Monday, January 3, 2011

It's OK to Quit

Or ... go ahead, do it!
We've all been raised to believe that winners never quit, and quitters never win.  On the surface, that sounds nice and positive: it encourages us not to give up on our dreams, not to give in just because things may be difficult.  In many cases, that is the spirit in which it's meant, and it can encourage someone to rise to the challenge.  In a different context, though, it can be just that advice - that fear of being a quitter - that can actually keep us moving along a path that is not right for us, and prevent us from living up to our true potential, and realizing our deepest dreams.

Now this can come into play in a lot of different ways.  As a little wise guy (girl) years ago, I used to use that line when people told me I should quit smoking.  "Well, I would quit," I would tell them, with a smirk on my face, "but winners never do!"  When I caved to the pressure and listened to other people, I tried to quit (I knew I should), but I just couldn't do it.  The reality was I just wasn't ready.  I wasn't doing it for the right reasons; I wasn't even doing it for myself, really, so of course it wouldn't work.  When I was ready and the time was right, I did quit.  And that was a very good move.

Quite often, this idea of not quitting starts out with children.  They sign up for extra-curricular activities based upon their interests (or quite often, based upon their parents' interests).  Piano lessons, team sports, academic clubs ... all great opportunities to meet new people, develop new skills, acquire discipline, and maybe even begin to train for a professional career.  At some point, the child tells his mother that he isn't having any fun, and that he wants to quit the team/club/activity.  And this is where the lectures begin.  Winners never quit, and quitters never win.  Life isn't just about fun and games; there is responsibility and commitment, too.  When the going gets tough, the tough get going (wait a minute - couldn't that one be suggestive of quitting?).  But with all the lectures, are we really listening to the child?  Is there something deeper going on?  Is there something else he really wants to do, that we are now keeping him from doing?  Are we pushing him to pursue his dream or ours?

We expect children to have a path, to know that path, and to follow it without question or deviation all their lives.  While still teenagers (or younger), they are forced to make decisions that will impact the rest of their lives - extra-curriculars as noted above, which college to attend, what major to study, even which people to befriend or betroth.  But sometimes it's not until we've had varied experiences that we can really know what is right for us.  We have to take the core classes in all subjects to see what peaks our interest.  We have to encounter different types of people in order to see who inspires us.  Still, those interests and inspirations may change as the years go by.  But if we are not allowed to quit the original path, we may be missing out on the best that life has to offer us ... and perhaps the best that we can offer the world.

Quite often, we hold on to this idea through adulthood.  We continue to do whatever it is that we do because it's what we've always done.  We can't do things differently for two reasons: (1) we don't want all the looks, the comments, the questions, or the criticisms that we fear others will give us for quitting, and (2) we honestly don't know what else to do.  So we stay ... in a job we no longer enjoy, a relationship that no longer works, a house that no longer feels like home, a life that no longer feels like ours.  We feel drained, lost, helpless ... but at least no one can call us quitters.
Then again, some people get their 15 minutes of fame just from quitting!
Now I'm not suggesting that we should jump to switch jobs, friends, or even hobbies every time the wind changes and things get a little hard.  In fact, some of the most satisfying and meaningful moments in life are the ones that come from rising to a challenge and achieving something we didn't think we could do.  But there's a difference between a job that requires a little extra work and one that we longer believe in.  Sometimes the changes are external, and they just don't fit who we are anymore.  Sometimes the change is within us: for whatever reason, we no longer fit in the life that we've cut out for ourselves.  Either way, if we are not doing something that is meaningful to us, we won't be as passionate or as productive as we could be (and perhaps once were).

I believe that when faced with a situation that is no longer working, we have three options:
  1. Do nothing (and remain miserable).
  2. Make a genuine attempt to do whatever is in our power to make things better.
  3. Leave the situation.  
Now if you've read any of my posts before this one, you know that for me, #1 is really not an option.  Most times, I spend a great amount of time (perhaps too much) working on #2.  I am idealistic (some would say naive) enough to believe that we do have that power, that the "little people" can give their voices, their hearts, and their minds to a greater good.  I believe that we can make people hear us, and that if good people are listening, we can effect change.  I'm also realistic enough to know that that doesn't happen anywhere near as often as it should.  That's when we need to move on to #3.  This is not quitting in any negative sense of the word.  It is moving forward, making positive changes in our own lives.  It is giving ourselves a chance at true happiness.  We all deserve that.

What that also means is that we've got to change the way we look at our past: the decisions we've made, the paths we've chosen, and diversions we've taken.  Most of us have a long list of things we never finished in our lives.  Some of these things have haunted us for years (or even decades), making us feel incompetent and insecure.  We see ourselves as quitters ... as failures.  We see no point in going for what we really want anymore, because we don't believe enough in our ability to follow through.  We don't believe that we deserve a fresh start, a new opportunity.  We don't believe that we can make it work, since we didn't make something else work in the past.

What we've got to remind ourselves, though, is that there was a reason we didn't finish whatever it was that we started back then.  Maybe it was a career path, a relationship, a diet or exercise program that no longer gave us what we needed from it.  We didn't just quit; we moved on to something else that we were meant to do at the time.  Or perhaps we just paused: we stepped away from the idea temporarily, so we could get back to it when (if) we were really ready for it.

Renewing our vows in Hawaii on our 10th anniversary
That's the way it was with my husband and me.  We've known each other our whole lives, and dated on and off (more off than on) for years before we actually got together for good.  We never stopped caring for each other, but there were obstacles.  Each of the (four) times we split up, we always said that if we were really meant to be, we'd get back together when the time was right.  We moved on ... to other relationships, other life experiences.  Though there was pain and loneliness at times, we both learned a lot during our time(s) apart.  And when the time was right, we did find each other again.  The fifth time was a charm for us.  And I can honestly say that if we didn't split up those other times, we would never be as happy as we are now.  The obstacles would have gotten the best of us.  But because we allowed our paths to change, we were able to come back to each other, and to know how lucky we are to have each other now.

Sometimes, the best things in life are only possible when we tell ourselves that it's OK to quit.

** If you like what you read, tell a friend!  Actually, tell me too - post a comment below!!  If you don't ... well ... I'm all for honesty, but please be gentle!