Last week I quit something. Something kinda big. A work project. Because it wasn’t good for me.
Historically, I haven’t always been very good at quitting things. I grew up with a belief that you see things through ‘til the end of time. Some might call that loyal and noble. Others might call it stupid. I’d say it’s a bit of both depending on the situation. But that’s all judgment anyway and we’re trying not to do that here.
Sticking it out has carried me through some uber tough challenges and I came out on top in the end. But there have also been times when I should have thrown in the towel long before I did.
Luckily I’ve gotten better at quitting over the years. I wouldn’t quite say I’m a master yet. Sometimes I can’t tell when something unpleasant is worth pushing through (Like running a marathon or climbing a mountain.) or it’s hazardous to my wellbeing (Working at a jail.). But I usually can recognize much earlier on when something isn’t working for me anymore or is a threat to my well being.
Quitting is tricky because in striving toward any goal there are challenges. If you quit and don’t push through the difficulty, you never get to the good stuff. The stuff that makes it all worth it. Pride, glory, a sense of accomplishment.
But there are many things in life that may never end if you don’t choose to end them. You could do something forever. But we can’t actually do anything forever. You have to know when it’s time to move on.
This could be anything. A job. Career. Hobby. Relationship. When to stop watching TV.
There’s no hard and fast way to do this. We’re all different. Every situation is different. It always depends. The only answer I have for most decision making is be mindful. I know, I know, that gives you nothing! While there are no exact rules, I can share some of the guidelines I use to mindfully quit.
Of your entire life. From the tiniest habits and activities to all the big stuff. Try to do this frequently. I take inventory to some degree daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly. It isn’t always super structured and don’t reassess the big stuff daily or weekly. Daily and weekly is for the time management and prioritization of the smaller tasks and goals that contribute to the big stuff. I will reexamine the big stuff as needed, but that’s more regularly monthly or yearly.
I even aim to take inventory moment to moment. As often as I can remember (This is mindfulness practice, after all!), I ask myself if I’m making the best use of my time and if it’s in line with my goals, values, and intentions. The momentary check-in is super brief, more of a gut check. If all feels well, keep it moving. If not, take a pause and see if something needs to change directions. As in, step away from the plate of brownies!
In my most recent quitting, because it was something that consumed a large chunk of my professional life, I had to take inventory to see if it was still in line with my goals and values. The fact that it mostly wasn’t contributed significantly to my decision to quit.
NOTICE THE FEELINGS
Those sensations in your body that give you just as much info as all the facts and figures. If something feels icky every time you go to do it and you don’t feel that way often, that’s something you should pay attention to. If you feel that way often you may need a complete life overhaul, but you need to do some of that inner work too.
Or if you used to feel energized, happy, or at peace with an activity or person, but for awhile something has felt off, take a closer look. This doesn’t necessarily mean you should quit something, but looking at how you’re feeling can help inform next steps. It might mean quitting. Or it might mean changing something so you don’t have to quit.
In my most recent quitting, I first noticed something was off by how I was feeling. Whenever I worked on this project, I noticed my chest and throat felt tight, my jaw and neck tensed, and my stomach was a bit queasy. I felt anxious quite often and angry at times.
NOTICE THE THOUGHTS
Just like feelings you shouldn’t take every thought you have seriously, but you should get curious. Pay attention to where your mind goes Observe recurring or ruminating thoughts you have. Notice if they’ve changed over time. Notice any urges and thoughts you try to push away. These can give us important information too.
In my most recent quitting, I found myself frequently thinking thoughts along the lines of, “I don’t want to do this… This isn’t worth it… I don’t agree with this… This isn’t fair… I’m worth more than this.” Things I hadn’t thought in the beginning and haven’t thought about much of my work in awhile so it was unusual, both in content and frequency.
NOTICE WHAT’S GOING ON OUTSIDE
This means observe what’s going on outside of you, what’s happening in your surroundings. Try not to judge anything, whether it’s your jerk boss or stupid assignment. What is your boss actually doing that rubs you the wrong way? What does your project entail? Separating your emotions and judgements from objective observations will give you more concrete information as to what you’re dealing with.
In my most recent quitting, there were company policies and procedures that I didn’t agree with. I had the emotional reaction (Many actually.), but instead of acting immediately based on this, I was able to set aside the judgment and observe it for what it was. This lack of judgement allowed me to ask questions and have conversations that ultimately allowed me to make the decision to quit with certainty and from a healthy space.
ASK THE TOUGH QUESTIONS
Once you’ve observed what you’re experiencing both inside and out, start asking the deeper questions. Why do I get a knot in my stomach every time I have to do this task or see this person? What’s changed here? Is this in line with my goals and values? Is the outcome worth the sacrifice? What am I afraid of? Am I respecting myself? Am I being respected? There are infinite questions you can ask. Play around with them to see which get you the honest answers.
Then, wait for the answers. They don’t always come immediately. In my most recent quitting, my emotional reaction was to quit almost immediately upon realizing something wasn’t right. But in practicing mindfulness, I was able to center myself and ask the tough questions, both of myself and those I was working with. While I waited, I actually didn’t think I’d quit, but after a couple months I realized I had to. In order to be in alignment with my goals and values and respect myself, quitting was the only way to go. At this point I felt peace and confidence in my decision; a good sign of making the “right” decision.
Over the years I’ve mindfully quit jobs, relationships, places I lived, habits, hobbies. It usually isn’t easy for me. I don’t enter into most things lightly (or mindlessly) and at one point or another they all meant a great deal to me. But I have no regrets. All of the quitting has taught me so much. About grief and loss, letting go, valuing myself and others, standing up for what I believe in, and gratitude. I appreciate the good and the bad that have come with everything I’ve quit because it’s made me the human being I am and helped me to create the life I have now.