When Quitting Isn’t Quitting

Stone, by Jean-Pierre DalbéraThis post commemorates my four years to the day anniversary of blogging. February 8 was the date of my very first blog post (on a blog called Everyday Intensity) in 2010—I didn’t realize it until this morning as I was getting ready to publish this piece, which marks the beginning of another set of milestones. Gotta love those moments of universal convergence!

If I’ve learned nothing else from blogging, it’s that forcing myself to put into words the questions and ideas and thoughts rattling around in my head helps me to understand them better. Sometimes the insights arrive during the process of writing itself and other times through readers’ comments or when I re-visit the post weeks or months or years later. My blogging journey has taken many twists and turns (a topic for a later post), but I am glad that I never quit.

Quitting is the topic du jour. Some big changes are coming my way—changes that, in some ways, are a long time in the making. After over a decade of leading what I’ve thought of as a crazy quilt life and career, I’m creating a more focused, unified design: a full-time freelance quilt.

I am what author Barbara Sher calls a “scanner,” and I am still a big fan of her advice to refuse to choose:

Sher says that scanners “have to do everything.” Certainly, for many years I have felt this way, and I have been able to juggle several roles and interests with varying degrees of success. However, in this year of 2014 when I turn 50, I also know that I don’t want to do everything any more. Or, more to the point, I want to do some things more than others. By continuing down the path(s) I am now on, I am limiting rather than increasing my options.

What do I want? I am Midwest girl raised not to say or even think too much about what I want, but here goes: I want to have more time and mental energy for my writing. I want to stop feeling pulled in multiple career directions. More to the point, I want a career (just thinking those words makes me feel guilty, as though I should feel lucky to have what I have—yet another topic for another post). Being part-time this and part-time doesn’t feel much like a career most of the time. I want to work from home, and I’m old enough to know that not only can I do that, but I am temperamentally well suited to doing so. I want more time to make our house feel like a home. I want to add more slowness to my life: slow cooking, slow reading, slow writing, slow time with my family. I want to start living the life I have always known I wanted but was too afraid to make it a reality. Or, maybe, I just wasn’t ready.

The title of this post comes from the importance of how we talk to ourselves about—how we frame—these kinds of choices and changes. A few well-meaning friends have referred in passing to my decision to focus more intently on another aspect of my career as quitting my teaching job. Of course, in some ways they are right, but the word “quitting” has a negative connotation that doesn’t apply here. I am not leaving in the middle of anything. This is in no way a “take this job and shove it” situation. I feel good about the effort and energy and, yes, love that I have given in the classroom, the connections I have made with young people and all that they have taught me. I will miss the students probably more than I can now imagine and am grateful for my years of classroom experience. But it is time to move on, to hem and block that crazy quilt, and to begin something new. Also, both indexing and writing offer a wide ranges of options in terms of what I can think about, read, write, and learn: I am still, in a very important way, refusing to choose.

That’s not to say there haven’t been times in my past when quitting was quitting. As a college freshman, I quit a job at Woolworth’s after three weeks for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was the challenge of getting used to life in a big city after having grown up in a county where the population density was only six people per square mile. I wasn’t moving on to anything; I just quit. I have quit other things, too, of course, including projects and ideas long before I should have, mostly due to lack of confidence and stick-to-itiveness.

And then there have been times when I’ve quit something only to reap amazing, unforeseen rewards, such as making the decision not to send our son to third grade so that we could “try homeschooling for a year” while we considered our educational options. He ended up homeschooling for ten years, all the way through high school, and it remains the best decision our family ever made. Quitting brick and mortar school paved the way for an education richer than our wildest dreams.

Steve Jobs’ 2005 Stanford commencement address is an important reminder that regardless of whether we think of quitting as quitting or as something else, we don’t always know the full impact of our decisions on our lives until much, much later. I only know that, for now, the dots are connecting, so I am following my heart.

“[Y]ou can’t connect the dots looking forward. You can only connect them looking backwards, so you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something–your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever–because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart, even when it leads you off the well-worn path, and that will make all the difference.” ~ Steve Jobs (read the full transcript)

Photo by Jean-Pierre Dalbéra via (CC BY 2.0)

This post has been revised slightly since its first publication.

2 thoughts on “When Quitting Isn’t Quitting

  1. When my older daughter was in first grade, my teaching schedule changed to include a night class that conflicted with the rehearsal and recital scheduled as the finale to a baton class she had taken all year through the local recreation department. That class was strictly an extra, a fun activity with a friend after school once a week. Now that the conflict had arisen, it no longer made sense for us. My daughter was completely fine with quitting.

    But when I told the friend’s mom that my daughter would be quitting baton, her reaction shocked me: I was teaching my daughter it was okay to “quit.” When her son had wanted to quit an activity, she’d forced him to complete the year he’d signed up for. Her children wouldn’t grow up to be quitters.

    I was so dumbfounded by her superior tone, all I could do was laugh. Clearly people have vastly different outlooks on life. Yes, of course there are things one shouldn’t quit. You don’t quit your marriage and you don’t quit your kids. But life is too short to stick with a nonessential like a rec department baton class when it isn’t working.

    You are such a talented teacher, but you are also such a talented writer. It’s hard to choose one path over another, but making a life is impossible without making choices. Best of luck as you embark on your new adventure! We’ll just have to make sure coffee at Cranky Al’s fits into both our futures 🙂

    • What a supportive reply! Thanks very much, Katie. It will be much easier now to schedule our regular Cranky Al meetings again, yet another sign that I’ve made the right decision.

      Other parents say judgmental things for so many reasons, most of which have to do with their own anxieties and fears, it seems. I wonder if she has noticed that your daughters have definitely grown up (more than) just fine. 🙂

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