A little while ago, I wrote an article about the “Brad Hibbs principle,” which basically goes as follows: Don’t overlook or take advantage of your friends. More precisely, it’s that you should not overlook nor deny the gifts of nice people who are close to you in order to appease others who chronically complain and/or make your life miserable. This is not fair to anyone and often works against your own best interest. I learned all this from Brad, who I overlooked years ago as a coach and a friend, since he made life easier for me than some other people. Of course, I’m really sorry that I did it, and I hope to have learned my lesson, but the idea stuck with me. If you’re ever in a position to help out a civil engineer in North Carolina, please consider Brad. It would make me feel better.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the other side of this issue. What do you do when you realize that the person or persons you have been helping out for some time overlook you and are otherwise unappreciative of your efforts? I’m not talking about responding to hurt feelings, so much as the realization that you’re making a lot of effort on behalf of someone else that might be better spent on yourself. A lot of this has come out in conversations I’ve been having, such as with a friend I know who has served on a church committee for a very long time. This committee has helped the church through some very hard times and continues to be an important part of the church’s life, but he’s getting a bit burnt out after serving for so long. Nice people like him do not easily quit, particularly when they are needed, so he’s struggling to cope with the guilt that comes with knowing it’s time to stop. Another person I know has been a pastor for some time, but is wrestling with the idea that their ministry has changed significantly since the current position began and is looking for a way to make it mean something again. Ministers can be very unappreciated, and that may be an essential part of what is driving this search. So here are a few things that I thought of, after talking with these folk:

First, it is important to identify what you’re feeling. Are you angry over something or are you, instead, realizing something? That’s an important distinction, since truly nice people try to let their anger go but they also tend to let others take advantage without thinking about it. When the day comes that you can’t take it any more, which of those two things is driving you?

Second, determine how much you’re willing to bleed. It’s painful to call it quits when you’ve devoted yourself to something, but it can be even more painful to throw away your time and energy for a long time and to no discernable purpose. At what point does the latter pain override the former? Only you can know that.

Third, do a “cost-benefit” analysis. What do you gain from the current situation? Does it justify what you are doing? More importantly, how does your continued dedication to something that doesn’t appear productive affect your relationships with those closest to you? Are you cheating them to help someone else? If, at some point, it becomes apparent that your time is a precious commodity that you are spending freely on the wrong people or causes, can you start spending it on the right ones?

Finally, dream another dream. All too often, we can get caught up in a task we voluntarily undertook or a job that we were hired to do when they have ceased to exist in that form years ago. It’s also easy to be so taken in by someone else’s needs or someone else’s dreams that we put way too little emphasis on our own. Maybe we all need permission to stop and say, as Glenn Phillips does in one of my favorite songs: “With the time I waste on the life I never had, I could have turned myself into a better man.” It might look easier to cling to another’s dream, rather than chase our own but, after awhile, it’s not very fulfilling.

So, those are some thoughts that all this conversation brought to mind. I’ve never found it easy to quit anything, so hearing others talk about it really got me thinking about what I might have put Brad through all those years ago, and what I may have been asking others to go though ever since. What about you? How do you know when it’s time to make a change, and how do you make it while preserving the decency and kindness that might have put you in such a position in the first place?

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