this is a love song, not an apology: in praise of quitting

Instasize_0821183603.jpg

This is a proclamation of praise to quitting,
And to the quitters everywhere,
Which is also me.


And this is a love song and not an apology.
Because I am so tired of the pathologizing and condescension quitting garners.
The way we speak of it (and it’s familiars of leaving, ending, concluding, saying no, walking away) is as if it is an unsightly and significant in stature character flaw.

 

I mean, after all, (warning: inspirational sentiments ahead):

A Quitter Never Wins and a Winner Never Quits.
Or, Pain is Temporary. Quitting lasts Forever.
Or, When you Feel Like Quitting, Think About Why You Started.
Or, Quitting is the Easiest Thing to Do
Or, If You’re Still Trying, You Haven’t Failed.

 

Fine print:
Winning is not always what we imagine it to be and not inherently the most valuable experience.
Some pain lasts for as long as we are alive, and quitting can open us up to what we always wanted anyways.
Why you started may no longer be relevant as we are prone to change.
Quitting is the easiest thing to do is not a true statement.
Failing is part of life and not the worst thing possible. Not by a long shot.


 

There is the high value we culturally place on longevity rather than the life experienced or life given within the relationship or work or encounter or endeavor.

For example, when you are at a wedding and they are doing the dance where everyone who is married/partnered gets up to dance, and then the DJ calls out, "if you’ve been married more than a day, keep dancing," and the newly married couple smiles and takes their seat, and then the DJ says "more than a year keep on dancing," "more than five years," and on and on it goes until the couple who has been together the longest is still on the dance floor while everyone else has taken their seat. . . no one ever asks if staying married the longest means anything other than years. I’ve never heard or seen another version of this where the DJ calls out, “if you are fulfilled and strengthened in your relationship keep dancing.” It’s not the game. The game is how long you can last, a marriage of many years spoken of as a success and thing of immense value, more than the experience of the relationship itself or how it felt or what was learned. Which is not to say that a thing or relationship of decades cannot be the most extraordinary life affirming experience of being human; only that longevity alone does not carry or create these qualities.

This applies to other things worth giving one’s life to as well: work, writing, creation, children, inventions, discoveries. There are to be sure, things we can only know and learn through being with a thing or person through time, in the showing up over time. Still, this does not make those things known and learned somehow more important or significant, though our culture and the language we use says otherwise.  We love the one who did not quit, even using this terminology for those with cancer and illness, implying that if they don’t quit/refuse to stop fighting they will “beat” the disease, never questioning how dehumanizing such an orientation toward life might be. And then wonder why we also seem so confused as to how deeply hurting and lonely we feel and how we inherit a complete unwillingness to acknowledge death and to grieve. Because in case you forgot, we don’t ever quit.

I do.
I love it actually.

Longevity is not a sin or a failing or a success or a win. It is, rather, something that lasted a long time. Commitment and devotion are beautiful things. So is having a "no" and knowing when to leave.

So I do.
I love it actually.

Maybe because survivalism taught me how to cut my losses in order to make it through, and the legacy of that is knowing that quitting is sometimes that which gives life.
Maybe because I also have worked for some time now with the dying, after losing those I did not and still do not know how to be here without, and this has a way of informing every experience of the living. I do not assume there will be more time. I do not believe I will get to finish everything and end my life with only rest or sense of mastery or quiet completion. I do not believe there are gold stars handed out at the end for how much I was willing to sacrifice or how well I martyred myself and did without in the name of either virtue or success. I do not believe in promises of permanence. And so, I come to fall in love with quitting, because in the presence of the leaver in me there is also the lover in me, the one who knows life is so very short and I will waste none of it on optional suffering or soldiering through that which offered an open door out.


Everything ends.
Everything changes.
This is one of the few givens and guarantees in life.
To quit something is to acknowledge this and dwell within it with agency, and courage, and creativity, and honesty.


So I do.

I quit jobs when it is time to leave, and say good-bye when it is time to leave.
I quit homes and I quit names and I quit reading books I don’t like and no longer feel the need to finish till the end just because.
I walk out of movies and I don’t finish meals that aren’t delicious and don’t wear clothes that feel uncomfortable for who I am or have become.
I quit obligatory conversations and assumptions and degree programs and lovers.
It hurts. It heals. It undoes me. It gives me life.

There are a great many things to love in this life.
And there is no time to waste.

 

Quitting, as I am learning lately, is also a way of letting yourself love reality. To love yourself and your life for its own sake, without a wrapped up waiting for outcome or waiting for rescue or waiting for what is not real.

In addition to quitting some work and ways of being and leaving a place I’ve loved for a long time because it just wasn’t working anymore and it’s so exhausting to try to force something that isn’t happening or that is only ever effort, and quitting programs and degrees and even some loves, I also discovered that I was quitting holding out for the escape plan and quitting waiting for chronic pain and illness to leave and quitting living as if there was something up ahead that was going to be my own version of the land of milk and honey. To just stop. To set it down. To quit. Because in all the working that is really a form of waiting, I will miss my whole life. My real and human and broken and crashingly beautiful life.

It was the most tender and sublime and relieving kind of rest, just this being fully in reality rather than my brain scanning and searching for the way out. It was, it is, full bodied relief. Quitting is like that, this wide open space where we can see and feel and hear and breathe and be again. It is both disentangling and the deepest immersion possible. It is a form of stillness that is also something like ecstasy.

In the spaciousness that comes from quitting. In the loosening that comes in leaving. In the freedom and thrill that comes from walking away from that which does not serve and strangles life. In the waves of relief and grief that come in letting this be your real life without holding out for the promised land (of finally finding the one, or getting the promotion or your marriage suddenly meeting your needs after years of starvation, or losing the weight you’ve been told your whole life is the answer, or getting the degree, or escaping to a place where no one can ever find you). In the presence of your own power in knowing and naming your own endings and your own unresolvables and your own finite and temporal and terribly rare and stunning life.

In this, there is desire that gets to wander its way toward the unknowns.

I am intimate with that which I want and that for which I will give my life, and that for which I am hungry, that which feeds and sustains. I quit everything else. And I don’t need to go chasing or beating down doors for the rest to arrive. Because I also quit asking myself to live for anything but reality. But this I do know. There is space here. Space to want and to know that when and wherever we can, our yes comes clear. May we follow where it leads, with pleasure and clearness and the solid ground of a reality, from which life comes and returns, again and again and again.


P.s.
If you need a permission slip, here is one for you:

You don’t have to stay.
You don’t have to keep fighting to make it work.
You don’t have to force and pound your way into the next iteration or the next thing.
You don’t have to convince others or yourself.
You don’t have to explain, justify or defend.
You don’t have to keep showing up for something that has already left.
You don’t have to believe the narrative given long ago that said what lasts longest is most valuable.
You can. You are allowed to. To stay as long as you want and fight as hard as you want and to show up with everything you have and love it with all of you.
And, you are not required.
You are allowed to quit.
Quitting is not for losers.
It is for lovers, of this one and wild life.