January 14, 2016

I Quit: Knowing When to Throw in the Towel

I Quit: Knowing When to Throw in the Towel - www.LysandraJames.com

 I wasn't sure exactly what I meant when I originally scheduled this topic. Past Me didn't make any notes for Future Me. (Way to go, Past Me...) I've spent this week rolling it over in my mind, trying to come up with how to present it, but nothing really came to mind.
At one point, I even considered changing the topic all together. But the topic I wanted to change it to is one I've got scheduled for April. Which would mean coming up with yet another new topic. I'm just not feeling that brilliant lately.

Despite my misgivings, that's exactly what I meant to do when I sat down at my computer this morning to write this post. Then it hit me. 

I was trying to quit.

Yes, it was a minor thing. Changing the topic of a blog post is of minuscule importance compared to quitting a job. But isn't life made of minor things?

When I was in middle school, I joined the volleyball team. I enjoyed the practices and loved playing volleyball. However, I had a problem. I had no way of getting home.

My parents kept telling me to find a ride. Easier said than done for a girl who was incredibly reserved and shy. Not only that, but I was fairly new to the school. I didn't know very many people, let alone anyone who lived close enough to me to provide said ride. So I would wait for my parents to come pick me up after they got off work. The wait was well over an hour and it was spent sitting on or near the bicycle rack in front of the school. Alone. 

Less than a week after joining the team, I wrote a letter to the coach on a paper towel. In the letter, I informed her I was not going to be on the team anymore. Then I left it on her desk.

I thought that was the end of it.

Soon afterwards, she found me and asked me about it. I was vague about my reasons. Perhaps my silence was due to embarrassment about my shortcomings. Something about pride getting in the way of telling the truth. I think, overall, it was fear of being seen as less than perfect.

She tried to convince me to return. I refused.

She then told me that if I quit the team, I would always be a quitter. Once you quit the first time, it only gets easier from there.

Even though I was squirming under the pressure, I still didn't change my mind.

The coach was right. That event did lead to more quitting. I quit after-school orchestra after just a few weeks. There was something about walking home in the snow carrying a violin case along a busy road that didn't appeal to me. I quit a school club because I felt overwhelmed by the number of people involved. I quit the Gifted and Talented Program because I didn't want to take on the extra workload. When things got to difficult to bear, it was easier to run than to face my problems head-on. 

Quitting became a viable option and one I used often. Until I joined my high school choir.

Up until then, I hadn't been involved in anything I truly loved, so it didn't matter if I remained involved or not. But choir...oh, choir...

I Quit: Knowing When to Throw in the Towel - www.LysandraJames.com

For the first time, I was involved in something amazing. Something wonderful and fulfilling and life-changing. When we sang and the pitch was just right and the harmony rang, it spoke to the deepest part of my soul. No matter how many after-school practices we had, no matter how long I had to wait for a ride, no matter the concerts and events, I made it happen. Quitting was not an option, despite how difficult it became at times to stick with it.

Thus began a pattern in my life. Those things I loved, I stuck with and threw the entirety of my energy into. The rest... Well, let's just say I'm skilled in a wide variety of minimum wage jobs.

Fast forward to the present...

After a few hard lessons and not a few dragons slain, I've found balance. I no longer quit something just because it gets hard, but because it interferes with my priorities or my ultimate goals. I'm more careful about what I commit to so I don't have to quit something later. And I follow a few basic guidelines.

1. Know your priorities.

Decide what's most important in your life and adjust your commitments to reflect those priorities. My priorities are, in order: God, my personal well-being, family, writing (and other dream chasing), and everything else. Because I've decided what needs to come first in my life, I'm able to schedule my time accordingly.

I Quit: Knowing When to Throw in the Towel - www.LysandraJames.com

My priority to God means attending church every week, actively serving in any roles my church leaders ask of me, maintaining a personal relationship to God through scripture study and prayer, and teaching my children to do the same.

Even though it feels selfish, my personal well-being takes precedence over everything except my faith. If I'm not at my best, I can't help my family or chase dreams. Not properly. This means going to Pilates twice a week to strengthen my back so I don't have "bad back days", eating healthy (most of the time), and taking "mental health breaks" away from everyone and everything to maintain my sanity.

My priority to my family means keeping them fed and clothed, maintaining a house of order, being involved in their schools and activities, being a good example, and spending quality time with them. My kiddos will only be around for a short time, so making sure they grow up right is huge for me.

Writing and other dream-chasing involves setting aside time each day to write and maintaining both of my weekly blogs. Thursdays are set aside solely for writing time to allow me to post to this blog and catch up on my WIP. Nothing else gets scheduled during that time. (Except laundry and maybe making some bread.)

Because I know my priorities, it's easy to determine what works and what doesn't.

I recently was invited to participate in a fitness challenge. It would require a considerable time commitment. While I was sorely tempted (my jeans are fitting a bit too snug lately), I simply couldn't justify stealing time away from my other priorities to do it. So I declined, saving myself from having to quit later. It's a decision I'm grateful I made.

Sometimes, priorities change. 

A few years ago, before my second child was born, I was teaching piano lessons. I loved almost everything about it - the relationship with the kids I taught, the sense of accomplishment, the improvement in my own piano skills, the income. But when my now 6yo was born, that all changed. Not only were lessons difficult to conduct with babe in arms, I found my priorities had shifted. And so, with heavy heart, I quit. It turned out being a wise decision and one I don't regret because I was able to put my focus into what mattered most.

2. Fulfill existing commitments by quitting responsibly.

In one of my more shameful moments, I once chose to simply not show up to a job. After I missed three days of work, my boss called me up to find out what was going on. I wish I had a better reason for neglecting my duties, but I simply didn't want to go. Nor did I want to face the confrontation that inevitably came with leaving a job. She informed me I would no longer have a job and I would be banned from future employment with the company.

Looking back, I don't blame her. I took the coward's way out and I deeply regret it to this day.

When you've committed to something - whether it's a job or a relationship - always follow through with that commitment. 

That doesn't mean staying in a toxic environment or continuing with something that's contrary to your set priorities. What it does mean is being responsible and mature enough to back out gracefully. Put in your two weeks' notice so your soon-to-be-former employer has ample time to find a replacement. Or, if that's not possible, at least tell them you won't be able to come rather than just not showing up.

If you need to end a relationship, speak up. Don't just start avoiding phone calls and making excuses. The other person deserves to know the truth.

The same principle applies to anything you've become involved in - volunteer work, helping out a friend, play groups and play dates, groups of all sorts (writers groups, book clubs, workout buddies, etc.). Don't just quit. Quit responsibly.

3. Some things you just can't quit.

Quitting isn't always an option. A parent will always be a parent. That was one of the hardest lessons I had to learn as a young mother. Multiple feedings in the middle of night when you're already beat tired or a child dumping chocolate milk on the freshly cleaned carpet can push you to the brink of insanity. There will be times when you just want to throw your hands in the air and walk away. 

I Quit: Knowing When to Throw in the Towel - www.LysandraJames.com

It's easier in functional two-parent families to cope with the stress since you can tag team it during the really rough patches. But you'll occasionally have times where all you want to do is hide under the covers and wish everything thing away. Such as the Christmas when every responsible adult/teen in our home was hugging the toilet while suffering from a nasty stomach bug and all the younger kids wanted to do was write on walls and jump off the couch while raiding the fridge and pantry for anything they could put their hands on.

Oh, yes. I so wanted to quit that Christmas. More than ever, I wanted to quit.

But I stayed. And I'm grateful every day for that decision.

Parenting isn't the only non-quittable responsibility. If you're a financial provider in your household, quitting your job without a plan to continue to provide for your family doesn't cut it. Both my husband and I grew up with traditional beliefs. When we got married, we had an agreement we stick to this day - he provides for our family so I can stay home and raise our children. Even though there have been times when he has wanted to throw his hands up in the air and just walk away from the stresses associated with his job, he doesn't quit. He has a duty to his family, one that supersedes any fleeting inclination he may have.  

I've known people who have chosen to quit lucrative jobs to chase their dreams. Some are writers, many are not. Sometimes their dream-chasing pans out. Most of the time it doesn't. But dream-chasing should never risk the financial security of your family (and by financial security, I mean your ability to provide adequate shelter, food, clothing, and the other necessities in life). There are ways to chase your dreams while still fulfilling your duty.

The key to sticking with it when quitting isn't an option is to find something positive about your situation. It doesn't have to be anything big. Even the smallest thing works. Take pride in your duty and do your best. As the saying goes, opportunities (or is it luck?) are often wearing overalls and are disguised as hard work.

Which leads to the next thing on my list.

4. Do the hard things.

My 6yo is currently enrolled in charter school that requires thirty volunteer hours per year from each family. Because the quality of his education is a priority for me and I want him to remain in that school, I willingly put in my time each and every day to fulfill those hours. Along the way, I inadvertently became the carpool/traffic control volunteer coordinator. It's my job to ensure there are enough volunteers to direct traffic through the school parking lot during drop-off and pick-up. 

I Quit: Knowing When to Throw in the Towel - www.LysandraJames.com

It's not an easy position. Despite having earned the last of my thirty hours back in October, I still stand out there every morning and every afternoon, no matter the weather, to do my duty. Lately, thanks to the below-freezing temperatures,  I come home with tingling fingers and numb cheeks from the cold. But until I have enough volunteers to fill the necessary positions, I will continue to bundle up and wave cars through.

I could quit and pass the reins on to someone else, but my son's safety and the safety of the other children have become a priority to me. Not only that, but I take pride in getting the line of cars through as quickly as possible. So I will continue to do the hard things to make sure it happens.

In summary...

Quitting doesn't always have to be a bad thing. Nor should you quit something just because it gets hard. Know what's most important to you and use that as your guide.

You never know, quitting may slam doors in your face.

Or it may open possibilities you never even knew existed.

Coming up...

Next week is another coveted Capsule Cooking post - we're baking muffins! I've been using this recipe for years and will never go back to boxed mixes. It's just that amazing.  Good (and yummy) things are coming your way. You don't want to miss this one!

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