Myth: “It is never okay to quit!”

Broken and Anew

As an Asian (Chinese) American, I know this phrase rings true in my life.  Quitting means more than just giving up.  It is one of those verbs that we fear will turn into a noun that defines us in the eyes of other people.

As a verb, the word ‘quit’ is quite useful in our day-to-day life.  Phrases like, “let’s call it quits and go home,” “let’s quit while we’re ahead,” and “let’s quit before someone seriously gets hurt,” are all fine examples of it’s practicality.

So, “to quit,” could even be a positive display of self-control and restraint, but as a noun, the word “quitter” is usually negatively associated with being lazy, weak-willed, fearful, and shame.

Recently, I resigned from my church ministry job of 3 years at a local organization.  In the end, the organization was just not a good fit, and there were many issues that we couldn’t see eye to eye on, so it was probably best that we go our separate ways.  I had hopes of being a catalyst for change in this organization, but when I quit, I realized that nothing really had changed at all!  I felt worthless, like a complete failure.

A few days later, I came across this quote by Henry Cloud that said this:  “When you know you are in the wrong place and you know deep down that it’s not going to work out, the worst thing you can do is to hope.”

That quote really hit a nerve.  I think there were many times in the last 3 years I told myself, “Things will get better,” over and over again, but my instincts (and my body) were telling me something different – I was not sleeping well, tired all the time, constantly worried about losing my job, anhedonic, depressed, overeating, and had a tick in my eye for almost a year.

After hearing that quote, I’ve wondered if I was actually afraid of failing and feeling worthless – too caught up with the shame that “quitting is never okay” – that I started hoping that things would change and get better, when, in reality, I knew in my gut, it wasn’t going to happen.

Now, I’m not saying we should all be cynics and give up on hope.  Hope is the definition of what it means to have faith, and what it means to trust and be courageous in the face of fears and difficulties.  However, I used ‘hope’ in order to avoid my fears, rather than facing them.  To put it bluntly, my hope that things would get better was an illusion; an illusion that helped me control and keep my fears of failing and feelings of worthlessness at bay.  It’s another way to say I was in denial, thinking things were going to improve.

I think it takes courage to face something ending in your life.  It feels vulnerable, because shame and fear can feel like an unexpected shot to the gut, leaving our psyches emotionally asthmatic, immobilizing us because our personal identity and self-worth is at stake.

Of course, this applies not just to quitting or losing a job.  It applies to anything that we’re invested in.   It applies to relationships, and it also applies to any situations where we feel most vulnerable.

In Ecclesiastes, it says this: “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die…a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up…a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away…”

There is a certain inevitability to what happens with us in life, and no matter how hard I try, I’ve come to realize that I cannot keep vulnerability at bay with a myth that says, “It is never okay to quit.”  No matter how hard I try, I cannot avoid the hard choices and hard situations that make me face what I fear or are ashamed of most.

Despite how messed up things are, I think we were created with the strength and ability to face great adversity.  But, I also believe that we can’t do this alone.  So, since we are fellow sojourners of this journey of life, I’d be interested to know what you think and how you deal with quitting and loss?

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