Questions To Ask Yourself When Contemplating Quitting

2010 July 30

I knew it wasn’t my scene as soon as I drew back the tent flap and saw a dozen spandex-clad people jogging through a circuit that involved turning two somersaults in the middle and then bounding to your feet to skip three turns of double-dutch.  That’s what I get for being five minutes late, I suppose. I joined the single file circuit and gamely attempted my first forward roll since second grade gym class.  Much more successful than skipping, where the rope whacked me in the head repeatedly before I managed to clear the requisite number of jumps.

Photo by OneFlameintheFire

The rest of circus camp didn’t go much more smoothly. I hit myself in the face with a juggling ball and felt my blood pressure skyrocket when I couldn’t even manage to consecutively catch two #$%^@ little bean bag things with any regularity.  And then there were the silks, which involve climbing and hanging off a giant scarf suspended from the ceiling. I made it three feet off the ground and hung there limply while the instructor quizzed me on how I manage to get my bangs so smooth and straight in this humidity (I refrained from telling her that they’re real and spectacular – no straightening iron here). All frustration and no fun. There are more palatable ways to spend those scarce summer nights (in theory only, people).

When I got home, I emailed the registrar and politely requested a refund. Yeah, I quit. Ya wanna make something of it? I said recently that most of our lives are devoted to trying to figure out how to be in the world and negotiating fine lines is a significant part of that. The line between giving it your all and rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic, between aborting an unsuccessful mission and taking your ball and going home as soon as things momentarily stop going your way, between being generous with the benefit of the doubt and being a grade A sucker. You get the drift. Figuring out when to throw in the towel on a relationship/activity/behavior/belief that fails to meet your needs falls into this category. While only you can decide this for yourself (and making that judgment call gets easier with practice), here are a few handy dandy questions that I ask myself when deciding whether to tough something out or cut my losses:

What would happen if I quit?

Widespread shunning, being pelted with tomatoes in the town square or having to relocate your primary residence to a van down by the river are unlikely prospects, but what about feeling like a failure? Having more free time? Reducing stress? Having to engage in confrontation? Be honest and exhaustive and look at both the positive and negative consequences of walking away, with an eye to evaluating just how likely they are to happen, how significant they could be and, in the case of downsides, what, if anything, you could do to mitigate their effects.

Is this activity/relationship/behavior helping me to be who I want to be or to get where I want to go?

This is the big one and it has nothing to do with building your personal brand. It’s about asking yourself what you want your life to look and feel like and evaluating whether the activities and relationships in question support these values or work against them. For example, writing/pontificating/boring the internet with my minutiae makes me feel all warm and fuzzy and important. This blog helps me to do that. Sometimes, I have nothing to say or I would rather be doing 106 other things (frolicking through the park in a frilly dress with a dachshund by my side comes to mind) than sitting in front of my laptop, but because I have a very clear understanding of where this activity fits into my life and my world domination plans, I suck it up and power through the dry spells.

It’s also important not to get caught in the trap of evaluating an activity based on whether or not you excel at it. Just because you’re good at something doesn’t mean you need to keep doing it if you loathe the prospect and just because you’re at the bottom of the class in another area, it doesn’t mean it should be scrapped if you’re having a blast. You can be an absolutely abysmal basketball player and still live for Thursday night pick-up games or you can be Midwestern Pharmaceutical Sales Rep of the Year for four years running and still dread the thought of getting up for work every morning. Take proficiency out of the equation and focus on how you feel when participating.

If you ask yourself this question and the answer is no (This friendship makes me feel like an unpaid shrink. Running is giving me shin splints and making me hate exercise and I’m more interested in capoeira anyway, etc.), letting go doesn’t make you a quitter. Nope,  it makes you savvy enough to understand that our time and energy resources are limited and should be spent on those activities and individuals that are in line with our values and make us feel good about ourselves in the long-term, with the understanding that there will always be short-term bumps in the road.

What could I be doing instead?

If you quit doing or being X, what  would you then have resources to tackle in its place? Is the potential alternative more attractive than what you’d be giving up? The alternative doesn’t even have to be bigger and better (Well, if I quit the genealogical society, I could devote my Monday nights to reading to blind orphans), it just has to be more valuable to you (see Q2). And yes, free time and unearmarked space to simply breathe and/or sit on your porch sipping sweet tea totally counts.

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