Sometimes we need to prune our lives to get the best, and healthiest, results
Posted May 9, 2011
Endings are a necessary part of life. Despite their inevitability, most of us face endings with a sense of regret, anger, and even fear. Whether personal, job-related, or relationship-oriented, endings are tough. But realize this: to move forward, we sometimes have to give up relationships, businesses, and more to make room for the new.
Recently, I’ve been working through a number of personal and professional endings in my life. As I began to explore this concept in my personal life, I came across a new book, Necessary Endings: The Employees, Business, and Relationships That All of Us Have to Give Up, written by bestselling author Dr. Henry Cloud. While much of his book focuses on endings in the business realm, applying the principles outlined the book can be particularly helpful for the chronically ill.
Dr. Cloud compares endings in our lives to the necessary pruning of a rosebush. He writes:
“Growth depends on getting rid of the unwanted or the superfluous...Pruning is a process of proactive endings. It turns out that a rosebush, like many other plants, cannot reach its full potential without a very systematic process of pruning. The gardener intentionally and purposefully cuts off branches and buds that fall into any of three categories: 1) Healthy buds or branches that are not the best ones, 2) Sick branches that are not going to get well, and 3) Dead branches that are taking up space needed for the healthy ones to thrive.”
Pruning Your Life
In gardening and in life, pruning is essential for reaching your full potential. Without it, you will never realize abundant living, despite your physical or emotional limitations.
As I work with chronic illness clients, I find that limited thinking holds them back more then the limitations imposed by their illness. It is not that my clients cannot achieve their goals, it’s that many of them are reluctant to let go of their pre-illness selves to embrace their post-illness lives, along with the challenges it brings.
Olivia lives with severe rheumatoid arthritis, a potentially crippling and debilitating disease. When her disease flares or she faces yet another surgery, she grieves her losses. Then, she looks to the future, making necessary adjustments along the way.
When she could no longer type, she installed speech recognition software on her computer, so she could continue to respond to emails and write. Although traveling remains difficult, she continues to take on a limited number of speaking engagements because she loves what she does. In preparation for the event, she cuts back on her other commitments to create sufficient physical and emotional margin in her life for the unexpected.
Olivia is smart. She knows she can’t do it all.
Pruning the Good to Make Room for the Best
Like Olivia, you can’t do it all either. You have just so much energy and resources to go around. That’s why it’s sometimes necessary to limit and trim even good things from our lives so we can experience the best.
Part of my job as a professional coach and communicator entails speaking at corporate, community, and church events. While I love meeting and connecting with people, I am always somewhat floored by the number of people who contact me after an event. People seek me out not only about coaching but also because they are looking for someone who listens and understands what it’s like to live with chronic illness.
The people who contact me are wonderful people, people I would enjoy getting to know. But because my physical and emotional energy is limited, I decline many professional and personal invitations. I can only do so much before my health and family suffers.
Do people understand? Not always. But I need to honor my limits and guard my health to pursue those things I feel called to do.
Giving up Unhealthy Patterns and Relationships
And what about unhealthy relationships? Do you allow them to sap the life right out you?
You know what I mean: those people who when you see them coming make you want to run the other way. They drain your energy and grate on your last nerve. You feel trapped, overwhelmed, and angry when you’re with them but guilty if you ignore their calls.
A failure to address these types of destructive relationships can lead to more than overload. Unhealthy behaviors and symptoms, such as overeating, mood swings, and exhaustion, can sometimes develop when you continue in unhealthy patterns of behavior.
Another unhealthy pattern I frequently see in my life and the lives of others is denial. Larry, who lives with severe Graves disease, faithfully did all he could to meet others’ expectations, including his supervisor’s unreasonable demands. After living this way for months, he developed severe complications, making it unlikely that he will ever return to work.
But when we proactively rid ourselves of unhealthy relationships and patterns, we free up physical and emotional energy, energy we could then devote to pursuing our passions and exploring new opportunities.
Burying the Dead
In general, it’s easier to end commitments and relationships past the point of resuscitation. But sometimes it’s hard to clearly see a situation. How do we know when a venture or relationship is truly dead?
Here are some practical examples to help clarify your thinking:
• An entrepreneurial business initiative is off to a great start, but costs are greater than planned and you’ve blown through your savings in the first few months.
• The organization you volunteer at continually demands more of your time and resources. Your health and your marriage are suffering.
• With reduced income, you continue to live at the same standard of living as when you earned three times as much.
• You struggle with limited mobility and the dream vacation home you purchased at the beach sits empty year-round although you continue to invest in maintenance and upkeep.
All of these scenarios are examples in which continuing to expend resources diminishes or does damage to you or those you love. They are not sustainable long-term.
But sometimes, we’re too close to a situation to see clearly. If you find yourself questioning whether terminating a venture or relationship is the right thing to do, ask a few friends for their opinions. Sometimes, all it takes is for someone else to confirm what you already know to be true.
Endings can be hard, but they don’t have to be. When we accept necessary endings as a normal and healthy part of life, we recognize them for what they truly are: stepping-stones to something new. And often something better.
Mary Yerkes is an author, speaker, and chronic illness coach who fosters spiritual and personal transformation in people's lives, especially those living with chronic pain and disease. Like many of her clients, she lives with multiple chronic illnesses, including rheumatoid arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, and psoriatic arthritis. She is the Chronic Illness Expert for the National Association of Baby Boomer Women. Visit Mary online at MaryYerkes.com.