This happened. JellyBean (4): “Look what I found mom! Now we can be twins! But… where do I buy the thingies that go in them??” (Oh honey, I too need to find the thingies that go in them!)
“Mom, can you tell me the story again of how I was born?” Everyone has a vital need to know their creation story. (No, not your literal creation story. That would be TMI. Unless you’re one of those kids named after the place they were conceived, like my friend Sage. Don’t picture it. Sage brush is ouchy.) I don’t know why I’d never realized the importance of the story before I had kids but they ask on such a regular basis that now I know: Everyone wants to know they were wanted, were loved, were hoped for and dreamed of, before they were born. Even if they weren’t born under such happy circumstance, they still want to know about that electric moment you first locked eyes, held fingers and then how they burped up amniotic fluid all over the both of you. I may be romanticizing it a little — nothing says love like burping — but the truth is that these re-tellings are deeply meaningful to my children.
So the other night, when Son #3 brought me a scrapbook (don’t get too impressed, I just upload a billion pictures to Winkflash, autofill and print) and asked me for the millionth time to tell him about the day he was born, I smiled at him, pulled him on my lap and started from the beginning. (“We didn’t even have a name for you yet because I was 100% sure you were a girl…”) Eventually the other kids wandered in to look at pictures, reminisce (about things they can’t possibly remember, which is hilarious) and ended with me playing lullabies on the piano until they fell asleep. After which I went to bed, happy and guilt-free. It was a beautiful bubble. A Moment.
You guys gave that to me.
Ok, I gave that to me but you guys gave me permission to do it. I didn’t need permission to change one of the biggest things in my life (yes, I just declared this blog to be one of the biggest things in my life – at least it was) but I’ll admit I wanted it. I’ve always wanted other people to tell me what to do, to replace my uncertainty with their solid sureness of the right course. I’ve asked my husband, sister, friends and family members what they thought I should do so many times that I think some of them stopped taking my calls. I’m not much of a risk taker so I wanted someone to write me a permission note to quit. But eventually, last week, I sat down and realized that I didn’t have to make the decision anymore. It had made itself. I just couldn’t do it anymore. Any words but “I’m tired, I love you and I need a break.” wouldn’t come.
And you guys told me it was okay. More than okay.
I’ve spent the last week reading a few of your comments/messages at a time and they all make me cry. I haven’t responded to any of them yet because the response was, frankly, overwhelming. Beautifully overwhelming but still, a lot. But each one of you who reached out to me made me feel so grateful, blessed and happy. Happy tears.
Thank you. Thank you for your kind words. Thank you for sharing your lives with me. Thank you.
It made me want to do something for you. Perhaps this isn’t something you need but just in case you’re a little bit like me – an overthinker, an analyzer, a planner, a list maker, a ringmaster – I want to give this back to you: Permission to quit. Sometimes all you need is someone to tell you it’s okay to listen to that little voice inside. So I’m telling you that now – you can quit stuff. It doesn’t make you a bad person. In fact, it may even make you a better person.
(If you just asked, “Quit what??” then you probably can stop reading but for everyone who had something pop immediately into their head, something beloved but heavy, this is for you.)
A few weeks ago I was listening to the Freakonomics Podcast when they did a show called “The Upside of Quitting.” Steven Dubner, an economist, said, “ in our zeal to “tough things out,” to keep our nose to the grindstone, in our zeal to win, we underestimate the upside of quitting.” It immediately caught my ear.
He explained that first you have to understand two economic principles to understand quitting. One is called “sunk cost” and the other is “opportunity cost.” “Sunk cost” is about the past — it’s the time, or money, or sweat equity that you’ve put into something, which makes it hard to abandon. “Opportunity cost” is about the future. It means that for every hour or dollar you spend on one thing, you’re giving up the opportunity to spend that hour or dollar on something else — something that might make your life better. If only you weren’t so worried about the sunk cost. If only you could quit.
Me? I am the queen of sunk costs. I don’t like to quit things. I’ve always equated quitting with failure. But I began to see I was thinking about it well, in a very sunk-cost way. If you don’t quit things that aren’t working, you won’t have room in your life for the things coming that will work.
Steven Levitt, the other host and also an economist, then explained why his motto is “fail fast”:
If I were to say one of the single most important explanations for how I managed to succeed against all odds in the field of economics, it was by being a quitter. That ever since the beginning, my mantra has been “fail quickly.” If I started with a hundred ideas, I’m lucky if two or three of those ideas will ever turn into academic papers. One of my great skills as an economist has been to recognize the need to fail quickly and the willingness to jettison a project as soon as I realize it’s likely to fail.
He adds, unironically, “I’ve failed at everything I’m bad at.”
But the most powerful part of the podcast to me was when they interviewed Eric Greitens, a Navy Seal who talked about the infamous “hell week.” The ones who make it through are Seals but he says there are two types of people who quit: Those who are honest about it and those who make excuses. (I loooove excuses! I have so many!)
“I don’t think many people want to say to themselves that they’ve quit. At the same time, we’ve all failed in our lives, we’ve all failed at different things in different ways and I think there’s a lot to be said about facing that failure squarely. And the people who I know, who were able to admit, you know, “This isn’t the right for me at this time and I went over and I decided to quit, I decided to ring the bell,” they’re really able to move on from their experience. And I do find that there’s only shame in it if you feel shame.”
There’s no shame in quitting? Really??
That was a revelation to me.
Of course I’m not telling you (or myself) to run out and quit everything. There is definitely a time when persistence and perseverance are key. And in many cases there are lots of gradations between I QUIT and a lifetime of manic drudgery. But there are also times when it’s important to let go. What we need changes over our lives; what worked before may not always work now. And I think we know it, deep down, when the time for change comes but sometimes we really fight that voice. (At least I do.) So if you’re on the edge about something and it’s weighing your heart down – you have my permission to quit! (Or at least take a step back to regroup, rethink.) You don’t need my permission – you don’t need me or anyone else making the choice for you — but sometimes it is nice to have someone tell you it’s okay.
It is okay. We all quit. You can quit.
I can tell you that I’ve felt ten pounds lighter since my declaration last week (pause for recognition of that irony), severing myself from having to post every day or stick to fitness and be the best! blogger! ever! (pause for more irony). Giving myself the freedom to just write when I want what I want (like now) has been so freeing. I sleep better. I’m happier. I’ve enjoyed the extra time with my kids SO much. I may not win any more blogging awards. I may lose readers (the cardinal sin in writing). But you know what? It was worth it. And I am so so grateful to you guys for helping me see that.
At the end of the show, one of the guests says, “We like suffering for things we love; we like it so much, that if we suffer for something, we will actually decide we must love it” — which makes it that much more important to choose wisely what you’re suffering for. Anything worth loving is worth sacrificing for but not everything you sacrifice for is worth loving.
I would love LOVE love to hear about a time when you had to quit something and how it worked out for you!