Why it’s OK to be a quitter (sometimes)
“I am not a quitter.”
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I think people bandy that phrase around a lot, without always knowing what it means to really, truly quit something that could have made a difference to their lives.
I personally wasn't raised to quit anything, especially being from a Ghanaian family, which offered constant reminders of what sacrifices my mother had made to ensure I had as much opportunity as possible to flourish in the world. That meant finishing what you started or not starting it at all. And my parents even (sometimes) encouraged us to integrate with the social norms around us by letting us do after-school activities. But if my mother and grandmother had been more invested in these projects rather than seeing them as frivolous activities, I'd probably still be doing ballet/acting/keyboard lessons (all of which I was terrible at). They were hobbies at best, and it quickly became obvious that I was never going to be the child prodigy or artistic genius that my parents might have hoped I would become.
When it came to work and school, however, quitting was not an option. Growing up in London in pretty multicultural environments, my Nigerian, Pakistani, Chinese and West Indian friends all faced the same pressures as me to be twice as good if not better than our classmates; quitting was never on the table and being university-bound was as certain a stage in our future as rice on a Sunday.
I didn't necessarily have a strong desire to quit many subjects in school (even the ones I was failing at) because, like I said, it wasn't really an option. But powering through all the things I didn't enjoy left me with a pretty disjointed understanding of what hard work meant. In my mind, it meant doing the things you hated in order to reach some 'level of success' that would or wouldn't make you happy. And anyway, success wasn't about happiness; it was about being recognised as an achiever of great things by your peers, your parents, your parents' friends and general distant relatives that you never saw but who your parents could laud boasting powers over.
Happiness was a luxury other people could afford, and growing up we couldn't afford much. Financially affording stuff as an adult, however, was also what success was. So with that in mind, I imagined that I wouldn't dream of quitting a high-paying job, a relationship with a gainfully-employed man that could have led to marriage, or even a career I had been working towards which took six years of study. But as it turns out, I did do that last thing.
I was on the path to becoming a qualified psychotherapist with full bragging rights. I did an undergraduate degree in psychology, a three-year masters degree in psychotherapy, and worked for five years as a psychotherapist. Until one day, I decided it was quitting time. It wasn't a spontaneous decision and there were many emotional, mental, and financial reasons why I left my 'shrinking hat' behind. But the important thing is that I did it. And it was hard as hell.
I loved being a therapist; I felt privileged to be allowed into someone else’s life for 50 minutes every week, helping them discover personal development tools they already had, and it taught me more about myself than I would ever have known had I not been a therapist. But my sense of self and what I wanted to do with my life was slowly changing, and what I had wanted when I was 18 became unfeasible by the time I was 28. If you’re lucky, the passing of time brings personal growth as well as grey hairs.
As I wasn’t well-practiced at quitting (see above), it took me months of personal therapy, professional supervision and numerous conversations with friends before I made the actual break and stopped. It was a slow and gruelling process which I didn’t know how to explain to my parents. So I just didn’t. I didn’t tell them I had stopped completely, only that I was taking a break. And for a while that was true, but I suppose it’s not anymore.
I done quit for good, moving on to pastures new. And I didn’t quit because I got bored or because I was bad at it; I quit because I discovered that happiness was now a luxury I could afford if I managed my expenses properly, and the pleasure I got from writing was beginning to take over everything else that had ever made me even slightly amused. If I hadn’t quit, I wouldn’t have written this or much of anything really. I’d still be mulling over the stability of my own mental health as I grappled with other peoples, and I'd be forever wondering “what if.”
Instead, I’m wondering, “what’s next?” because there’s no shame in quitting something so you can build on the life you want. So yeah, I guess I am a quitter.