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The Zen of Quitting

Last Updated on September 30, 2018 by wendigratz

Quitter.

Ooooh… it’s such an ugly word, isn’t it? Who likes to be called a quitter? It makes you feel unworthy… like you’re just not good enough, right?

How often has the fear of being called a ‘quitter’ gotten you stuck in a rut? Is it the reason you won’t frog that knitting project that you know just isn’t going to work?

I’ve got some good news: sometimes, it’s okay to quit. I’ll tell you why…

Let me tell you a story…

I took ice-skating lessons from from 4 years old until 13 years old. Money was tight, and by the time I was 13, I was using both birthday and Christmas presents (from multiple family members) to pay for my lessons.

I was good, but I was also a realist. At the age when professional skaters begin national competition (with the assistance of private coaches), I was still learning to spin at the public rink. I didn’t have the resources to become a professional, and I was as good of a skater as I would ever need to be.

So, I stopped taking lessons.

My mom called me “a quitter”.

Ouch.

What society tells us about quitting

My mom wasn’t (at least I’d like to think) being mean. She was parroting the message that seems pervasive in our society. You’ve heard it all before:

  • “Quitters never win and winners never quit.” – Vince Lombardi
  • “Pain is temporary. Quitting lasts forever.” – Lance Armstrong
  • “Americans never quit.” – Douglas MacArthur

These are actually good quotes. When you’re an athlete in a competition (or a soldier in war), you have a mission, and sometimes you need a pep-talk. Keep at it! Don’t quit! Not a bad message, really.

What people forget is that these quotes were never intended as lessons about how to live life!

The zen of quitting

Now that I’m an adult, I know that my mom was wrong. I wasn’t a quitter.

There, I said it. If you make a move that improves your life… no one has the right to call you a ‘quitter’!

Should you persist in rescuing cat toys from your burning house? No way! Should you spend 100 more hours knitting a shawl that’s driving you batty… and you know you’re not even going to like when it’s done? HECK NO!

Why are we talking about quitting?

Uhhh… it’s because I quit working on something this week. At first, I felt bad about it. But now, I don’t! You see, I spent a fair amount of time and energy on it, and it wasn’t working. So I stopped.

You know that today is Craft School Saturday, right? The day of the week where I share about my latest crafting adventure?

So, I had it all lined up… I was going to cut glass:

I found this fabulous tutorial on cutting glass using only basic household supplies: nail polish remover, ice water and a match. I was excited.

I gathered my supplies, and I tried for a really long time…

I tried over two separate days, and even tweeted the blog author (Jaderbomb, who’s actually a real sweetie and replied with lots of helpful comments) for assistance. I just couldn’t get it to work!

I was fretting. I didn’t have a back-up craft planned… and I kept thinking, “What are my readers going to think if I fail?”

And then it hit me. It’s okay to fail. It’s okay to quit something that isn’t working.

How do you know when it’s okay to quit?

On the topic of quitting, this is the trickiest question. Sometimes, you need to pull on your big-girl pants and persist even if you’re not happy (think: cleaning up a big mess from your dog or helping your child through their homework). Other times, persisting just means you’re wasting your time.

When you’re thinking of quitting, ask yourself these questions:

  • Will the result (if I persist) be valuable and worthwhile?
  • Will working on this process teach me valuable skills?
  • Can I find a part of this process that makes me happy?

If the answer is ‘yes’, these are signs it might be worth continuing.

What if you answer no? Here’s a few more questions:

  • When this is done, will I be reminded of the painful process?
  • Are there other things, equally worthwhile, that I could be doing instead?
  • Will I be much happier if I quit?

Answering ‘yes’ to these last three questions is a signal that you should give yourself permission to quit. Life’s too short, right?

As for my ice-skating, I liked doing it, but there weren’t many benefits from continuing my lessons. I could still visit the rink, but by quitting, I saved money and had time to work on different skills (like crocheting!).

And my glass cutting… it sounded really fun! But after a significant amount of time, I wasn’t getting anywhere. Was I really going to use these cut glasses? No. I was just doing it for fun. So, I decided to stop before I got frustrated.

Quitting isn’t bad… it can be healthy.

Is there anything you should quit?

Tell me… can you make your life better by quitting something that’s making you unhappy?

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22 COMMENTS

  1. Well, you got me intrigued about the glass cutting. I used to take ballet lessons when I was little. I never wanted to “quit” but I didn’t really enjoy them. When we moved, I never took them up again. Looking back I realized I did it because every girl I knew did dance, not because it was what I wanted to do.

    Many years later I took up ballroom dancing, but I never could get in to ballet.

  2. Julie SAYS...

    Thanks for this Stacey. I needed this message so badly right now. I have been struggling the decision to quit a good paying job for a job that pays half the salary. The good paying job is causing me a lot of physical pain and stress that is becoming unbearable. I think about how hard I worked on getting my degree for this job and then I think about what society says about quitting as you talked about. I appreciate your message very much and it has really helped me settle some struggling questions I had within myself lately.

    • Thank you so much for your comment, Julie!
      I have another story. I got my Ph.D. in linguistics (researching Child Language Acquisition), and I was a good student and had a fairly descent dissertation. However, I was getting daily headaches and just **knew** I couldn’t continue onto becoming a professor (which, is the only job on the career path of an academic track like the one I was on).
      So, I quit and started designing crochet patterns. People (especially my advisors) were hurt, angry and said I was being stupid. But, to be honest: were they going to live my life? Do all of the things I didn’t like about the job? No.
      And, the ‘extra money’ (this is my opinion) doesn’t end up being so ‘extra’. Do you take yourself out to dinner because you’re too stressed to cook? I sure did! Go away on a trip to unwind?
      If you had a job that was less stressful, you may find yourself saving money… money that might make up for the loss in salary. And you’d be happier, too!
      Big hugs on your decision-making process… I know it’s tough!
      And, I’m not pushing you either way, but I think that you shouldn’t take into consideration what others think about your decision. You’re the only one who can live your life!

  3. Excellent post Stacey.

    Being hard on oneself is the worst way to spend our life. It’s sad how we can stress ourselves out by being scared to “quit”. I’ve become very good at quitting over the years, though I tend to label it “Changing plans.”

  4. Sarah SAYS...

    Iack in high school I was taking Tae Kwon Do. I was good at it was easy to learn. My parents had already paid for all of the courses in advance until black belt. As motivation, the belt hung on the wall at the place just out of my reach. I was never made fun of but people would mention how they were envious that I was doing this. One problem, I loathed going. The masters were overly religious and it was mixed into the teachings. My parents, also religious, didn’t see this as a problem. The more I went the more unhappy. I tried to force myself to push through, it’s already paid for… But one day I finally said No, I don’t want to go. Then I kept doing it. My step mom had her kids enrolled and the family made a point to show me their success in pursuit of black belt. Most of them made it. They always pointed out my belt was still on the wall waiting for me.

  5. Dave Bennett SAYS...

    Last year, I looked through all my UFOs, then took a deep breath and frogged them or tossed them into my “Uh Oh!” bag. The sense of relief I felt was worth the “quitting”. ☺

  6. Patty B SAYS...

    I love your quote, “It’s not called quitting when you are improving your life”. You may not have given us a ‘craft lesson’ this week, but you did give us a ‘life lesson’ and that is very important! Sometime we just need permission to stop doing something that is just not working on many levels.
    Thank you.

  7. I love this post!!! I often share in class that if the only thing you learned is you don’t ever want to do this again that is money well spent! Not everything is for everybody. And just because you stop now, doesn’t mean you didn’t gain some valuable insights or long term skills. And nothing says you can’t come back and give it a go later!!!

    • @Gwen- You are so right. I took a metalworking class last year. It was okay… and I made a pendant that (I think) is around here somewhere…
      But the most valuable thing I learned is that metalworking isn’t for me! Phew! One craft crossed off of my list! 🙂

  8. Amy SAYS...

    You are absolutely spot on. I persisted in an occupation that was literally making me sick for longer than I should have. In fact, I should have quit after the first semester of school preparing me for that occupation. I hated it. I persisted despite my gut telling me it was wrong for me because I didn’t want to be a quitter. I finally listened to my gut, but only after I’d given it a good case of chronic gastritis. Quitting is not always a bad thing.

  9. MsKat SAYS...

    Stacey-love your quote! It’s a keeper! I can think of one thing to quit for the better…my job! But that’s going to take some time…

  10. Great post! I don’t think there is anything for me to quit right now, but I don’t have any qualms in doing it when required!

  11. Christine SAYS...

    I Love your quote!! It is definitely “spot on”

  12. Su SAYS...

    If I hit myself in the head with a hammer and it hurts, gives me a lump & a headache.

    I can either try a different spot …..a different hand . . . . or a different hammer OR

    I can QUIT!

    Someone once told me the true definition of insanity –
    is doing something that does not work over &over & over again.

  13. Elisabeth SAYS...

    Stacey, great post and one I completely relate to regarding life.

    As for the quote, it doesn’t get much better than that. It applies to more than just crafting or hobbies or careers. It applies to harmful addictions as well. I have several friends who are or were addicted to very harmful substances and quitting is a struggle, not just for them, but for their friends who want them to improve their lives by making the wise decision to quit.

    I want you to put your quote on a T-shirt and sell it on your site and I want to buy it from you as gifts for a number of people I know.

    Thank you for your splendid post!

    • @Elisabeth- So true… the same applies to quitting bad habits, unhealthy relationships… not just crafts!
      The t-shirt plans might have to wait a little 🙂

  14. What an awesome article! Someone asked me recently why I don’t spin or dye or many other cool things that are the latest frates thing. First of all we live in a small house, no room for the dying. We also have 4 distint winters, wouldn’t be worth it. As for the spinning, with bad wrist etc, I just don’t think it is worth the money to do it. So I continue my knitting and crochet and purchase hand dyed or painted yarns. Just so much easier on me 🙂

    • For sure, Cora! You should only do what you think is fun/worth it! Good for you for knowing your limits!

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