Discipline: Stop When it Makes Sense

A thing I learned about pursuing discipline: stop when it makes sense because it makes sense.

I am a recovering quitter. Much of my life, I chronically wanted to quit things. I got bored sometimes, but usually I just freaked out. I felt like an imposter or incapable or just simply not enough. My mode in those years: apply, get accepted, do stuff, work hard, be on the cusp of something great-adjacent, freak out, want to quit, throw a fit. I finished plenty, though the fit and freak out were nearly always there. Like plagues. Plagues I created.

More recently, I’ve worked on finishing. Even if it was a slog. Even if nobody else thought it was necessary or important or useful. I did this in secret, the finishing. And it was not a wonderful antidote to quitting.

This year, studying discipline, I learned that there is actually a happy medium, just like my mama always said there was. I tend toward extremes. All or nothing. Recently, I pulled back from social media for 2018, and I joked to my husband that it was an all-or-nothing thing. It wasn’t. Not this time. My accounts still exist; I’ve chosen to not visit them in 2018.

I could have quit social media, which has taught me a ton about craft and the world and put me in contact with some amazing folks, when it started to resemble a trash fire most of the time. I could have punished my former quitter by staying and getting burned more often than not, especially as touches my depression and anxiety. Instead, I decided to step back.

Maybe after a year away, I’ll terminate the accounts and know it’s the right thing for me. Maybe I’ll be ready to wade back in and give someone else room to rest a while if they want. I don’t know.

In October, I packed all my stuff. My entire office and studio. But I kept out a few measly art supplies and started Inktober. It was fun! And then the move arrived, I packed the supplies, and I didn’t finish. Because that’s what made sense.

When we moved to Florida in summer, we expected it was relatively permanent. We did not set our sights on moving back or on moving elsewhere. We unpacked, started schools, sought out the best restaurants, did all the things you do when you relocate. Our house in Oklahoma was on the market. The move was real and solid. We were all in. During the hurricane, we evacuated to Oklahoma because we still had a house and Husband could work from a location there. School was out about two weeks; it made sense. When we returned, we returned. To work and school and life. The week after returning, the option to work from Oklahoma arose, and Husband and I discussed it.

For all the suffering of mid-spring – mine and my family’s because of mine – I had truly made peace with the move and the decision. I told Husband so. I told him that, for my part, the decision had been right and I was all-in. I also told him, “just because coming was the right decision when we made it, that doesn’t mean we have to stay either.” The opportunity to return to Oklahoma surprised us and saying yes would reverse our course, but that didn’t make it unworthy of consideration. For his part, Husband shared his own wisdom, but that’s his story.

This is not a conversation I could have had a year ago. I don’t know how it would have gone, but I’m certain this would not have been the way.

Discipline is going on green and stopping on red. [Yellow, of course, is a matter of your personal risk profile.] Discernment is knowing within yourself when the light changes in your situation. I find the two to be inescapably linked, discernment and discipline. I wish I had either (or both!) perfectly, but I don’t and never will. So I content myself to watch the lights change and do what is right when it’s right to the best of my ability.

2018 Theme

Yike. In late October I began thinking about my 2018 theme. And I immediately began to bargain. With myself.

Me: Okay. But make it something easier. Achievable.

Also Me: But look how much we’ve grown!

Me: Mmhmm. We need some stasis. Remember the last 10 months?

Also Me: Well, yes. drums fingers We should make a spreadsheet!

Me: Absolutely not.

Also Me: You are no fun anymore. Remember that time we Googled discipline and marriage. Ahahaha! Good times.

Me: Just. Easy. Like, close EVERY loophole. ‘kay?

So, this is how it went for a while. I felt like I had (non-clinical) PTSD from my annual themes! Yes, I know that’s supremely awful, which is why and how I got over myself. Because the truth is that I have grown a lot since these themes began.

Messy. Difficult. Interesting. Exhausting. The perfect target for all my blame. Something goes wrong, it’s the theme’s fault!

One word kept arising as I fretted, silently and aloud to pretty much anybody, about the theme for the new year: quantity. I wasn’t sure what that meant. I knew I did NOT want to simply spreadsheet and dictate quotas to myself. I couldn’t seem to wrap my brain’s fingerlings around what I did want.

Quantity. More. Improve. Increase. Grow. I wanted to become…more? More what? It would have been fairly straightforward to say, I want to write 2000 words a day and one sketch a week and 30 minutes with each boy each night and one date night a week and on and on. But I’ve been there. Counting. Relentlessly. Waiting for it to add up to something. To me.

This is not that.

I was sitting in worship on the Sunday after Thanksgiving and the preacher gave a little Greek lesson.

Now about brotherly love, we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other….Yet we urge you, brothers, to do so more and more. [And] Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.

1 Thessalonians 4: 9-12

The preacher said that in the original Greek, the conjunctive ‘and’ joins the concept of loving more and more with the concept of the ambitions set forth.

What do I want? In this time of Trump, in this time of constant one-upmanship terribleness, what do I want? To love more and more.

How do I do that? By making it my ambition to lead a quiet life, mind my own business, and work with my hands.

How does that work? Leading a quiet life and minding my own business ensure that I stay grounded, healthy, and out of meaningless skirmishes (but not out of the world entirely). Working with my hands is everything I’ve ever wanted in my career life and never given myself permission to do, and it gives me a space to be productive. Winning the respect of outsiders gives me the opportunity to show them my love in more meaningful ways. Not being dependent on anybody means that others can depend on me.

My theme: Ambition.

If you’d suggested that to me in October, I would have giggled. Ambition sounds so aggressive. Because it is not passive. Two thousand eighteen is about not waiting for someone else to fix it, not waiting for social media to become less antisocial, not waiting to work with my hands, not waiting to be the person I am. But increase. Increase in love, in ambition, in quietude, in mindfulness, in productivity.

Come closer, let me tell you a secret: I don’t think this is an easier theme. Alas! growth is never easy. It comes through work and some pain and change. Every place you are in life is supposed to be a little challenging for the purpose of growth.

I’m quietly thrilled to see where this theme takes me in my journey, though I hesitate to confess it because of superstition and fear of both success and failure. I have a feeling there will be no lack of lessons!

I’ll spend some time figuring out how to approach learning about this theme and living it, but meanwhile I know you can expect my absence from social media, except for blogging. I will take a one-year break from adding to social media, barring any local revolutions or family situations or (gasp!) publishing news that require SM communications. I’ll keep my accounts and pin a post/tweet to the top letting people know I won’t be around those forums, and I’ll continue the blog as an outlet (and inlet, for that matter). Social media is a beast I’ve struggled with for a long while, so I’m glad to give myself the keys to this one. The purpose, probably obviously, is to aspire to live a quiet life, which means not knowing every imbecilic thing POTUS says or every spat amongst tweeters or every cultural/political viewpoint of churchgoers and family members. [I’m set FREE!]