Sunday, May 6, 2012

Saturation Point

I recently read a quote about a unique approach to looking at how children learn. It stated that when given freedom to explore a healthy interest, children will pursue it until they reach a saturation point, then they’ll move on to something else…and this is a very good thing.
That resonated with me, because as adults, we aren’t geared to do this; we tend to develop interests early in life and pursue them for a lifetime, often allowing it to define us – ‘Oh, John’s master carpenter’ or ‘Sally is a marathon runner’ or ‘Bill is a great coach’ and so on. Long after we’ve reached out saturation point with it, we’re still doing it, because the idea we are supposed to like, do, or be this particular thing has become an integral part of who we feel we are.
Society - beginning typically with our parents - tend to instill the idea that we’re supposed to stick with anything we decide, because giving up on a pursuit is a bad thing. We’ve got to hang in there, ride the wave, be true to the commitment even when it’s not pleasurable for us anymore, even if it's not what we want anymore, because in the end we'll be glad we did.
Really?
My son is a gifted swimmer who recently asked to discontinue his year-long swimming practice. This was a hard call for me; he clearly has talent...but I believe in saturation points, and I allowed him to withdraw from training. Some of my friends did not agree; they felt I needed to teach him the value of staying power and commitment, which are of course important. The thing is, however, he never made the commitment to swimming. It was me who enrolled him in the lessons where his ability was noticed, and it was me who continued to push him to pursue further instruction. And for a long time, he’d gone along with it. My son, however, is far from being an obligatory sort and has no trouble whatsoever speaking his mind when he’s fed up (something I celebrate but often gets us on the B-list with other parents, who prefer to be the voice of their children, rather than hear the voice of thier children). Going to swimming was a twice-weekly norm for a long time, but now it had gotten old, and he didn’t want to do it anymore.
And I have to be honest, the routine had gotten a little old to me as well, I was bored with working out in the fitness room where the televisions droned and the faces never changed, and I’d taken to walking the track outside, just for something different to do for the hour he was in training. And the expense of it all! The gym membership and the additional cost of swimming sessions were averaging me about $100 a month, a fee I was willing to pay as long as he was enjoying it. When it became clear he no longer was, I remembered the quote I’d read and thought of how much sense it actually made. I withdrew my son from swimming and ended my gym contract with no regrets.
Why I even wrestled with this choice I’ve no idea, because reaching saturation points and moving on is a bold move, and something I do all the time. I’ve done it with jobs (teaching is the 4rd career field I’ve entered and was my 4th college degree); with hobbies and interests; and recently, with people. A few months ago, I made the very difficult decision to end a friendship with a person I simply could not justify – to myself – giving my time and energy to anymore. It was tough; I felt I was abandoning them…but I began to find that I just couldn’t respect them anymore. I’d been there for them many, many times, the kind of being there that requires you to drop everything and make that person your priority for a few hours, days, or however it takes, but they rarely stepped up to the plate for me. I struggled a lot with this, because I try to accept people as they are, and not everyone is a giver. But in time, I began to realize that I needed to really be honest with myself…everyone may not be a giver, but some people are just born takers, and that’s an entirely different thing altogether. After being let down yet again and again by this person, I knew I had to take a big step back.
I am a deeply spiritual person; I believe that God communicates with us always…we just have to know how to recognize this communication when it presents. Sometimes it’s in-your-face and undeniable, but most of the time, it’s pretty subtle. When I make a choice, I look for signs to see if I’m on the right path, or if perhaps I need to reconsider. I’ve taught my son to do the same. After quitting swim practice, doors opened for him to join Cub Scouts, an experience which has been nothing but positive. And within days of his mentioning that he’d like to learn to play the guitar, an heirloom acoustic was given to him by a family member who had no knowledge that he’d expressed an interest in learning to play. The time freed up from swim practice allows him to explore these new interests. It's wonderful. And no more of the dull work-out room for me…I’ve now found a beautiful new route to walk for daily exercise. My son joins me, and the time together is precious at the end of a long working day. We talk, share ideas, observe nature…and most importantly, we both enjoy it.
I love this aspect of life, this communication with something beyond us that lets us know we’re where we need to be. It is always there, and it comes in the reverse form, too. A few weeks ago, tired of all the rigmarole that comes with business side of being an artist, (or rather, to be honest, just bored with it), I decided that maybe it was time to focus my interests elsewhere. Not stop being an artist, mind you, as that would be impossible…but to take a break from the exhausting marketing and promoting of my work and just create for myself. I was at my own saturation point with receptions, hanging shows, printing images, etc...but within a few days of deciding not to do it anymore, I was flooded with opportunities to display my art and even received a new commission – clear signs that maybe my choice needed to be reconsidered. I was at a saturation point, yes…but maybe just a temporary reprieve, rather than a complete break, was what I needed.
This would not be the case with the one-sided friendship I had to step away from. In time I found that stepping back wasn’t enough, the situation was going to require complete honesty on my part at some point, a point finally came in the form of a long, rambling email from them detailing a new crisis that my unconditional love and support was needed to endure. My kindly worded response simply addressed a long-overdue truth: I respected myself too much for this, and I just could not be there for them anymore. Of course, I waited to see if I’d done the right thing. There was, within hours, a response email full of defensive protest from the person in question, and I felt bad  because I loved and valued them, but because I also loved and valued myself, I chose not to reply…and there have been no subsequent messages. This hurt at first, but in time their silence spoke volumes to me. It showed that my choice, while difficult, was the right one. I’d reached a saturation point with being treated inconsiderately, and I needed to free myself from the source of it.
Ten years ago I could not have done this…I’d have seen through any situation I found myself in out of a sense of obligation, because that’s how I was raised. But I’m beginning to realize the blessing of maturity is that we come into a place where we can step away from what might have served our parents and step into what will serve us as unique individuals possessing our own wisdom. We can reach a saturation point and be at peace with letting go and moving on because we don't feel bound by the ideas others have about the way things need to be done. Sometimes it’s merely a reprieve that’s needed, other times a complete break. The choice is ours, and that's a precious thing. We’ll be shown that we’re on the right path, or not…we just have to pay attention.