When I was quite young, I played soccer. I mean, I was really young. Probably 4 or 5 years old. At that point, there isn’t much going on as far as strategic play or even positions, really. All the kids run around and try to kick the ball as hard and as far as they can. The only kid who stays in place, in fact, is the goal keeper.
That was me. I was the goalie. But not for very long. You see, I recall having one of those coaches who everyone hears about. You know, the ones that yell and scream and think winning a peewee soccer game validates their existance. I remember being reduced to tears at a practice one time and telling my parents that I didn’t want to play any more.
This is the only time in my life where I remember my dad telling me it was okay to quit. I was never allowed to quit another thing that I had started in my entire time growing up. If I said I was going to do something, it had created an obligation for me to finish what I’d set out to do. After obligating myself to do a couple of things that turned out to be difficult, I was very wary of starting things I couldn’t finish or that I wasn’t sure I could succeed in.
How I wish I would have known that it’s okay to quit sometimes! Because of what my dad had told me throughout my growing-up years (“You cannot quit, ever”), quitting (to me) was admitting failure and breaking my word. My honor, integrity, and sense of self was wrapped up in a false understanding of what quitting really meant.
It’s not that I think my dad was wrong to enforce the “no quitting” rule; in general, I think it’s very wise. Quitting can become a habit, especially in kids. Kids usually don’t have the long-term perspective necessary to make good choices about benefits that accrue later in life for struggle you go through in the here-and-now. However, I think that I oversimplified my thoughts on quitting to the extent that I based my sense of self-esteem on doing everything right the first time. Why you quit, and how you quit, are as important as staying through a task to the end.
1. If you’ve made a commitment to someone else, you can’t quit. This is where honor and integrity come in. If you make a commitment to someone else, I believe that you have to fulfill it. Someone else is relying on you, and if you betray their trust, it becomes very hard to gain it back. That’s just how I am, and I think it’s how everyone should be.
If, however, you’ve committed only to yourself, then there is a possibility that quitting may be justified. It’s not automatic, and it should be a last resort. But, there are certain circumstances where you can quit and still hold your head up high.
2. If the only reason you’re quitting is because it’s hard, then you can’t quit. Just because something is difficult, or you’re not immediately good at it, is no reason to give it up. What if Itzhak Perlman had given up the violin when he was young because he got sick of practicing scales? What would have happened if Abraham Lincoln had given up at any time during the succession of setbacks he faced prior to winning the presidency?
This is an instance where it’s important to have a source of accountability, be it extrinsic or intrinsic. While I don’ t know this to be the case for certain, I’m going to bet that Perlman’s parents had to force him to keep playing the violin. As I mentioned, most kids aren’t going to have the long-term vision necessarily to see that the benefits that will accrue in the future will outweigh the tedium in the present (which is why I’m sure my dad was so strict about the “no quitting” thing). Lincoln, though, had to have had some serious vision to keep going. His life wasn’t a litany of failure; that list I linked to doesn’t show that anything good happened to him, but there must have been positive events scattered throughout his life. However, I think that most of us would have given up the political ambitions and just remained a lawyer at some juncture if faced with the same issues. He had a goal, however, and he knew deep down that he had the ability to achieve it. It was important enough to him to keep going through the hard times.
3. If you’ve determined that what you’re trying to accomplish is getting in the way of something more important, maybe it’s time to quit. I’ve finally come to realize that the good is sometimes the enemy of the best. If completing a task you’ve set for yourself has become a detriment to your health, your family life, or something else that you care more about, then stop. What you deem to be success (i.e. – completing the task you’ve set out for yourself) will be hollow if you lose something else that you value more.
To determine this, you need to take a good, hard look at yourself. Make sure that you’re not quitting because something is difficult. Make sure that you have demonstrable evidence that pursuit of this task is interfering with your health, home or happiness. Make sure that the pain you’re experiencing in the present isn’t outweighed by the gain you’ll have in the future. Don’t lie to yourself.
There are some instances where it’s justifiable to quit. It shouldn’t happen often, and it should never be easy, but it is okay. Don’t allow your self-esteem to be so wrapped up in finishing something that you’ve started that you allow better things to pass you by. This acknowledgement, that quitting can be justified, is rather liberating. I think it allows folks to take more risks, because you know that failure isn’t something that you can’t back away from. Do something as hard as you can for as long as you can, and if you find out it’s not bringing you the contentment and joy that you thought it would, then give yourself permission to quit and move on to better things.
What situations in your life have you stuck with too long? What about the opposite; anything you’ve quit that you wish you hadn’t? Let us know in the comments…
Photo courtesy: fedexman1