Wednesday, July 1, 2009

the unselfishness of selfishness (or vice versa)

yesterday, after 2 years at my job, I left. And it was all that could be implied by that statement - good, bad, hard, easy, conflicting...this job gave me the following things:
  1. A Trip to Palestine [really, i could just stop here and the job would absolutely and totally have been worth it. but i shall continue]
  2. Co-Workers Who Really, Actually Pray for You When Asked [this is equally invaluable, especially since, during my time on the job, I lost a relationship, my mother, and, occasionally, my sanity]
  3. An Excuse to Visit Unknown Parts of My State [have now seen the inside of the church in Florence, OR, the Catholic retreat center in Gold Hill, OR and innumerable parish halls and church basements. Plus more yurts than in all my previous years of living. Trust me - a yurt will ALWAYS be better than a Motel 6 for business trips!]
  4. More Money Than I've Ever Made [plus more stress than I've ever had]
  5. The Most Amusing, and Polarizing, Boss in the History of Ever [ps, Portland - she really is awesome!]
  6. An Excuse to Read Papal Encyclicals [and understand them. Sort of. Maybe. At the least the non-Latin parts.]
  7. An Ability to Believe that I Am Not Alone in Finding Justice and Charity to Be a Key Component of Catholicism
  8. The Best, and Longest, Email Exchange with a Co-Worker about Jesus, Dinosaurs, Transformers, and Life
  9. A Sense of Purpose
  10. A Renewed Belief in Jesus Christ, the Catholic Church, and the Goodness of People
It also gave me:
  1. A Blogging Stalker
  2. Heartbreaking Attacks on My Family Which I Was Unable to Prevent or Predict - if anyone ever asks where my deep-seated paranoia came from the past two years, this is why. And, clearly, it's going to take a long, long time to get over...
  3. Lost Weekends and Evenings and Months Where I Rarely Even Saw Claire, and We Live Together
  4. Nights Waking Up at 3am, Knowing I'd Forgotten Something
  5. A Fear of Doing the Wrong Thing
  6. A Fear of Doing the Right Thing in the Wrong Way
  7. A Pretty Consistent Sense of Failure to Accomplish Anything
  8. More Stress Than I've Ever Had [plus more money than I've ever made]
  9. The Heartbreaking Realization That Maybe I Don't Have a Place in My Own Church - I vacillated back and forth between thinking that Justice Catholics were prevailing, to realizing they were being ostracized. And back again...
  10. The Realization That, Much as I Love the Church, I Can Never Work for The Church - this is, like, the most heartbreaking thing about this job. Because I feel like I failed, I know my boss feels like she failed, and whatever I go on to do, it will always sort of frustrate me that I couldn't make it work.
One of the things I really never learned, though, and which I am paying for now, is an ability to do self-care. Which sounds weirdly like bragging, but totally isn't. When I look at the best activists/justice leaders/amazing people I met on the job, they all took great care of themselves so they could take care of other people. They knew that it was important to revive themselves every once in a while, to let go of all the cares that pile up on people who care for a living, and to find joy in the world. And I so admire that, and I believe in it, and I literally cannot do it!

Which I realized when I woke up on my first, real, do-nothing day of the vacation that I am, frankly, imposing on myself. I could have just started off right away planning for my transition to Chicago, packing, transferring lease information, etc. But I thought it would be important to just recover and heal. So I woke up an hour later than usual. And felt guilty. Even though the only thing I HAVE TO DO starts at 5:30pm. And it's a meeting, which isn't really vacation-y, but that's okay. Then, I had to literally fight the urge to clean our kitchen, which I don't want to do and which is incredibly stressful, but which just seemed like something that I needed to do right now.

So, instead, I went to Jim and Patty's and read Chesterton and hung with J Pix. And I kept thinking, "There must be SOMETHING I need to do right now." Because there always is. Except not today. And, that, I think, is my problem. I don't like to think of myself as a selfish person. But I do think that I have this need to be needed. And now, I'm the only who needs me. So, it turns out, I think, that learning to let go and not do stuff may be the most unselfish thing I can do.

But, my problem is, that my disordered thinking really has me believing that work and life should be hard. I don't really know when or how this happened, but time spent on myself always, always, always seems selfish to me. It doesn't when other people do - I applaud that! But the idea of spending my day reading and walking around and doing literally nothing seems appallingly indulgent and self-centered. This is going to be one of the biggest changes in attitude - thank God I've basically got a month in which I have nothing to do but learn to take care of myself and take charge of my own life.

Because I keep doing things for other people in this disordered way - showing up at work when I am technically done, volunteering time I don't have, meeting with everyone and their mother because I feel badly about not seeing everyone in the world ever before I leave, it won't be because I want to. It will because I want them to think I'm great and selfless and humble. Which is not selfless or humble and is definitely not great. I love people, for sure - I don't do well without a constant source of external stimulus and renting a cabin in the woods alone for a month always sounded like Hell to me. So, I'm not going to stop seeing people or being with people. But my intense focus on obligations and guilt has made me such an incredibly self-focused person, just in different ways.

So, I'm gonna take a break and read books and sing songs and cook good food and fight the urge to call myself selfish until such a time as rejoining the world can be a selfless act. But, I'm not gonna lie, today I probably will break down and do those dishes. I guess I'm still learning...


  1. Clearly God knew what he was doing by giving you that beautiful time in your job. But also, it's time to move on! I'm so glad that I get to be a part of the next chapter in the Cat Willett saga! Beautiful reflection. Continue to force yourself to rest. I know how hard it is after going going going for three years I am totally struggling with that, too. But we deserve it and nee dit as I have a feeling we won't get to do much resting in the near future! Yet another thing we have in common: being busy-bodies. :o)

  2. P.S. SHUT UP about GoFugYourself and PostSecret. GOSH!!!!!! Those two things alone let me know we are meant to be.

  3. next year will be PURE AWESOMENESS! I love that you love PostSecret and GoFugYourself! Yay!!!