It was one of those kinds of relationships. I had the recurring event on my calendar to attend this group’s meetings. For my first year or two of involvement, I was passionate about it. Then my interest waned, and I was showing up because I felt like I should. Then, at some point, I just stopped making it a priority … because I was tired after travelling because I wanted to meet with a friend because I really just had anything else to do.
One part of me kept thinking I would show up eventually. But after months of this behaviour, it was pretty clear that I wouldn’t. So I resigned myself to “ghosting” the group — not showing up anymore, but not really admitting that I had left.
I thought I was OK with this behaviour. But then a prompting from a friend inspired me to be decisive and direct. I was amazed that once I broke up properly with this commitment, I immediately felt lighter and freer as the clouds of indecision and avoidance lifted. And I now had zero guilt.
Can you relate to my quandary?
With all of the upheaval this spring and summer, you’ve probably missed some activities and groups greatly. I know I found it exceptionally painful to be away from some of the groups I hold near and dear. But you may have also discovered others that you were just fine without.
Maybe it’s a volunteer activity that just doesn’t resonate with you anymore, a professional development group that used to be fulfilling but now isn’t, or a committee where the work doesn’t feel high priority at this point. For some activities, like a required weekly company meeting, you need to show up even if you don’t feel like it. But for those optional activities where you have a choice and where you might have already drifted away, it could be time to make a clean break.
Can you think of anything that falls into this bucket? If so, have you communicated your intent? If not, I highly recommend that you take the time to break up properly with these commitments. Here are the four steps to truly be free:
Instead of skirting the issue and not showing up, communicate with the appropriate leaders and where you have responsibilities. Here’s the email that I sent in my situation to give you a sense of how your communication could sound:
Hi [Leaders’ Names],
I hope you’re well. I wanted to communicate a few things.
As I was evaluating my priorities, I’ve realized that [group name] isn’t an area where I see myself continuing to invest time.
I had thought I would be able to attend more regularly last autumn than I have been able to, and I don’t foresee myself being able to come more this winter. I wanted to communicate that directly, so that you weren’t counting on me to accomplish club goals.
Thank you for the opportunity to have been part of the club. It was a good learning experience for me. I’m so proud of everyone for all of their progress. And I will be back in the future, if and when it aligns with where I feel I’m called to spend my time.
Have a wonderful day!
E-mail may make the most sense for communicating your intentions. Or if you’re stepping down from a bigger responsibility or it’s a closer relationship, you may consider a phone call, video chat, or an in-person meeting for the discussion. Decide on the mode of communication that best fits the relationship you have with the people involved. Then make sure you think through what you want to say so that you’re clear and kind.
With this particular group, I had made a commitment to post their meetings on MeetUp.com, a site with all kinds of group events, and I hadn’t done that yet. Knowing I was communicating directly gave me the push I needed to prioritize finishing that task. That way when I told them that I was no longer going to be part of the group, I had taken care of all outstanding commitments. This gave me a clean break and freed me from a sense of obligation.
Think through all of the outstanding responsibilities you have in this particular situation. Decide if you will complete them, and if so, when. Or if you will simply let them know that you’re no longer taking responsibility for a particular item, note it when you communicate your exit. For instance, I had committed to mentor a new member of the group but hadn’t gotten far in that process. I let them know where we were in the mentoring process and that they should look for a new mentor for him.
Once I had clearly communicated that I was letting go of this commitment, I felt free to delete all the excess things cluttering my calendar, to-do list, and inbox. I deleted the recurring meeting on my Google Calendar, I deleted all reminders about things to do for the group, and I got rid of any materials that were no longer needed. This purge freed me from that little pang of guilt every time I saw a reminder of this group where I had left — and kept their action items out of my mind. Ask yourself: What can I delete or get rid of so that I don’t have excess digital or physical clutter?
You can also free yourself from any reminders. That could look like unsubscribing from email lists, unsubscribing from text reminders, leaving Facebook message groups, or other ways in which you were getting reminders about meetings and communication.
Taking the “easy” way out by ignoring or avoiding a commitment is the harder way in the end. When you directly tell yourself and others that you are leaving, you are truly free. I can speak from my own experience that the relief is palpable. And I’ve found people are appreciative of the closure, even if it takes months for you to finally communicate it. They no longer need to follow up with you about why you didn’t attend certain events, ask you to volunteer for commitments they’re unsure if you’ll show up for, or get frustrated with your lack of response.
Now it’s your turn: What commitments are no longer aligned with your values and priorities? When will you communicate that so you have clear closure and can ditch the weight of avoidance? You don’t have to keep yourself or others in limbo. Directly communicate when you’re not going to continue with activities so that you’re mentally and emotionally free to move forward.
This article was originally written by Elizabeth Grace Saunders. Elizabeth is a time management coach and the founder of Real Life E Time Coaching & Speaking. She is the author of How to Invest Your Time Like Money and Divine Time Management. Full credit goes to HBR, who published this article earlier this year. This article has been reprinted for the purpose of education.