You might have heard me say that 2017 was my bravest year yet. It was, but being brave didn’t look anything like I thought it would last year. Not even close.
Rather than making a list of goals I’ll inevitably fail to measure up to, each year I pick a single word or phrase to focus on. In 2017, my word was b r a v e . For me, that looked like showing up. The goal was to be brave in every moment. To show up each time I want to hide in shame. To show up to each terrifying thing I’d love to run from. I wasn’t going to deny my fear - I was going to be afraid, but show up anyway. And I did. I was more vulnerable than ever before. I did a million tiny things that terrified me. It was wild and exhausting and wonderful and hard. By the end of 2017, I was in awe of myself and my unprecedented bravery.
But what that bravery actually looked like surprised me. While showing up was brave and proved fruitful, my bravest moments didn’t look like showing up at all. My bravest moments were the ones when I chose to walk away.
I thought 2017 was going to be a year of saying yes and showing up, but it ended up being a year of saying no and walking away. The hard losses I took were because I chose to leave and let go. The heavy disappointments I faced were because when face-to-face with some really good things, I chose to say “no." Without knowing what it was unto, I said no to good things to make space for great things. And now I’m convinced that is what it looks like for me to be brave.
I’ve come to believe that one of the very best things I can do for myself, perhaps the pinnacle of self-care, is to walk away from good things in search and expectation of more.
Good feels good. Really good. Especially when you’re used to the opposite. Whether you’re accustomed to horrible jobs or have a history of devastatingly wrong and heart-wrenching relationships, any experience that’s better than the last feels like a win. And it is. Good is good. But it’s not great. It’s progress. It’s galaxies beyond bad and better than average, but good can’t be what we’re after in this life.
It’s easy to view an abusive relationship as unhealthy. It’s not difficult to see how a job where you’re bullied by your boss, constantly compromising your values, and incapable of using boundaries might be an unhealthy work environment. Both contexts would be undoubtedly nuanced and personal and difficult to leave for a number of complex reasons. But even if we choose to stay, it’s likely that we know we’re settling for less than what we’re worth.
But what about the good stuff? The better-than-ever-before-but-still-not-great stuff?
If you’re used to being mistreated by your significant other, good relationships are kryptonite. The absence of pain and rejection and cruelty is as foreign as it is tempting. The relationship’s lack of manipulation and abuse can masquerade as too-good-to-be-true, when the reality is, it isn’t. The disparity between the new experience and the old can trick you into believing you’ve found the best thing there is.
If you have a history of letting people walk all over you, a human who stands beside you will feel extraordinary. If those you’ve dated in the past have only criticized you, dating someone who is ambivalent toward you will feel exquisite. If they were hot-and-cold with your heart, a steady, committed relationship will feel remarkable.
But someone who will stand beside you rather than over you, say nothing rather than criticize, and commit rather than change their mind isn’t a standard for greatness. It’s a bare minimum. A non-negotiable in romance. The ground floor of a relationship. Not a place to stay, but a place to start. Just because it’s not the sketchy basement that screams danger doesn’t mean it’s a great place to live.
Regardless of the context, I think our past experiences of pain and disappointment cloud our judgement of positive experiences in the present, blinding us from their lack of abundance.
I think we are just as capable of settling for good things as we are of settling for bad things. Good shouldn’t be the standard, but until we believe we’re worth more than that, it will be. So how do we get there? From good to great? How do we teach our hearts that have slowly learned not to settle for bad not to settle for good either?
By walking away.
When something is better than anything you’ve experienced before, leaving it behind is the scariest thing of all. Because what if you never experience anything that good again? What if this is actually all there is? What if you give up the good thing only to discover there is no great thing after all? What if you walk away from this job to start your own business and you just go bankrupt? What if you leave this person and you only end up alone?
That, my friend, is a vicious poverty mindset that keeps us trapped in the cycle of victimhood, stuck and stagnant and swimming in the mundane.
Poverty says there’s not enough greatness out there for everyone. Abundance says there's plenty for all.
Poverty says this is all there is. Abundance says the possibilities are endless.
Poverty says take what you can get and be grateful for it. Abundance says ask for more and you’ll find it.
Poverty says you can’t afford to think that way. Abundance says you can’t afford not to.
But the job’s not bad. You don’t hate it. You kind of like it. You could stay. Go through the motions. Show up day after day, always wondering if there’s a career out there that actually makes you come alive. The relationship is good. Way better than the last. He/she is good and kind and decent and stable. You could stay. Go through the motions. Show up day after day, always wondering if there’s someone else out there that could actually love you with their whole heart.
Or you could walk away.
I know. It’s terrifying. It’s risky. It requires unprecedented bravery, and honestly you don’t know if you have it in you. You don’t know what’s on the other side. You can’t even see what it is you’re saying yes to when you say no to what’s in front of you.
But what if saying no to this good thing is what makes space in your life for the great thing? What if your no is the only thing that can open the door to a real yes?
What if walking away from something good is required to initiate movement toward something great? Newton’s Third Law states that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. So in every interaction, there is a pair of forces acting on the two interacting objects. The size of the forces on the first object equals the size of the force on the second object. That may sound like a bunch of scientific gibberish, but here’s what I think it means for us...
The bigger the risk, the bigger the reward. The more you’re giving up, the more you’re due to gain.
I don’t think we were created to live average lives. I don’t think God’s best for us is a job that pays the bills but does nothing for our souls or a relationship that is as void of love as it is of trauma. I think we are worth jobs that bring us life and people that love us with their whole hearts and friends that champion us day in and day out and lives that are anything but average.
I think we were made for greatness, but greatness is a choice.
I think abundance is the promise God has for us, but sometimes we don’t get there because we’re too afraid to walk away from the good stuff in search of more.
Fear will tell you to stay. Poverty will tell you this is as good as it gets. Shame will tell you you’re not worth anything better.
All of that is a lie. You are extraordinary. You are worth an extraordinary life. You are worth every wonderful thing this world has to offer. You deserve more than good. You deserve the too-good-to-be-true life of your dreams.
Jesus said he came to bring abundant life. Not average life - abundant life. It’s taken nearly a decade of following him, but I’m starting to believe him. I’m also starting to believe that experiencing that abundant life actually requires saying no to things that aren't abundant. Living in abundance requires being an active participant in my life - and it often looks like being brave enough to walk away.