A client (let’s call her Eleanor) came to me several months after taking an executive director program director job at a local human rights organization. The longer she worked in the organization, the more she discovered dysfunctional patterns that went back decades. She found herself putting in sixty-, sometimes seventy-hour weeks just to keep the organization afloat.

Now, Eleanor sat in a session with me, almost a year into her tenure, looking back and celebrating the fact her organization was in a healthier place than when she began.

But she also faced a dilemma. Just two weeks earlier, she was invited to apply for the job of her dreams, leading a transformative justice program at a national political change organization. The work aligned with her passions and strengths much more than her current work, and the potential impact was far greater. After a stellar interview, she was now in the running to be hired.

Eleanor came to our session stressed out and guilty about the prospect of leaving her organization, which she anticipated would struggle without her.

Perhaps you’re facing a decision like Eleanor’s right now.

You feel called to do one thing but guilty about letting go of another. Perhaps you long to start a business or write a book, but you feel bad about taking time away from your family. Or, perhaps you feel called to take better care of your body, but you don’t want to say no to requests from clients or community members who need you.

You feel tired of going back and forth and back and forth again.

If this is you, I invite you to ask yourself the question that I asked Eleanor:

Who are you loyal to?

When you find yourself going back and forth between two options, it is likely that different parts of you are loyal to different things. Big decisions are often hard because they force you to choose something or someone you’re loyal to over something or someone else.

Of course, the reality is nuanced, and it’s not like you need to break ties every time you make a choice. However, to pass through the gate and say yes to what you choose, you need to say no to something important to you. And you’re apt to feel guilty in response. That’s why there is seldom growth without guilt. 

When we become conscious of our loyalties, we have an easier time understanding what’s at stake, making fully informed decisions that serve us, and have compassion for the parts who feel guilt.

When I asked Eleanor who she was loyal to, she saw the two possibilities in relief.

She first felt her loyalty to her program directors and board chair, who had put in equally long hours by her side trying to salvage the organization. She didn’t want to let them down. (Like Eleanor, when you ask yourself who you’re loyal to, you might also discover that it is easier for you to imagine the people you spend more time with now, as opposed to the people you’d serve in the future.)

However, after her initial response, Eleanor envisioned the people around the country that she would serve if she took this new job. When she got honest with herself, she knew that she was uniquely qualified for the position and could make a massive impact. She also realized that she wanted to be loyal to herself. To do so, she would need to let someone down.

Two weeks later, they offered Eleanor the job. And, yes, she took it.

Of course, she felt guilty when giving her notice. But she also felt a sense of calm. She’d cut through the uncertainty.

What about you?

Who are you loyal to?

I invite you to grab a piece of paper and a pen, get settled and set a timer for five minutes. Then write down whatever comes up in response to the question. Be honest with yourself.

When you’re done, notice if you have more clarity about your next steps. This clarity may or may not arise immediately, but if you stay curious and keep asking, you will discover information that helps you get clear.

And be honest with yourself, even if you feel guilty. As Eleanor discovered, it is worth it.

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Much love,

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