in order to maintain balance? I’d love to hear your thoughts below.


About Lee Hulme

You’ll mostly find Lee hiding out in whichever fictional world they’re writing about or playing games in. They’ll usually be hopped up on caffeine and talking at twice the normal speed of most humans. When not tied to the computer, they’ll be walking, reading, probably not far from coffee or alcohol, and often chatting to total strangers just because they can. At any given moment they’ll be working on at least one new book and/or short stories, producing fun things with 8 Sided Films, learning about the indie film industry that they somehow fell into entirely by accident, diving headfirst into any other fun projects they get the chance to do and occasionally remembering to have a social life. Their reputation for never sleeping is often well-deserved, but they do need to recharge their energy source every so often by only doing 2 things at once, instead of 5.