割舍 is not the same as giving up

Coming to the end of my gap year, two words, or rather, two Chinese characters have been occupying my mind. As I think about moving into the next season in life, what to 割舍 has become a recurring question. I loathe to use “give up” as a translation for 割舍 because giving up seems to imply defeat, lack of resilience…, i.e. the easy way out. But this is not quite an accurate reflection of 割舍.

Embedded in 割舍 are two aspects, namely to cut away (割) and to give away (舍), both of which involves a fair amount of pain. Imagining cutting someone out of your social circle or vice versa, imagine cutting ties with an organisation that you served in for a while… And because of these additional emotional dimensions, I find 割舍to be a much more accurate reflection of how I feel when I have to turn down an exciting project or when I have to walk away from existing projects and even hobbies as I learn to make space in my life.

In the past year, if there is any one lesson I learnt most keenly, it would be the importance blank space in life. In the past, I filled my waking hours to the brim, working full-time, studying part-time, volunteering in church, helping friends out here and there with random stuff… While on their own these seemed small and insignificant pieces, when put together, these were a pretty substantial amount of woman-hours to give and it sure wasn’t sustainable.

I did not have time for myself and I did not have time for people that matter either, because I was too busy pursuing my varied and many interests. For me, my biggest problem has to be: finding everything to be interesting, and believing that I could do all that with just a little sacrifice on sleep perhaps, on social perhaps… And to make things worse, I thought that as long as I enjoyed what I was doing, I would be fine. Sure, until physical exhaustion led to emotional exhaustion and to eventual energy drain. Obviously, I was headed for a crash. Poor health always meant time-out for anyone who sought to be well again.

Over the one year that I stopped working full-time, I did gain a few insights about myself and my work style, which meant I became keenly aware that I do not always practice what I preached. Well, I actually agreed to ‘help out’ in so many projects and started so many different hobbies that now, I could no longer keep up with myself. If I weren’t in my shoes, I would find these circumstances really quite funny.

Which led me to rethink and recalibrate, now that I am one year older and wiser, and more realistic about my energy levels, I have since given up one bobby and half given up another, bowed out of at least one project and working to finish some of the projects with loose ends left to tie up, to free up more time for myself, to make space in my life. And this is a arduously painful process – because I am forcing myself to say ‘No!’ to work that I would otherwise enjoy.

Yet, as I gain confidence (some good days and some bad days), I also regain time for myself and an unhurried life… How life was when I first started my sabbatical. And as I continue to reflect on my journey so far, as I prepare to return to full-time work, I continue to learn how to 割舍. Only after I have cut something off would I have space to grow something new, the basic rule of renewal.

By giving myself a clearer focus and greater alignment in all that I do and pursue, saying a resounding ‘No!’ to projects that don’t fit, I might be carving out for myself a bigger space to make a more meaningful and lasting contribution to society. And you know what, I kinda like this vision.

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