When I was going through the process of deciding to leave my job with Oxfam (now that I've resigned I can finally name my wonderful employer) there were three main barriers that I found I had to work through.
The first barrier was perhaps the most obvious, I wondered whether I would have enough money, whether my savings would last long enough to finish the book and where I would find money once the book was done. In the end this was the simplest to get past. I have savings, I will live on them while I write. Once they run out I'll find work to make more money. Easy. I could make it a lot more complicated by imaging scenarios in which I don't find ways to make money again but since I've been in the work-force for twenty years and have always been able to make enough money to pay my bills I decided to keep it simple and trust that I would be able to do it again in 6 months time, if necessary.
The second barrier was a sense of obligation to my employer. Oxfam is a wonderful organisation that does great work all over the world to help find lasting solutions to poverty and injustice. I was drawn to Oxfam because they look beyond the obvious and direct contributor to poverty and are prepared to tackle the big injustices that create and perpetuate global imbalance in resources and opportunity. With Oxfam I've been able to do advocacy work on unfair trade policies, ineffective aid and the growing impacts of climate change on developing countries. I am able to do work that I'm passionate about and to work with like-minded and like-hearted people. I've grown close to my colleagues and have a strong personal commitment to the work we all do. It was hard to leave all that without a sense of guilt.
But I've been learning about guilt these past few years and I now know it doesn't serve me or anyone else so I'm getting better at recognising and releasing it. I'm not indispensable to Oxfam and although I always do my very best, I'm not even necessarily the person best able to do my job. It is time for me to pursue other paths and to open this job up to someone else.
The final barrier was a little less obvious, but was perhaps the most powerful. Over almost two decades I've built a strong sense of personal identity around my work as an advocate for human rights, justice and dignity for all. At its crudest, this manifests as a desire to know that I am a good person, and a hope that my good work/s might be evidence that this is so. When I explored these thoughts and feelings, I uncovered an underlying belief that I have to earn my place in the world, that I have to some how pay the world back for the extraordinary privilege I have enjoyed as a child of the middle class in New Zealand.
In recent years my exploration of the practices and teachings of the Buddha have been nudging me towards the possibility that my identity might be less certain, less knowable and – ultimately – less important than I had previously assumed. Yesterday in meditation class our teacher encouraged us to explore what it was like to release ourselves for a moment from the grasp of the intellect – that marvelous thought-proliferating machine – and to settle into the 'don't know' mind. What if I don't know if I am good or bad? Can that also be okay?
Can it be okay to no longer have a job title that is almost guaranteed to get admiring responses from everyone to whom I am introduced? Can it be okay to dedicate my days to something that gives me incredible satisfaction but that may never do any good for anyone else? Can it be okay to really believe that what the world needs most is people who have settled into their own simple wisdom and who are following their hearts? Can it be okay that I don't know? When I settle quietly into the space that sits behind, above, beneath and all around that marvelous thought-making machine that is my thinking mind I find that there is plenty of room for all of this, and more, to be okay.