31 July

Sacrifice: Giving Up What No Longer Works

by Jon Katz

I guess it’s just part of loving people, of growing up. You have to give things up, even people.

A thoughtful doctor told me almost ten years ago that breaking down mentally was like getting cancer in one way:  treatment and recovery require a process of constant paring down until what remains is only what is essential.

My friends who have experienced cancer tell me that is true. You have to give things up.

Some events in life are transformative; they require us to decide what it is that we need, and what no longer works.

I told the doctor I hated to see my consciousness as something that has to be swept now and then, like a dusty attic or a cluttered desk. But soon, I learned this is true. I had to give up what didn’t work for me any longer, and that changed all the time.

Some things in my life were – are – no longer needed; some things are no longer real.

In the year or two, it took me to recover from my breakdown, I took up the practice of periodically assessing what things no longer worked in my life and let go of them.

Recently, I realized that I didn’t need to argue or respond to angry people who have no interest in dialogue or who are cruel or rude. Arguing didn’t work for me; it accomplished nothing and took away valuable energy.

I gave it up, or at least resolved to. I decided to do good instead.

I realized that many of my friendships didn’t work for me.  I made some of my friends nervous. Many never asked me about my life or showed interest in anyone but themselves.

Some talked and talked but never listened.

Some used me because I was someone who let themselves be used—being used no longer worked for me.

Friends who didn’t want to know me were not things I needed. You have to give something up to be healthy.

I realized many of my friends thought they could know me by reading my blog or sending me Facebook messages. They no longer worked for me.

I learned that I was buying and acquiring many things that didn’t work for me any longer. I didn’t need them; I had no space for them. That was no longer working for my planet.

This evolved into financial health and peace of mind, and a simpler, more spiritual life.

I learned that fear didn’t work for me any longer; I gave it up, just like that, and after a mere 30 years of therapy.

I realized that writing books didn’t work for me any longer. Publishing had changed, and while I love change and respect it, I had no interest in becoming the author publishers now want writers to be.

I learned that what I loved was writing, not just writing in books. I gave that up.

My blog did work for me and does. I can’t imagine letting go of it.

On my blog, I learned to tell the truth about myself and my life. I learned to never lie to myself.

I learned that hiring people to take photos of my animals and me didn’t work for me. I could learn to make them myself, and that reality changed my life and opened my eyes to the wonder of the world.

Sadly, I realized that my first marriage no longer worked for me, or for Paula, my wife at the time. It was a profound realization and a painful but necessary one. It freed both of us to live the lives we wanted, and that worked for both of us.

I realized that the valium I had been taken for 30 years to sleep no longer worked for me, and I stopped taking it, learning also that it was an addictive drug. I take no medications for anything but my heart and my diabetes.

I realized that as I evolved in life, sooner or later, I had to shed the spirits within me; it was like burning old rags and leaving them behind, like the skins of snakes.

At times, this feels like I am sacrificing parts of myself, piece by piece, and perhaps this is true. I came to like this idea of sacrificing myself; it’s the truth.

Sacrifice is a part of life; it is not something to cringe or hide from, or to regret. It’s something inspirational, spiritual,  uplifting. It clears the way for life. My breakdown taught me about sacrifice, that it can and should be done out of love and thoughtfulness, that it should be done from necessity.

Sometimes, I learned, sacrifice can be a gift to people who needed my strength because they had so little of their own. And in that way, I learned that I am strong.

I learned that removing what is no longer real or necessary is a way of staying immediate, and in the process, of growing, not rotting like some smelly old fish.

I am lighter, happier, healthier when I give up what no longer works.

I give up things with reverence and compassion, not anger or impulsiveness.

I give up what longer works to stay close to the core of me, to what is sacred.

“The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day.” –  David Foster Wallace, This Is Water.


  1. I am a two time breast cancer survivor. I said having cancer was like going through fire and having all the fluff burned off, leaving only the core. I found out that I liked what was in the core and it made me stronger. It also makes death more like a test you can study for as opposed to a pop quiz. It’s wise to continuously examine what brings joy and what sucks the life out of you. Thank you for sharing your perspective on ways that help others.

  2. Your writing (above) is pertinent and provocative as I am in a transitional time having recently retired from a corporate position.

    Stripping to one’s essence as one knows it at the time is challenging. For example … How am I going to supplement my cash reserves in case I live a long, healthy time? Especially in a time if threatening depression? Where and how will I live? Will I be a dog mom?

    I too have spent many years in therapy excavating to find out who I am. So it is hard to let go of what I have come to treasure. At the very least I need to be open to newness In this time of transition.

    The dog question is proving the most troublesome. Wanting to give and receive dog love but being unsettled and fearful. I have not yet gotten comfortable with my impaired balance (side effect of surgery 2 years ago) and am still exercising myself into fitness after back surgery. I was doing great until a foot strain sidelined my walking – a dog mom necessity – which set aside the dog again and has thrown me into disappointment profound enough to feel I will never be a viable much less a good dog mom. We won’t get into the work demons to be examined.

    I think what I took away from your piece was a sense of hope and safety. Maybe the most constrictive time was behind me – as I closed off my last job – and not ahead of me. Anyway I will keep trying to do hand to hand combat with fear. Hopefully that will help me open up to the new. Thanks for the digital inspiration.

  3. A wonderful essay that confirms many things for me. As a woman in my 60;s I grew up in some new territory for women, and the old territory for women where you weren’t supposed to have an opinion, and God forbid, you stood strong in the face of chauvinistic men. My mother was a strong woman who suffered from depression, but gave her very best to us, her children. I guess what I am getting at is the only master any of us needs to serve is our own voice. If one isn’t happy, make the tough, yet freeing, decision to make yourself happy before anyone else.

  4. Well said, Jon. Covid, with its attendant lock down and social distancing, has allowed me to pare down what wasn’t working for me. I saw that I didn’t need to be wildly busy, to work hard to prove I am still contributing even though I am retired. I found that I could rest, read, watch TV, putter in our yard, walk, ride my bike, attend a Zoom meeting or not, and still be happy and content. In fact, I think I am happier and more content now. When I interact with others, my monkey mind is much more calm and able to give them my complete attention. I am more selective with whom I spend time, be it in person or by phone. I don’t feel held hostage anymore. Dear God, this is the peace that passes all understanding. Who knew it would take a pandemic to sort that out? Giving up what doesn’t work has been a gift!

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