julie: on quitting

I think we have quitting as a topic at least in part because Ginny had to make the intelligent and reasonable decision not to take part in a race last weekend.  It was the right thing, she really had to not do it.  Sometimes it’s hard, no matter what the reasoning, to make something not feel like a quit, and quitting is something Ginny does not like to do.  

Quitting is something I have mixed thoughts on, to say the least.

When I first started considering this topic, trying to organize my thoughts, one of  the things I kept thinking of was the show title, “The Biggest Loser.”  I don’t know.   Introducing someone as “the biggest loser” and having that make them happy and the audience clap, I get the idea, people lose a lot of weight,  but the whole thing is just weird, who the hell wants to be a “loser.”  Because the truth is that except in that instance, except for the winner of that particular, who wants to be called a loser in front of millions of people?  Nobody likes losing much of anything.  How often do you hear anyone say. “Wow, I am thrilled, I think I am losing my hair!”   And shouts of, “Yes! I lost my job!” are not really common.

One interesting aspect of the whole losing thing, and one of the places where quitting and losing intersect,  is that people spend a lot of time talking about what others need to lose or quit, things like  a boyfriend or girlfriend or an attitude or a job or a habit.   And there is just as much time spent by those same people or the people they were talking about going on about things they don’t want to lose or can’t lose or would give anything not to lose, or, sometimes, would do anything it takes to keep.    Quitting is very similar.  Nobody wants to be a quitter.   And while for a huge number of people quitting and losing are seen as being weak, not finishing, not being strong enough and giving up, there is something a little different about quitting: quitting is something that seems controllable, a distinct choice one makes,  whereas losing is often framed as something out of our control, a matter of chance.

There are times when some or all of that is probably the exact way to describe a situation or a person’s actions.  And sure,  if it’s the way to describe their actions over and over then maybe at some point they deserve to be called ” a loser,” or “a quitter.”  But here’s the thing:  there are losers and then there are losers and there are quitters and then there are quitters; it’s about context and inflection.  I am a pretty good quitter, something that, for the most part,  I am proud of.   The part I am not so proud of is that many of the things that I probably should have done differently, things that cost me because of which I lost a lot, those actions were almost always a result of not being a good quitter.

You win or you lose, in the big picture, fairly cut and dry.  You either keep going or you quit, not nearly so easily defined.  For me, losing or winning is a whole bunch of decisions about quitting, like a series of negotiations with myself.  Very often for me, it’s been about being able to see quitting as both a good or necessary thing or the worst possible choice and knowing the difference at the right time.  Employment or business or things that are clearly very much like business, logical and are easy to see,  not hard.  You look at the pros and the cons and you decide how to get the best outcome.  People who know when and how to quit in those situations very often are the ones who will eventually come out ahead, “cut your losses” is a really good decision making guide;  knowing when to negotiate and what to negotiate with are more often than not the difference between winners and losers.  When the bottom line is tangible, facts and figures, that’s just that.

It seems cold to look at emotional things like that, that’s where quitting gets messy.  The real problem I have had, that I have struggled with, is that very often it has been easier to quit on myself than on others.  Long process.  Lots of decisions.  It took a long time to really see that too often, not quitting on someone else was just an excuse to quit on myself.  And then there is that momentarily unbearable moment when you have to decide not to quit on yourself.  Unfortunately for me, although it has become less uncomfortable, that decision is almost never-ending and something I  struggle with on some level on most days.  But that’s how you get it right; every one of those unbearable moments and then every hour, and then one day at a time.  The key for me has been knowing when to quit and when not to.

I guess the thing about “The Biggest Loser” that I just don’t get is that maybe, momentarily, that number of pounds or that “accomplishment” is what’s shiny, but it’s the decisions to quit or not to quit so many things; to commit to yourself or not to commit to yourself; learning to define winning and losing and accomplishment on your own and not for others and really not for some television audience.  Oh well, how anyone or everyone defines all that is their own decision and it’s not my place or responsibility to tell them otherwise.  Not being cold, not that I don’t care, just not my business.   In the end, one of the best things I have learned is when to quit worrying about when and if anyone else does or doesn’t make a decision or if someone else does or doesn’t quit something or everything.  It’s not easy, and even when you know it’s not true, it feels like you are quitting on people.  But that’s what they say, right, the best decisions are sometimes the hardest.  That’s true of this one.  In the end,   it works out pretty well. 

But the truth

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