I got a flattering request a few months back. Unpaid, but still, an exiting project. A lot of heart and a small budget. Do you want to join?
Yes, I said, without much hesitation, and started writing, testing and recording. When I delivered my part of the deal it still felt fun and playful.
Then there were new recordings, small adjustments; different equipment was needed, more time. Nothing unreasonable, but still more than I had expected. And I looked at my schedule for the weeks to come and felt a familiar discomfort inside. The thought of finding time for all this extra work. The thought of all the other things, important things, that would have to stand back if this was to be done.
I know that discomfort. It is spelled: I don’t want to.
It felt stressful. A little too much time to spend on unpaid work when I have so precious little time to spend on work in the first place.
I don’t want to, I thought to myself, to get the arguments going. But I said I would! It’s free marketing! What if the project is a success and you miss out! Sure you can do it, just get to work! You really do quit easily, don’t you?
So much fear in those arguments. Fear that there will only be one chance, that I need to WORK HARDER to succeed, that other people will disapprove of my choices. And fear cares very little about my wellbeing, as long as I achieve results. That makes it a lousy advisor.
The thing is, what do I know of potential successes or failures? What do I know about the future? How do I make decisions based on knowledge I don’t have? All I have is right now. The feeling in my stomach right now.
If I trusted myself and life, what would I chose?
Simple. I’d say no.
So I did. Then I turned off the computer and felt my shoulders relax.
This time my decision had no dire consequences since no part of the project depended on me or my contribution, but other times a lot more is at stake. When we quit an education, quit a job, end a relationship. When we give up any project we’ve poured time, money and soul into.
We like the idea of never quitting. Like to think of ourselves that way. And sometimes it’s a good thing, endurance is a healthy quality to cultivate. But to stick with it no matter what, just because I once said I would. That way of thinking seems more and more irrelevant to me.
Whatever we set out to do in life, we know very little at the start. The goal we set can only be a guiding light; it cannot be an informed decision. We simply don’t have enough information at that point. We gather it as we go, and to ignore that information is not only stupid, it’s a sure way of losing track of ourselves.
When we face a choice – right or left, go for it or hold back, stick with it or quit – one alternative feels good and the other not so good. Sometimes the difference is obvious, sometimes subtle, but it’s there and we can perceive it. We can trust it.
To quit, drop out, change our mind, or give up is not the same as failing. I think we know that. I think most of us know how much courage and self-knowledge it can take to back out. That it can be constructive and even life-affirming.
It’s a relief to let go of what doesn’t work. A relief to move on and spend all that energy on something else. We need to quit, from time to time, in order for something new to come on the stage.
If I hadn’t given up all those relationships, I would never have found the man I can’t imagine being without. If I hadn’t moved all those (34) times, I’d never have found my house on the mountainside (which I might quit and leave someday, who knows). If I hadn’t quit my publishing career, I wouldn’t be able to sit here and write. And so on.
I’ve quit more times than I can count, sometimes too soon, sometimes for the wrong reasons, but more and more often without drama and with a kind feeling in my stomach. Safe in the knowing that a no to what I don’t want is a yes to something more important. My health, my love, my heart’s work.
My very own life.