Sometimes, bravery looks like knowing when to say, “When.”

I am fortunate to have many artists in my life.  These are creative talents with a wide range of specialties and equally diverse styles and creative processes.  Some jump right into creating without much concern for the end product, while others mull over what they want to create until they are ready enough to dive in.

Regardless of these creative process differences, they share one element of bravery in common~ the courageous act of letting go when something is not working

I recently met Klina, a quilt artist, and got a chance to see a magnificent king-sized comforter that she was completing for her son.  It was a brilliant reflection of her artistic gift, where craft meets skill meets imagination; really, it was such a gorgeous work of art.  After two years, she was finally close to being finished.  Looking the comforter over, it occurred to me that when working on something with such breadth, there had to be plenty of opportunities to lose interest, perhaps “hit a wall” and put the work aside.  It seemed to me to take a LOT of bravery to fight through those opportunities to procrastinate and stick with it to completion. 

When I told her I was writing about everyday bravery, instead of going down the path of “Being brave is fighting through the urge to get pulled off task”, Klina took me to, “Bravery is the courage to stop when something’s not working.” Tweet This

There is a moment that every artist faces,” she explained, “when we have to say “When.” You reach a point where you know it’s not working, and as much time, effort and pieces of yourself you’ve put into the project, you have to stop and put it away. 

It was obviously a painful subject for Klina.  I could see it in her face, as she so clearly saw her art as investments of herself; saying “When” to a project was tantamount to passing a judgment of “You’re not good enough,” and near heartbreaking for her.

The pain of putting aside something we’ve invested in personally is very familiar to me, as it would be to anyone that has lived a life.  How often are we confronted by things/people/experiences that are wrong for us and feel a growing need to say, “When?” 

I had a job in my late 20s as an administrative assistant in the Human Resources department of a large company. While I excelled in the “Human” aspects of the work, I was beyond inept at the administrative tasks.  I’m not being hard on myself, honest… they are probably still looking for documents I misfiled some 25 years ago. The job lasted a very long, awful year, and served as a great lesson in “Goodness of fit” or the lack thereof.

I am not sure if it was worse for me, taking a beating to my ego with every problem I caused, or my manager, who was confronted on an almost daily basis by the ramifications of my mistakes.  We all knew I was wrong for the job, that I needed to leave, but like my quilter friend, I could only see leaving as “Failure”. When I finally did give my notice it was a relief for everyone involved.

Why did it take me a year to leave when I awoke almost every one of those 365 mornings iso unhappy? Let’s see if these reasons sound familiar to you. Reason 1: It’s not in my DNA to quit, and I perceived leaving as a “Failure.” Reason 2: I am an optimist’s optimist and thought that things could and would change, even with mounting evidence to the contrary. Reason 3: I had completely lost touch with what great, engaging work felt like.  I had normalized a mediocre situation and while it was awful, chose the comfort of that mediocracy over risk.  In hindsight, none of these were reason enough for me to stay, but I did, even when all signs pointed “Out”.  

The courage to say “When” requires us to stand for ourselves and what we want. To move forward, we need to put “Us” at the center, and redirect our efforts regardless of how much we’ve invested.  Recognize that putting a stop to something is not “Failure” but turning strength into action. Ultimately, this single act of bravery, of saying “When,” can propel us forward beyond where holding on and trying to make it work ever could.

20140907_165725The good news? Possibility birthed out of loss. Back to Klina, pictured here with her remarkable finished quilt.  She told me that sometimes an end is not an end, but a part of an ongoing process.  Sometimes, the things we put aside because they’re not working for us can be repurposed, reopened in the future and approached in a brand new way.  I like that idea, as I think that even when we let go, we can keep the lessons inside of us to inform our work, our lives, and our relationships for the better.  Not failure, not wrong, just not right for us right now.

Does any of this feel familiar to you?  Take a moment to share your stories about your own brave acts that have moved your lives forward.

Be brave, let go, say “When”.