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The 3 important things I let go of this year (and what I learned from them)

Julia Travers is a writer, artist, and teacher (explore her work here). She focuses on creative and non-fiction writing, art education, and community volunteering.

This year I learned 3 big lessons in letting go

As winter comes on, I'm reflecting on how many changes have passed through my life this year, some not under my control and some conscious. Here are three things I let go of this year that were pivotal for me.

1. A job: It has been three years since I left full time art teaching. I left because I was teaching over 500 students a week and was exhausted. I also missed connecting with children more. I was enjoying teaching preschool this summer but was looking for a new challenge with a higher salary when I saw an opening for a middle school art postion — wow. Middle school art teaching was one of my first very difficult teaching assignments, and I felt I could do such a better job at it now that I had taught for 10 years! I went to the interview, was offered the job, and accepted, and my husband and I began looking for a new place to live in a new town, which, conveniently, was near his current job.

In my excitement, here’s what I didn’t do: Ask to see the art room or ask about curriculum expectations. In the next week — through a series of emails and a visit to the school — I found out that I would not have my own art room, nor would I have any creative control over what I taught. It would be dictated by another art teacher who could not have had a more different philosophy from my own. After a good cry and a beer with my husband, I decided not to take the job, for which luckily I had not yet signed the contract — this would have just made things more awkward. I am now working in writing, editing and research full-time and have had a great time reconnecting with my love of words.

What I’ve learned: Ask questions at the interview! Also, you never know what’s around the corner.

2. A friendship: Sometimes, though people mean well, things have to change in friendships. I have some difficulty with keeping healthy boundaries with others and can have a really hard time leaving situations that are not going well sometimes. Nevertheless, this year, I took the space I needed and left the intimacy of a relationship which I had enjoyed and relied on. Even though I felt that we cared for each other, there were negative behaviors coming my way more often than were okay.

Though it can be hard for me to practice, I do believe that if you let someone hurt you, you are teaching them that that it's okay to treat people poorly and are not doing them any favors in the long run. If you love someone, you know they are hurting you because of their own pain, and you can help them by taking care of yourself and so removing an opportunity for them to harm others. I felt that this relationship was threatening my well-being, so I took the space I needed to work on my boundaries. This change, while painful, ended up helping me to feel freer and stronger.

What I’ve learned: If someone is not able to treat you well, ask them to stop and/or do not stay in that situation. If you’ve asked someone to change and they haven’t, it may be that the ball is in your court now. Perhaps it’s time to be realistic and let them go, or to at least allow some space to be there while you decide if you want to keep this person in your life. All relationships have ups and downs, and it’s up to you to decide which to keep in your life.

3. An old version of myself: While I don’t claim to have shed all my old issues or selves — nor that I want to — I have been experiencing growth. I know I am growing because it is uncomfortable, painful, and liberating in my chest. I have changed careers and relationships, worked on my approach to body image and self love, and done a lot of work with boundaries and communication in my marriage. I am letting myself be a happier writer by knowing that I don't have to write perfectly. I am letting myself be closer to others by taking care of myself and admitting to myself that I am a sensitive and at times introverted person, and relaxing with that a bit more.

Buddhist teacher Pema Chödrön says,"Anxiety, heartbreak, and tenderness mark the in-between state. It's the kind of place we usually want to avoid... The challenge is to let it soften us rather than make us more rigid and afraid."Pema often calls me out to be more present and real with where I am, instead of always trying to fix things. I am hoping, as one friend advised, to “reinvent myself every day,” or ideally to be free to respond from the heart in each moment, or at least often.

What I’ve learned: Though the fear of change and the feeling of psychological nakedness that comes with identity shifts can be terrifying, there is also a possibility at times of softening into the unknown, growing, and letting go. I am curious to see what is coming up in the next days and years, and grateful for all the time I have.

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