Never Quit?? When it is okay to quit.
Recently I broke my ankle attempting to ice skate. I had been ice-skating before, but it had been 10 years or more ago. This winter my husband and I were watching all the skaters having fun at various outdoor rinks and it just looked so romantic and fun that we decided to try it on our date night. Unfortunately I was on the ice less than 5 minutes when I fell and the result, even more unfortunately, was a severe break in my left ankle. I am recovering well so far, but it has been quite painful and quite disruptive. I have decided that I will not be ice-skating anymore. One broken ankle is enough for me.
I said this to my sister and she protested. She said I shouldn’t give up. She thinks I should get back out there and try again, although she did recommend more protective skates, specifically hockey skates. This got me thinking. Is it ok to quit?
The culture we live in says “NO” quite clearly and loudly. Popular sayings such as “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” and “failure is just a step on the road to success” and “when you come to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on” are engraved in our minds from a young age. Coaches and teachers and parents all tell us to try again, keep trying, learn from our mistakes, etc… Many times this is good advice. Usually when you first start something you are going to be bad at it. It takes time and practice to develop skill. Often a new activity will not be fun for quite a while, until you develop that skill; giving up too soon means you never get to the fun part. Mistakes often are learning experiences that help you do better the next time. Most significant achievements in life, be they athletic, educational, career or relationship based require persistent effort through times of pain and frustration.
Most of the time then, I would agree that quitting isn’t a good thing. I am not sure, however, that an attitude of “never quit” is a healthy way to live. I’ve met many people suffering from prior mistakes who refuse to quit, because they feel that quitting would make them a failure. They would rather continue to suffer than have to view themselves as a person who quit. The problem is, sometimes there is no way to bring a good outcome out of a situation. Sometimes there is no fun to be had, no matter how much skill you gain. Sometimes the person you’re in a relationship with is not interested in changing to become a better partner. Sometimes the career you’ve worked so hard to achieve is just wrong for you. C.S. Lewis, in his book “Mere Christianity” has a wonderful quote about this. He says “We all want progress. But progress means getting nearer to the place where you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning, then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and it that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man.”
I also wonder if all goals are equally worthy of a high level of persistence. Another common saying in our culture is “Whatever is worth doing is worth doing well” but I think that’s a little silly. No one can be good at everything and no one can do everything well that they’d like to do. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do things anyway, just because you enjoy them. It also doesn’t mean that if you aren’t enjoying a particular task you must persist and become good at it. I think it depends on the task itself.
Some things are very important. Acquiring a basic education is so critical to successful functioning in today’s society that I think that not quitting and never giving up is the right attitude to take. Functioning adequately at some job that pays your bills and keeps you housed, fed and clothed is another arena where I would encourage people to not quit. (Although if you were very unhappy in a job I would certainly encourage you to explore other paths while you keep on working at the job you have.) Sustaining loving social relationships is a key part of well-being, and so some level of persistence is warranted in learning to love and receive love in a healthy way. Exercise is fundamental to good mental and physical health, and so everyone needs to find some kind of exercise that they enjoy and can perform regularly, without quitting.
However, there are a lot of activities I can think of that don’t meet any of these criteria. I would say it is okay to quit at these activities. I don’t recommend quitting easily, but I do recommend making an assessment of the importance and value of a particular activity in your life. And then compare that to the amount of difficulty, pain or risk involved in the activity. You are the only person who can say where the correct balance between risk and reward lies for you, but I encourage you to give the matter some thought instead of declaring you can’t quit.
As for me, I acknowledge that my sister is probably correct when she says that with the proper equipment I could master ice-skating. But why should I? I can obtain exercise in many other ways. I can have fun with my husband in many other ways. Ice-skating is not a skill that is fundamental to my education or my career. It’s not contributing significantly to my relationships. And it has overall been a detriment to my physical health. So I am going to stand by what I said originally. No more ice-skating for me. I quit.