Saturday, March 5, 2011

I'm a Quitter

Vickie Bergman blogs about education and parenting at Demand Euphoria.

Being labeled a quitter is not a good thing. The tendency to quit is a character flaw. It means you give up too easily. It means your parents probably let you quit things when you were a kid. You don't have any sense of commitment. As a parent, you are not supposed to want your child to be a quitter. You can make sure that this will not happen if you don't let your children quit things. Teach them that the commitment is more important than their happiness. Teach them that they might even end up liking something if they stick with it even when they don't want to.

I have known people who played the same sport almost every day for over a decade, from childhood through college, and still struggled with the idea of "quitting" the sport even when it was not bringing any happiness anymore. So it's not ok to quit something if you have only just started, and then it's also not ok to quit something if you have been at it for a while. When IS it ok to quit something? How long are you supposed to give it before you can appropriately decide you have had enough?

I haven't had too much trouble with that question for myself.* In fact, I am proud to be a quitter. I quit the swim team when I broke my arm in 6th grade and realized how much more free time I would have if I didn't swim anymore. I quit taking voice lessons after my instructor humiliated me during a lesson. I quit soccer, softball, tennis, ballet, piano, bass guitar, water polo, two finance jobs, one PhD program and probably a bunch of other things I can't even remember quitting.

My proudest moment as a quitter, though, was when I quit college for a year. I was so tired of school. I was tired of feeling like I had to perform and achieve all the time. I just wanted to live for a little while. And even though I was afraid of what people would think, I did it. I decided a few weeks before what would have been my junior year of college that I just wasn't going back. That decision was the most liberating and empowering decision I have ever made. It helped me to get over some of my fears about what everyone else would say. It was the best year of my life so far.

There are two ways to look at my history of activities. You could look at it and say "Wow, she quit a lot of things." Or you could say "Wow, she tried a lot of things." I tried them. Some for longer than others. Some, I went back to after quitting (like college). Some I have never tried again. I still try things. If I like doing something and it makes me happy, then it belongs in my life. If it doesn't make me happy all the time, but it is worth whatever struggles come with it, then it belongs in my life. But if I can't think of one good reason to keep doing something other than "I just don't want to quit," then it's out.

What if all children could learn from the very beginning that it is all right to quit doing things they don't like? What if they could choose their classes in school? What if they could feel free to change their minds about what they like and feel safe to try new things? They would have more time to find and focus on the things they are actually interested in, and they might just be happy.

*Thanks, Mom and Dad, for letting me quit stuff.

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