Self-change. Personal growth. Self-improvement. Growth mindset.
Whatever you call it, I’ve been doing it for a long time. Not by reading a bunch of self-help books — though nothing is wrong with that — but by simply being curious and investigating my own patterns and noticing my own thoughts and self-talk. Coupled with mindfulness, this journey has been fruitful.
Somewhere along the road, I came to have high expectations of myself as a self-changer. I had to always turn and face the issue — anything less seemed cowardly. As I’ve said before (in I Manage Fear and Anxiety With These 7 Words), once I recognize a situation as an opportunity to grow, I couldn’t run away because that became equivalent to saying, “Nah, I don’t have any room for improvement.”
While the phrase I described has served me well and continues to serve me in certain circumstances, I realized that it’s not the whole story. Here are two circumstances I’ve experienced recently where turning away from difficulty was the right choice for me at the time.
You’ve tried everything else
I was in a relationship that I didn’t want to leave, so I tried everything to make it work. Literally everything. I tried setting boundaries, being vulnerable and honest, limiting contact as much as possible. I tried mindfulness, being present, and practicing compassion for the other person. It took a long time, but after all of that, I realized something really important:
I have a tendency to assume that the fault lies with me. I’m a strong believer in looking inward, especially when you find that patterns repeat themselves in your life and relationships — but I realized that I can’t always change the situation.
This realization was reinforced when I spoke with my dear friend, Sharon, who told me, “Growing does not always mean staying or forcing yourself to kowtow to insufferable people.”
Sometimes the lesson we need to learn is when to say goodbye, and that’s exactly what was happening for me in that situation.
You’re not ready
If you’re not at the point where you’ve tried everything but you still want to turn away, that’s ok too.
Turning away from difficulty can be an act of ultimate self-care. It’s not necessarily quitting or giving up on growth and change. I’ve found that in some circumstances, I need to turn away because I don’t have the capacity to face whatever-it-is at the time. Or I may not yet have the tools I need to do the work that’s needed right then.
What I realized too is that just because I turn away from it this time doesn’t mean I’ll never face it. In my experience, I get as many chances as I need because it keeps showing up until I address it.
So I can turn away from something as much as I want until I’m ready for change. And when that time comes, change will happen.
Sometimes we have to face the same thing multiple times to peel back all the layers before we can begin to truly and fully heal. And that’s ok. It doesn’t mean I failed the first time; it’s all part of the healing process.
Reframing difficulties into opportunities for growth is a powerful tool, but so is knowing when it’s time to walk away.
Feature photo of author in Hawaii by Anthony Nielsen.