Creative Quitting: The Art of Letting Go

PrintStick-to-itiveness. I was raised on it. Commitment…always a good thing, right? Toughing it out has been a cornerstone of my existence, imprinted by a can-do dad and a cheerleader mom, both products of the “Greatest Generation.” So obviously, not quitting is right smack in the middle of my “comfort zone.” That should be a warning in itself. “Fish or cut bait,” the old saying goes. Well, I’m here to vote in favor of “cutting bait.” I’ve termed it “creative quitting.”

What keeps us involved in:

  • Jobs
  • Hobbies
  • Relationships
  • Projects
  • Beliefs
  • Abodes
  • Towns
  • Clubs
  • Sports

For me, it has been the “rules” I grew up with. It is/was expressly expected of me to stick it out…no matter what it was.

But who is doing the expecting? My dad? He’s been gone for almost 12 years…but I guess he still rattles around in my psyche. My teachers? I guess they were responsible for making me finish assignments. In the educational environment, not staying on task was only rewarded by falling behind.

Even today, I have no problem with completing an assignment. I do it because:

  • It usually serves me well (most tasks I undertake either serve me, my clients, or an organization or society I’m involved with).
  • It feels good (because it’s in my comfort zone).

Relationship responsibilities are another story. There’s more room for interpretation. I lump together relationships with the jobs we do, social relationships, romantic relationships, the philosophies we hold, and spiritual practices. These don’t have any particular completion specification…no goal…no wrap-up. We just stay in them.

Staying in this job or association or that relationship all my life has felt good. (Remember the warning?) The part I’ve missed, over and over again, is that goal-oriented question about whether or not this situation serves me well. I’ve tended to relegate that to the deeper recesses of my psyche to preserve the idea that “this is what I should be doing.”

It’s hard to quit

It takes courage to move on. It probably violates some rule (or a whole set of rules) you grew up with. Having worked with hundreds of individuals over the past 18 years, it’s been my experience that most of us have difficulty knowing—really knowing—what we want. That said, it’s damned difficult to know whether we’re actually moving toward or away from what we may or may not want. We don’t connect well with that part of us that is freely allowed to want something.

Many individuals I’ve met over the years who have difficulty telling me what they want can, on the other hand, detail how miserable they are in their current job, work situation, or relationship. I’ve been there. Exchange clocking in and clocking out for a paycheck. Exchange loyalty for a stable home life. The used car I know is safer than the used car you want to sell me. The goal here is safety. Cash flow. Stability. And it doesn’t hurt that sticking it out fits right in my comfort zone and makes me feel good.

But what happens when that work environment or relationship becomes toxic, like with a tyrant supervisor or a bullying significant other?

Now we have to weigh our desire to stay in our comfort zone (stick it out; it will be OK) with what we want. And if we’re not clear about what we want…well, then…see the problem? If, in fact we do know what we want and continuing this relationship takes us in that direction, then we can decide to hang in there.

But without a clear picture of what is desired, there isn’t really a decision. It’s a habit…a same old, same old…or possibly even an addiction. And, of course, if we do know what we want, and this relationship is not supporting it or is possibly even impeding it…it’s time to let go.

The two keys are:

  • A clear understanding of what is wanted
  • An ability to see whether this project/relationship/job/whatever is or is not taking me in the right direction

What do you want in 2017? What are you involved in that competes with that desire? Let go.

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