Crossing into the Borderlands: I Quit.
“I’ve never quit anything in my life,” she said. Until she did. And that changed everything.
When she quit, the government was involved, the media was involved, opinions were involved. She was in the newspaper, in my Twitter feed, on the radio, and in national news segments. And, I suspect, she knew this was how it was going to be. But, she did it anyway. She quit. She walked away from the opinions, the stories, the messages, and the responsibility. Why does someone do that?
Why does someone, who has never quit anything in her life, finally cross into those uncharted borderlands and live somewhere between the known and the unknown? And why not?
I have quit a tonne of things. I quit an adult ballet class after the first night. I tore a calf muscle doing a tiny little hop on an un-stretched, weak, and underused muscle, and knew I couldn’t physically continue. And I was okay with that. That was an easy quit. It hurt to walk, and my leg was in a tensor for six weeks. No-brainer. I quit the badminton team in high school.
I once quit a job before my first shift (a little bit proud of that one). I’ve quit art therapy school, and graduate school… twice.
I quit two teaching jobs. Those decisions were more complex. Both involved cross-country moves and my husband’s work. Though I was sad about leaving, and missed my students and the security of a job I knew how to do well, I didn’t regret those decisions. But then, for a long time, I quit teaching as a career too. That was a more painful process. One that remains ongoing. But still, technically, I did quit.
Sometimes quitting is temporary: a leave, a pause, or a break. Quitting doesn’t have to be a forever thing. Sometimes quitting can be more flexible than the word implies. Sometimes it’s quite a serious thing to quit something, and sometimes it’s not a big deal. It depends.
At the same time, it also doesn’t really matter depending on what quality of life means to you and, yes, admittedly, how privileged the life you live is already. We all need to pay the bills. But, does that mean we must sacrifice… everything else?
So, why is it that I can walk away from things that are no longer serving me, that do not fill my heart with joy, or wonder, or a sense of fulfillment, and others simply can’t?
They can’t even imagine quitting something, though their arteries are clogging, they’re fainting on airplanes, their blood pressure is rising, they have chest palpitations, anxiety, stress, sadness, depression, no work-life balance, no time, no… happiness?
Yet, they keep working jobs they hate because that job pays the bills, they stay in marriages that are deadening their souls and sucking the life out of them because they believe it’s better for the kids, or it’s familiar or reliable — better the devil you know than the devil you don’t. These are the people who don’t quit even as their bodies are screaming at them with a variety of ailments, pains, and illnesses.
They don’t quit even though they aren’t getting what they need out of life.
And please don’t tell me it’s about responsibility. We are being responsible adults when we roll out of bed and brush our teeth everyday. Responsibility has degrees, and is continuously being assessed for value, worth, and cost-to-reward benefits.
I brush (and floss) my teeth everyday because I value having my own teeth in my head. I am responsible for my oral hygiene. I take care of my children — hearts, minds, souls, and spirits — every day and will continue until the day I die (and debatably from the spirit realm thereafter). I am a responsible parent.
So, is it fair to say that I am an irresponsible person for quitting things that are not or are no longer serving me? Some would argue, Yes. Or, even worse perhaps, in their eyes, they would label me a flake.
It’s not that I can’t keep a job/relationship/house, it’s that I don’t want to keep something that I don’t enjoy.
I am reliable, dependable, and responsible. I am not a stooge. It is important to me to make my very best effort at living an honest and authentic life. A life that is joyful. Good grief, we certainly know it isn’t fair. Life is stacked. People get sick and they die, and money is lost, and jobs are lost, and even little kids get cancer. But, I see this as all the more reason to take my heart-voice by the hand and say, Lead me.
It’s the heart, after all. That is the answer to my questions. As children, we know our hearts. We hear it speak to us, and we listen because we don’t yet know how to tune it out. And yet, despite what we are born knowing how to do, the expectation, as adults, is that we don’t listen to our hearts. We are taught to be responsible. Taught to be fastidious. Selfless.
The trouble is, no one explains to us who we are being responsible to, and why accepting the title of responsible one also synonymously means not being responsible to yourself — your gifts, your joy, and your heart.
It is much like how children innately see themselves as creative. All children know themselves as artists. But it is taught out of us as we grow up. So creative artistry is replaced with responsibility, task-oriented goals, and real life. The trouble is, everything is real life. Life is just as real at five years old as it is at 20. School is just as real as a job. School is a job. There is no real life and fake life.
And somewhere in life, we start to tune out the voice of our own hearts. And this is when it becomes so challenging to quit — to quit anything… ever. And when this happens, the internalization of the beliefs that we must go through the motions, see it through to completion, and don’t be a quitter become very real.
Our heart does not lie to us. It only has our very best interest in mind when it speaks to us. And the part that people miss when they so quickly dismiss their heart-voice is: taking care of yourself is how we can best serve others. And this is what I remind myself when society’s guilt jargon starts to seep into my being.
In the airplane of life, I am no good to anyone if I haven’t first put on my own oxygen mask — because if I don’t put it on me first, I am gasping for breath, passing out, and dying. There’s a reason that metaphor is often used to describe this scenario of self-care. It makes sense. Like the metaphor of a house — you can’t build a solid house (life) without first building a solid foundation (you).
And so, I quit things. When my heart tells me I need to move on, that I am not serving my greatest good, that I am becoming ill, in mind, body, and/or spirit, I have started to listen and honor that heart-voice.
It is speaking to me for a reason, and when that happens, my Number One responsibility is to listen to it and trust that in doing so I am not only serving my immediate needs, but also the passenger beside me on the metaphorical airplane, or the tenants on the second floor of my metaphorical house.
And once I really begin to believe the truth of this process, accept it, and own it, then I can understand why it is okay, that it is powerful and empowering, healing, and justifiable, to be a quitter.
When I learned the woman who had never quit anything in her life had quit her powerful and important and big job, I sent her an email. I told her I was proud of her. And I meant it.
Mandy Hollands Ish is a mother of two, an education geek, advocate for highly sensitive children, and a fire-poker (literal and metaphorical). She is a healer who is currently on an around-the-world adventure, and writes because she can’t help herself.