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Grief for the right decisions
Making aligned choices doesn't release us from grief.
I worked with a coach many years ago who liked to talk about the etymology of the word decide.
"It comes from Latin," they said, on more than one occasion. "The root of the word means 'to cut off.' In making a decision, you are cutting off other possible options."
This idea has lurked on the edges of my awareness as the years have passed. (The repetition helped.)
It makes me think about how not all cuts are the same.
A cut can be quick, smooth, and painless.
Other cuts are violent and leave a big mess to clean up.
The same goes for decisions.
We make many decisions every day that we don't even think about, nor do we give a second thought to what options we're cutting off in the process.
Other decisions weigh on us.
There's the potential for regret, sure.
But in this piece I want to sit with the choices we don't regret — but that weigh on us regardless.
Lisa Olivera wrote a few months ago about what she called the grief of the right choice.
A therapist, Lisa had grown an enormous following on Instagram without intending to reach that level. She came to feel trapped in the "Insta-therapist" identity she had built in the eyes of her followers. She dreamed of being known as a writer instead.
Lisa felt an overwhelming pressure to maintain that success and identity, even while she couldn't help but acknowledge to herself that it was a choice she was making — everyday — of her own free will.
Last year, she finally decided to focus on the other things she wanted to write about — and she discovered that her feelings about it were more complex than she expected.
Even as she celebrated the courageous path she chose for herself, she suffered grief over the many parts she loved about the other route that she was letting go of.
When she shared this experience, she spoke of still living in between, and how messy it felt.
She finished her piece with these words that resonated deeply in my heart and soul:
Sometimes, we need to make the right choice before we know where it will lead. Sometimes, we need to choose before there’s a net, before there’s a known outcome, before we can predict the future. Sometimes, we need to trust ourselves to be with the unknown path when walking down the known one isn’t working anymore. Sometimes, we need to let ourselves linger in that place longer than is comfortable, longer than is admirable, longer than is relevant for our brand or our dreams or our image. And sometimes, choosing to do so is the greatest gift we can offer our own humanity, knowing the truest path is always going to bring us closer to ourselves.
I think about all I've let go of in recent months and years in service of what feels like my soul's calling.
And I have. I have done that.
I feel immense joy and bliss in my daily experience of life, in addition to gratitude, pride, and self-trust for making the heavy choices that led me here.
But I feel the need to be a big enough emotional container to hold — alongside the joy and gratitude — the grief that comes from those choices.
For the people I won't walk with…
under the sunshine I won't feel on my skin…
down the scenic paths I won't travel…
I'm choosing to let that be alright.
I'm choosing to let that be alright, even as there's a strong pull to feel like it can't be both joy and sadness, both gratitude and grief.
We need to talk more about how when we are on our healing journeys, and we're letting our hearts break, we're not obligated to force positive vibes.
It's supportive to see the good.
But it's not supportive to force ourselves to see only the good.
It's okay for painful things to feel painful.
It's okay for sad things to feel sad.
It's okay for hard things to feel hard.
It's okay for them to continue to feel that way after much time has passed.
I'm coming to understand that healing doesn't mean reaching a place where we feel positivity about hardships.
We don't need to rewrite those stories and put them up on pedestals in order to justify the healing and growth we can let ourselves feel proud of all on our own.
In recent years I've made choices that led me to saying goodbye to people, places, jobs, and homes that I loved.
I know in my heart they've been the right choices for me.
I feel lit up and grateful for who I am and where I am now.
And I've found myself letting go of the need to force myself not to feel sadness or grief over the people and places left behind.
My decision now is to let myself feel all of it.
That's what's aligned with the person I want to be and the experience I want to have.
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