Stepping back is hard to do

  • Cyclist copier, mimeograph machine

Image Source: M.F.A.M. Museum retrieved from Shutterstock under the editorial standard license

When you decide to step away from something you feel is important, it is much like when you have a sudden onset disability. The change in your life is disruptive. You find yourself itching for the old routine and sometimes slip into autopilot even months after. This is normal. These routines have been reinforced through years of training and it takes time to weaken the neural pathways you created in your brain. You will create new pathways as you build up a new routine. That is what our brain does.

It does not really seem to matter if you are leaving a career or stepping away from helping an important social cause, the feeling of sadness, the feeling that you are abandoning something important, or the feeling of frustration that you get as though you have not really accomplished anything with all the time and effort you have expended.

The sadness and frustration can be even deeper when what you have spent so much time on is going away. It’s easy to feel like you have failed when you can’t point at something and say to someone, “I helped build this.” I understand; it has happened to me more than a few times.

I speculate that we suffer from a myth of permanence. We want the things we create and build to last forever, despite the proof around us every day that nothing lasts forever, not even the rocks beneath our feet. We want our organizations, our institutions, and our values to outlive us. What we don’t consider is that everything we create shapes us as much as we shape it, and in turn, as we change, we change what we are working on. Then, as we leave, we change things again.

As the saying goes, the only constant is change.

I am asking you to make one more change. I want to look at the hard work you have put into what you felt was important and look at the positive effects you have made in people’s lives. There may be more than you know, so be generous to yourself. You may not know if you inspired someone to take up a cause who may not have otherwise if they had not met you, but they may be out there. Then again, the person you may have inspired may be helping you right now or someone else you know.

To me, the important thing is not keeping the same organizations running, but finding the people who will keep up the tradition, the fight for the cause, long after you have stepped away. An organization I ran several years ago is no longer around, however, some of the people I recruited to the cause of that organization are still working hard to help others.

We all have seen many good things go away in our lives. It is sad to see them go. But keep in mind that there are other people, in other places, doing very similar things. The media might change, just as from printed newspapers to online magazines and news feeds. Even in-depth journalism is changing, it’s certainly not going away, it is just different now.

Out of curiosity, I ventured into the world of “streaming.” Streaming is more than just video production that later gets put up on YouTube or another video service. Starting roughly ten years ago, these video producers went live. At first, these live streams were focused on video games and other technology geek pursuits, however a few months ago I visited one of the largest streaming platforms and searched for people streaming about politics. The result I was given had more than 20 streams which were live at that very moment, representing three languages and at least four countries. What was most impressive was that two of the results were streams created by academics and many of the streams were not run by disenfranchised, angry white people who were just there to spread misinformation. Just like everything else, however, it is up to you to decide who is worth listening to and who is worth ignoring. Just like not every news magazine is the same, no two streams are the same.

Just like magazines and newspapers, you can choose to pay for them or not. People have always had it pretty easy in the first world with starting their own magazine or newspaper. Now, instead of a mimeograph machine, ink and some paper, you need a computer and an email address.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.