When To Quit

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Every once in a while I have one of those weeks where it seems that every client is talking about the same thing. When that happens, I figure I’m getting some big old honking message.

And I have to write about it.

This week, the ubiqui-topic was “When do I quit?” And there seems to be variety in what it is people want to quit — quit smoking, quit a job, quit a relationship, quit worrying.

But how do you know it’s time? How can you be sure you’re clear, and leaving for the right reasons? What are the right reasons, anyway?

It’s time to quit when the person you are becoming is someone you don’t like. When you’re in a job, and as a condition of employment you are expected to fudge facts, shift numbers and lie to customers, you become a person who fudges, shifts and lies. Is that who you want to be?

A relationship that asks you to set aside your own personal goals, your own friends, your own hobbies — that asks you to nag, or to make excuses for another person, or to change your beliefs — who are you in that kind of relationship? You’re a person with no rudder. You’re a person with no self. Is that who you want to be?

It’s time to quit when you find that you love having the problem more than the problem loves you. If you find yourself talking about the problem all the time, stewing and fretting, worrying about it, analyzing it, turning the problem over and over in your head — is that who you want to be? Is that how you want to use your energy?

There’s an underlying ubiqui-thought we need to address, friends, and it’s: “I should be able to make this work.”

Maybe you could make it work. If you were King of The Forest and could control all the elements. So, let me ask you — do you control your boss? Can you stop him from giving you an ASAP assignment — at 5pm on New Year’s Eve? Can you stop him from lobbing f-bombs at you? Can you stop her from excluding you from important meetings, or distribution of key memos?

Can you make your boyfriend sober? Can you single-handedly restore your spouse to mental health? Is it possible to string together the perfect set of words that will make your boss sit up and say, “By golly, you’re absolutely right! I’m a jerk! I am going to change 30 years of my behavior just because of what you said!”

Ah, folks can dream. But we know the truth: you only control yourself, and you only change yourself. “Making this work” often means adapting yourself to something that’s unhealthy.

And you become, over time, someone you don’t want to be.

“Yes, but…” is another tactic we use to stay stuck in an unhealthy situation. “Yes, but… when he leaves his wife, stops drinking, goes to counseling and gets a job, everything will be perfect.” OK. But for now, he’s with his wife, drinking, avoiding counseling and unemployed. That’s what’s real. The “Yes, but…” you’re waiting for might never happen.

And who are you becoming while you wait?

You and only you have the opportunity, and the right, to live the life you are meant to live. Quitting that which is unhealthy for you and moving toward that which is healthy can be really, really hard. But it’s the only way you become someone you really, really like.

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