‘My Momma didn‘t raise a quitter‘ – I don‘t know how many times I have said that when faced with a difficult situation. My strategy is to put my head down, my shoulder into the task, and just keep putting one foot in front of the other – until I have reached the goal. Society reinforces this strategy. Remember these quotes? “Pain is temporary. Quitting lasts forever.“ – Lance Armstrong; “If you quit once it becomes a habit. Never quit.“ – Michael Jordan; and “Age wrinkles the body; quitting wrinkles the soul.“ – Douglas MacArthur. However – are there times when ‘quitting‘ is actually the best solution for the problem? And blindly putting one foot in front of the other doesn‘t get you anything but more steps? There is a difference between being committed to achieving something vs. continuing to just ‘not quit‘.
I think of this distinction often when working with clients who are at a decision point in their lives. Many times a decision point involves ‘do I stay or do I go‘ with their current employer. The work situation may have degraded and regardless of all of the effort to improve things, they are not happy or satisfied. But – they also may only be a short period of time away from some milestone. Maybe retirement, maybe being vested, maybe having their last child complete with college, maybe pride that they survived a year in the role – all leading to a declaration of ‘I won‘t quit. I can gut through this.‘ It can be overwhelming. And frequently there are feelings of being trapped, anger, feeling taken advantage of, and resignation. It can feel like the train is running away.
My question is – if you stay, what is the cost? To your physical or mental health? To your family and friend relationships? To your reputation? To you doing quality work? I am not saying – don’t be committed to your goals. I am saying – look at both the goals AND the cost, and be smart about what commitments you choose. And, if the commitment isn‘t the right one for you, give yourself the latitude to re-evaluate and choose differently – without labeling yourself a quitter. Now, I don‘t want to under–represent this – getting off of the train you have been riding is hard and isn’t something done lightly.
This really hit home with me last year when I was diagnosed with early stage breast cancer. There is a standard treatment protocol whose goal was to give me the lowest possible odds of ever having breast cancer again. That protocol, for my demographic and cancer type included surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and then drug therapy. Once I accepted the protocol, I boarded, what I called, ‘my treatment train‘. And, with a lot of support from friends and family, I went through successful treatments at each ‘train stop‘.
I didn’t even think of questioning the ride I was on until the radiation therapy. For a variety of reasons, it was a terrible experience for me. After 4 treatments I was miserable and knew that this wasn‘t something that I could just ‘gut out‘ for another 30 treatments. I realized that I had to get my head straight about the treatment, and work with it; or, stop the treatment. I had to consider and evaluate ‘getting off of the train‘. I had to look at what the cost was going to be for me if I stopped and if I continued. And, what would be required for me to be OK with stopping or continuing.
I struggled for 3 more treatments and finally spoke to my radiation oncologist. Once he understood how awful it was for me, he shifted from ‘the standard protocol for your age and your cancer‘ to ‘what is the right treatment for Lorrie‘. We discussed the options and the numbers and the implications – leading finally to me saying ‘stop‘ and he agreeing that, for me, this was a good decision. I had discovered that I didn‘t need to have the lowest possible odds that medical science could give me. The cost to my mental and physical health, to get that last 1% reduction in probability wasn‘t worth it. I also realized that I wasn‘t a quitter. I was still committed to doing what I needed to do to live a long life. But I was making a better, more informed treatment choice for me – and with that, a different train to ride.
Are you feeling like you are on a train? Do you remember what the destination was when you boarded? Is it time to ask yourself if this is still the right train and if the ride is worth the cost? What would have to be put in place to make your ride doable and better? If you can put those things in place, then you can re-commit to the current train. If not, when the situation is intolerable, unchangeable, or when the cost is too high for you, give yourself permission to quit. Try something different – you won‘t be a ‘quitter‘ and you may discover a better train and destination for you.