The Power and Freedom of Quitting

Instinctively, I gasped, partly as an exaggerated joke and partly because I was a little worried on the off-chance that tarot cards are legit. Is it silly or is the universe trying to tell me something? And IF there is some mystical force guiding my hand, a bleak skeleton figure wielding a sickle, corpses littering the background and the word “DEATH.”written on the card I picked isn’t particularly comforting. As if the ominous font in black capital letters wasn’t enough, that period stamped on the end just seemed a bit overkill. Pun intended.

Justin was acting as fortune teller, and although he is a master of bullshitting, that’s about the extent of his expertise in this matter and we refer to our little Tarot Card Meanings Booklet to interpret the cards.

Turns out the DEATH. card, although menacing and grim in appearance, actually has a beautiful message. The explanation reads:

Death in this instance should not be literally taken as the end of life. It signifies the end of a cycle and beginning of a new one. It indicates transformation of the individual to a new state of being.

I think back to the many lives I’ve lived. Yes, there is more than one. Everybody has a handful of experiences that put a mark on their timeline and from that point on, life can be measured as before and after, similar to the way we talk about pre and post 9-11 or how we now reference pre-Covid times.

One of my big life-defining events was having children. I vaguely remember the girl I was before I was a mother. I now think back fondly on her freedom and roll my eyes at her worries, which now seem small and insignificant. That girl “died” on December 29, 2011 when Teddy was born. It sounds depressing to phrase it that way, but it’s true. I never went back to being that girl. She’s gone, but in her place is now a more complex, loving, tired, nurturing woman- a little older and wiser, battle-scarred from the sleepless nights, hopefully a bit less selfish.

The DEATH. card got me thinking about life changes and how to take a bit of control over that timeline. It reminded me of the desperate times I fought and pleaded with myself to hang on to a life that was no longer serving me. It got me thinking about the importance of knowing when to quit.

I taught at the same school for 10 years. Growing up, I lived in the same house for 18 years. I went to Queen of the Holy Rosary Catholic School from Kindergarten through 8th Grade with the same group of kids. I took dance classes at the same dance studio from Kindergarten through High School. I have had 1 boyfriend, married him and we’ll celebrate our 13 year anniversary in August. I have lived a very consistent life. I have never quit anything (unless you count quitting Girl Scouts in 1st Grade. That was not my jam). But now, I’m a quitter and it feels great! 

Three fourths of the way through a graduate program for Elementary Art, I quit. It was the first domino to fall in my new quitter mentality. Quitting on a commitment was completely out of character for me. In fact, it never even crossed my mind as an option. I was under a lot of stress and I was no longer enjoying my classes, but I kept barreling through because that’s what you are supposed to do. Quitting was irresponsible, but when someone suggested the possibility of stopping or taking a break, it was like a lightbulb went off in my head.

Sending that email to drop out felt so good. I felt lighter; happier all of a sudden. I read an analogy once about a person looking out from behind prison bars, feeling trapped, but behind him, there is a wide open door. I gave myself the illusion of being trapped by commitments and responsibilities, but in reality, it was always possible to walk away. My mind was the only thing holding me back. I have imprisoned myself in society’s standards, fear of what others will think, or simply continuing a current path, even when it stopped being enjoyable. Now, I look back and think of all the times I forced myself to suffer through or waste my time on activities I didn’t really care about. What was the point?

Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Stopping to evaluate my life, my goals and my priorities, has significantly increased my happiness. My life is not perfect, but it’s a lot better than my past life as a stressed-out, overachieving, under-sexed, super-mom, Pinterest teacher. It was a slow and painful death to get rid of that life, but thank goodness she finally passed on because that version of me was a real drag!

If you’ve never done this, I would encourage you to take 5 minutes for this little exercise, inspired by author Max Strome, and shared with me by a buddy here in Tunisia. Get out a pen and paper and time yourself for 5 minutes. In that time, write down your definition of happiness. (If you want to give it a try, do it now, and don’t scroll on because I don’t want my definition to influence your original thoughts and ideas.)

Here is my definition:

Happiness:

Living in the present moment, in awe of what you have. Feeling gratitude for the big and small things in life.

Living life to the fullest, like a child, with wonder and curiosity. Laughing and playing often.

Living with passion for people and ideas that excite you. Never stop learning and growing.

Living in a state of peace with yourself and your surroundings, understanding that we are not always in control and change is inevitable and healthy. No grasping or longing. No dwelling or stewing.

Living with a sense of connection with people and nature.

Being true to yourself. Shackles off. No faking it.

On a piece of paper, this handwritten note is hanging on my bedroom mirror. I see it and read it every day while I’m doing my hair and getting ready for work. It is my litmus test for my right path. I try to base my decisions on this, especially big decisions.

Recently, I was considering a career move into counseling. It’s been an interest of mine for some time and I think I would enjoy it. I began looking into Master’s programs and along with my school research, I talked to counselors to learn more about the job. As with any career, there were pros and cons and I had a hard time deciding if I should make the move. In the end, my definition of happiness helped me make up my mind. I want to have a work-life balance and enjoy what I have around me. I want to travel and spend time with my family. Working nights and weekends as a counselor and not to mention the years of studying just didn’t fit with my priorities. I decided to quit before I even started.

This past year has brought a lot of change, and a lot of it is thanks to being a quitter. I quit trying to please everyone. I quit a Master’s Program. I quit my job. I quit being a perfectionist.

I was always under the impression that quitting was lazy, but what I didn’t realize was that when you let go, you make room for something better. It can be scary to make a big change, but when I went on my quitting spree, I found freedom and a better version of myself. I took pole dancing classes. I started this blog and rediscovered my love of writing. I began meditating daily and went on an amazing wellness retreat. I met new people who have had a huge influence on my life. My friendships grew deeper. My marriage has gotten stronger. I moved to Tunisia and started a new job. I would have never made time for these things if I hadn’t forced some dead weight out of my life.

It would have been easy to continue trudging along, but quitting led me to something better. Don’t be afraid of the DEATH. card. Every end is a new beginning.

2 thoughts on “The Power and Freedom of Quitting

  1. Here’s to Death.! The 5-minute exercise is happening on Saturday when Wendy and Allen come over. Such a great idea. And April … your writing, impressive. Really enjoyed it.

    Liked by 1 person

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