How do you move forward when what you want and need to feel satisfied in your life means disappointing someone you love? You know what I mean. We call it the place between a rock and a hard place – a fascinating idiom with origins in Greek mythology. In the story, Odysseus must pass between a treacherous whirlpool and a horrid man-eating, cliff-dwelling monster. Neither option seems like a good one.
You want to quit your job and pursue writing, but you know your partner might not be as thrilled about making the necessary lifestyle changes necessary to make it work. Or maybe you’ve always dreamed of spending a cozy week at a cabin in the woods for Christmas, but it means telling your ageing parents that you won’t be around to celebrate with them this year.
It’s a tough place to be, and let’s be honest, it’s not as bad as what Odysseus was facing.
When you don’t pursue what you want, you risk the having the regret that Bronnie Ware identifies as one of the top five regrets of the dying – “I wish I had found the courage to live a life true to myself.” It’s not unusual for people to get to the end of their lives and discover that they wish they had followed their hearts. Sadly, the limitations and fears we have in pursuing what we want are often more imagined than real.
If we do pursue what we want, we risk feeling guilty about disappointing someone. We fear that our decision will change the relationship. We agonize about the conversation where we finally say what we want. We imagine the horror, anger and rejection that we will have to face. Will we be shunned or banished? Will we lose our family or relationship? We can fear being easily manipulated or capitulating and giving in.
You can find a place between regret and guilt. It’s the place where we identify and communicate what we want and need in our lives. It’s the place where we recognize it is okay to disappoint someone. It’s telling your kids they can’t have the latest device this year because you are scaling back so you can pay off your debt, make some changes and start living within your financial means. It’s the conversation with our parents that begins with talking about their regrets and the things they wish they had done.
The place between regret and guilt is where you can honor the relationship without losing yourself at the same time. It’s a place where you are kind to the other and kind to yourself.
The place between regret and guilt is your truth communicated upfront as soon as you realize you are starting to feel resentful about not doing what you want to do. The place between regret and guilt is the generosity you extend to the people you love when they disappoint you to pursue what they need. It means to give and take. There is an ebb and flow. It’s being willing to hold lightly to traditions and change over time to reflect the current reality of a family.
The place between regret and guilt is sitting beside a crackling fire on a snowy day filled with gratitude for choosing to love yourself as much as everyone else. It’s the stories and pictures that are shared and celebrated with the people who sat with their disappointment because they love you. It’s the celebration of being debt-free.
The place between regret and guilt expands with realistic expectations and a considered willingness to be a disappointment so that you can experience the truth that sets you free. It’s a place that grows as you practice getting comfortable disappointing more people.