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Monday Moment: Time to quit?

Emma Grey

Every so often, a child says or does something that makes me think they’re actually listening!

This week it was my four year old: “My mum never gives up. We don’t give up, do we? If we can’t do it, we try again. If that doesn’t work, we ask for help or try another way.”

I felt like signing him up as a junior coach for WorkLifeBliss and was reminded just how ‘malleable’ they are in the early years. How much they take in when we don’t realise we’re modelling something. (Just to be clear: he’s also taking in a whole lot of imperfection as we go, and the teens never want me talking about that “work stuff” when I try to provide advice, so if you’re picturing us skipping through family life like the Von Trapps – stop!)

This idea of persistence though, of work-arounds and pressing on and forging through and finding a way, is something I value highly. As an author, I have to. It can take years of hard work and rejection to reach a goal, and if all authors gave up at the first ‘no thanks’, a lot of the world’s most loved fiction wouldn’t exist.

It’s something that gets me through running a business, and through parenting and through my marriage and through all kinds of hard moments where I just want to stop or run away or admit defeat. The reason I don’t is because these things really matter.

But what about the times when giving up is sensible?

How do you know when to quit? Where’s the happy medium between laziness or giving in too easily and stubbornness? Between ‘meh’ and ‘flogging a dead horse’?

A friend sent me a thought-provoking quote during the week:

“A well-executed quit is its own reward.”

Think of this: in Australia, we commemorate the sacrifice of our service people each April in a national day based around one of the most well-executed withdrawals in military history. Gallipoli was a disaster for us. A defeat in which we lost over 8,000 precious young lives. Some argue that our boats landed in the wrong place and the campaign progressed in a negative direction from there.

And isn’t that what happens in our lives, too (thankfully without loss of life in most cases)? Sometimes we land in the wrong place. Sometimes it’s the wrong job or the wrong course of study or the wrong relationship. There comes a time when it costs us more to stay than it does to leave.

There’s the school of thought that there are ‘no mistakes’ and that ‘nothing is ever wasted’ and, to some extent, that’s true. We can learn and grow from nearly every experience.

But sticking doggedly at something JUST for the sake of ‘never giving up’ could mean this:

  • You’re missing a better or more suitable opportunity
  • You’re ignoring the true purpose and relevance of the exercise (you’ve made it all about ‘sticking at it’ rather than the ‘why’)
  • You’re wasting time and energy
  • You’re miserable

Psychologists have observed that we have an innate desire to ‘complete’. We’re uncomfortable with unfinished business. (Putting down a half-read novel you’re not enjoying can bring disproportionate distress after the hard work you put in getting that far into it!)

But if your time was limited (and shhh, it is) would you really fill it doing what you’re doing right now? Ask yourself honestly, hand on heart, are the rewards worth it?

A few years ago, I quit my Masters at Grad Cert level. That’s two-thirds through the course. I was doing too much, and wanted to spend more time with my kids on weekends and get my first book finished. My daughter, then seven, burst into tears and said “Mummy! You can’t give up on your dreams!”

And you know what? I never will. But sometimes the best decision is to bow out gracefully now. Sometimes it’s to chase a more important dream.

Feature image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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Emma Grey

Emma Grey is the Canberra-based author of ‘Wits’ End Before Breakfast! Confessions of a Working Mum’ and ‘Unrequited: Girl Meets Boy Band’. She’s director of the life-balance consultancy, WorkLifeBliss and co-founder of a fresh approach to time-management, My 15 Minutes. She lives just over the ACT border with her two teen daughters and young son. More about the Author

  • Trish Smith

    The feeling of relief – when you finally make the decision to stop pushing that heavy object up that steep hill – is wonderful. And that moment of feeling positive for the first time in ages is more than enough ‘oomph’ to get you started on the right path.

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