The wolf you feed

The wolf you feed is the wolf that wins
— adaptation of Cherokee parable

When I first read this quote it sent shivers down my spine. It comes from a longer parable that describes two wolves, one good and the other evil. In the parable, a boy asks his grandfather which one will win. The grandfather simply states, "the one you feed".

Granted, the timing was perfect when I first read it, given my circumstances. This quote succinctly sums up the decisions I have made these last few weeks, which I feel like I should share - because maybe it will help make a difficult decision a bit easier to swallow for someone else.

The scene

If anyone followed my old blog last year, you may remember my excited announcement about going back to school. While it was definitely one of my more rash decisions, it felt right and everything fell into place for me at the time. Before I enrolled at American University last fall for a Masters in Public Administration and Policy, my husband and I had a serious talk about he boundaries we would set between school, work and our marriage. It was going to be a test of our wills, the next two years, but it would be worth it in the end.

The school work was difficult, but I had encouraging classmates and tons of support from my family. My husband and I worked out cleaning and cooking schedules, trying to figure out how everything would be taken care of when both of us were undergoing major life changes.

In December, my husband took a new job that meant less stress and more downtime, which was wonderful for him. I tend to take on other people's emotions, so his stress-free job in turn helped me feel a little more at ease. But his job began sending him on business trips several times a month, for up to a week at a time, which had us scrambling at the last minute each time trying to prepare each other for the time apart. Being alone isn't so much a problem for me as is carrying the burden of a combined life on one pair of shoulders. As a result, I started questioning why I went back to school - after all, life would be much easier to manage if I wasn't writing a grad-level paper every week. But then life really happened.

Here it comes...

My husband began experiencing strange pains and symptoms that we couldn't quite pinpoint. The travel seemed to make it worse, which in turn sent me into stress mode each time he want out of town. His eventual diagnosis led to lots of medication and a few minor procedures that will occur next month. 

Around the same time, our sweet little dog began to limp. Turns out he has the equivalent of a torn ACL and will require surgery, also next month, in order to walk on that leg properly again. (Side note, how in the world are we supposed to make a terrier stay on bed rest for 6 weeks after his surgery?! Suggestions are very much welcomed.)

And, oh yeah, my day job - as I began writing more for my day job, bigger assignments and projects came rolling in, taking up mental energy that I couldn't replenish in time for my school work deadlines. My grades began dropping, I started questioning my life choices again, and - the deciding factor in my ultimate decision - I received little to no help from my professors in attempting to regain my standing within the program.

Among all of this, the BIGGEST concern was the strength of my marriage. Before I started the program, my husband and I agreed that our marriage would come first. By the start of summer, it wasn't even on our lists anymore. What started as late nights, messy kitchens, and multiple deadlines led to fights, tears, resentment, and questions. Sure, life can get overwhelming and things happen that you can't control - health issues, for one. As much as I hate seeing Ben go through doctor visits and bottles upon bottles of pain medicine, all I can really do about it is support him, love him, care for him and care for our marriage. 

The Decision

And so, midway through my managerial budget course - the fifth of 12 in total - I decided to withdraw and take a leave of absence. Unbeknownst to my program, yet, I am almost certain my temporary leave will be extended indefinitely. 

Why? Because my marriage is more important. Our health is more important. No degree or salary in the world could ever entice me to stop making my marriage a priority. 

Maybe I'll go back to school eventually, but for now I'm making sure I feed the wolf I want to win - my marriage. 

You may be thinking, okay, no big deal, school will always be there and you can always go back. And you know what? You are so right! There is no reason I cannot put off my degree until another time. What paralyzed me is the stigma of being a grad school dropout - a failure - especially as a woman who loves school and has often thought about getting a PhD. HOWEVER, there are no hard and fast rules on when and how I get my degree. Maybe it will take me 5 years. Maybe I transfer to a different program. However it happens, it will happen in a way that honors and respects the life I want to build - and not how society thinks I should build it.


What tough decisions are you facing right now? Is there something you've said yes to that is more hurtful than helpful? Some things we can't change, but in order to make it through tough times, there are things we can say no to in order to focus our energies to the areas that need it most. This requires a bit of mindfulness in order to pinpoint what it is that you are struggling with, as well as determining what you can eliminate from your life to be happier and healthier.

As a result of my decision, I will have more time to do the things I love without fear or doubt hanging over my head. My fitness goals are revitalized, our to-do and to-see list is growing and we are free to explore our creative side (like Ben's photography!).

A more specific takeaway I want you to think about though is whether your marriage (or any relationship) is threatened by something you CAN change- because the longer you feed the anger, hurt, resentment, fear, lust, etc, the higher the chance that evil wolf will win. Choose instead to love, honor, respect, help, trust and give. That wolf is by far the worthy one to feed.