“Hi. My name is Edee, and I’m a quitter.” That’s probably how I would introduce myself if Quitters Anonymous were an actual organization and not a band. I imagine the reason I couldn’t find any information on a support group with that name is that, like an old joke says, any time a group tried to get started, everybody would just quit. All kidding aside, though, I’ve recently learned there are different kinds of “quitting”.
First of all, there’s the whole “quit while you’re ahead” idea. I went to Las Vegas for my fortieth birthday and decided to give the gambling thing a shot. I not only suck at it, I don’t really enjoy it (insert collective <gasp> here). I played a couple of slot machines and started winning – not a lot, mind you – but I was doing pretty well. At one point I had about fifty dollars more than I had started with and figured my luck was about to run out. I decided to cash out, take my money, and run. I quit while I was ahead. That’s a good thing.
Sometimes we quit because we just don’t like what we’re doing anymore, and it doesn’t matter if we’re kids or adults. We quit piano lessons because it’s not fun and recitals are the most horrifying things on earth and please don’t ever subject me to that again thank you very much and…. oh, sorry. We quit our jobs because the boss is mean, office politics make you feel like you’re in junior high again, or you find a new job that pays better. We quit one sport because practice time conflicts with the practice time of another sport, or because our grades are slipping and we are oh-so-responsible. Maybe we quit a race because our bodies are telling us we’re too old or that we risk injury. Those are pretty smart reasons to bow out of something, too.
It’s no big secret that I have ADD. I don’t mean I have the kind we all joke around about and say “oh ha ha, I’m so ADD”. I actually have a diagnosis and a prescription and a sinking feeling that I’ll be wrestling with it and working through it for the rest of my life. ADD/ADHD is soooo much more than just distractibility and bouncing off walls. For example, did you know excessive talking is what hyperactivity looks like for a lot of us, girls especially? Raise your hand if you know me personally and are shocked to hear that. Anyone? ANYONE??? Hmmm… Why do I hear nothing but the sound of crickets chirping, eyes rolling, and belly-laughing right now? Anyway, aside from inattentiveness and hyperactivity, there are lots of symptoms to manage, including impulsivity. For the most part, being impulsive means having an idea pop into your head and acting on it pretty immediately without any thought to possible outcomes. It’s never about outcomes, only about the enjoyment of the process, and the results can sometimes be very serious and disastrous: Debt, injury, obesity, addiction, or, in extreme cases, death, to name a few.
Most often, however, the result of impulsivity can be a pile of unfinished whatever littering tables or desks or chairs. It can be clothes draped over an unused, dust-covered treadmill. Just imagine…. a thought pops into your brain, you see yourself doing whatever you decided was the greatest idea you’ve ever had,
visions delusions of grandeur fill your head with notions of fame and fortune. You gather everything you need. You organize it. You forget how you organized it. You get more stuff because you can’t figure out how you organized it and now you can’t find it. This time you leave it out so you can find everything. You get started, realize it’s harder than you ever imagined. You decide you’ll do it later. Later never comes. You’ve quit without actually quitting.
Incomplete projects are pretty classic for someone with ADD/ADHD and I’m certainly no exception. I know everybody does this now and then and it doesn’t necessarily mean ADD/ADHD is the reason behind it, but for millions of us who actually do have a diagnosis, this is another type of “quitting”. Even before my diagnosis I knew this about myself. I was always somewhat embarrassed by it, actually, and have always been determined to finish what I started. Because I know I can easily charge headlong into something, I give it way more thought than lots of other people might put into decisions. I figure if it’s something that’s really important or that I really want, I can shelve the idea for a month or so and when I come back to it (if I even remember) and am still interested, I know I need to think about all the possible outcomes. Even if I miss a possible outcome (or consequence), at least I know it was well-thought out. I did my due diligence. I’ve gotten pretty good at that over the years.
That’s what leads me to the last kind of “quitting”. At 41 years old I’m finally learning how to say “no”. I’m learning how to really take the time to determine if something is good for me to get involved in or not, if it will be a constructive use of my time, how to tell if I’ll be bored in a week, have enough time or energy, or if it will be more time-consuming than it appears on the surface. I’m learning how to say “no” in favor of things that are important to me. I’m learning to say “no” in a way that is respectful, kind, and compassionate but doesn’t make me feel guilty and doesn’t make me feel like I compromised my own needs. I can say “no” in a way that doesn’t leave a door open for me to be pushed into something I don’t want to do anyway.
I have learned, however, that there are times when saying “no” happens mid-stream, when I’ve already started something. Sometimes something seems like a really great idea, I’ve thought it through, thought about all the pros and cons, and decided to move ahead. It is only when I’m knee-deep into it that I realize that it isn’t good for me for a variety of reasons. Once in a while that’s the only way to know for sure; you have to just go ahead and give it a go anyway. Self-reflection is a very necessary part of life and sometimes you don’t know your limitations until you actually get into the thick of things. And every now and then you realize: You have to quit.
I recently quit a couple of things: One was a major life-change, the other was, well, meh. The major life-change was resigning from my school district and deciding to quit teaching. Most teachers will tell you that the rewards of that job can be small, and they can be few and far between, but they always outweigh any negatives you experience. For me, there came a point when that was no longer true. Unfortunately the rewards were no longer worth the ridiculously long unpaid hours, the personal financial expense, the sleepless nights of worrying, the abusive behavior and over-the-top expectations of parents, and the stress of never being good enough. These are a handful of the things that stole my passion and burned me out only eight years into my career. I had to leave. It was probably one of the healthiest choices I’ve ever made for myself.
I was also participating in the NaNoWriMo “Summer Camp” with some of my cousins (at least they said they would do it with me, lol). The basic idea is to write a 50,000 word novel in a month. You can only win by hitting 50,000 words. I started off all enthusiastic, but then I got about 22,000 words into it and realized I was really hating it. I was writing a fictionalized account of my time in the public school system as a professional and the more I wrote, the more I realized it was becoming a really long rant. I was just changing the names and then venting. Then I stopped writing completely about a week ago, not even a blog. I realized I was reliving some of the more painful episodes and it really wasn’t healthy for me mentally or emotionally. It also dawned on me that not having the time to actually organize what I was writing is very detrimental to me in my own writing process, and having a looming deadline was just too overwhelming. Having to force myself to get to a certain number just sucks the joy right out of it for me. So I quit.
The above are two examples of quitting in the middle of something that could be construed as recognizing the futility and giving up. They could be seen as jumping into something and then letting it fizzle out. But they’re not. The decision to stop was just as well thought out as the decision to start. It’s my way of saying “no” mid-stream. Would I prefer not to get in the middle of something before I realize I need to stop? Absolutely. But on those rare occasions that it happens, like leaving teaching and NaNoWriMo, I know I did the right thing for myself. Instead of being embarrassed that I didn’t finish what I started, I’m proud of myself for knowing my own limits and for being able to walk away at the right time, for “quitting while I’m ahead.”