How to quit

I haven’t signed into my Twitter account since June 4. “I need to be on Twitter” is one of the stories I’m testing out during my #40StoriesProject, a yearlong attempt to learn which of the things I’m telling myself are outdated. The plan for this particular story was to stay off Twitter for three months, but having hit that milestone a few days ago, I don’t see myself going back. I was better informed when I was doomscrolling every day, but about what? If I want to know what’s happening in the world, I get the important stories elsewhere—newspapers, texts from friends, even Instagram. I don’t miss being extremely online, and my reduced exposure to, well, everything has freed up a lot of space and energy, which I’m putting toward personal projects after a lengthy creative drought during the pandemic. Even the alleged value of Twitter for someone interested in a writing career seems largely negated by how bad being on Twitter makes me feel about writers and writing.

Twitter isn’t the only thing I’ve quit or considered quitting this summer. A couple of weeks ago, I decided not to run this year’s NYC Marathon. This was a much harder decision, and there are a few factors that went into it, all of them culminating in “I just don’t want to.” And as my therapist has told me on multiple occasions, “I don’t want to” is the only reason an adult needs not to do something. I haven’t broadcast this decision widely because I want to protect the time it has freed up, put it toward what I do want to accomplish this year. As a start, I signed up for a four-week writing course with Laura Jane Williams during Saturday mornings I would have been running 15+ miles.

Quitting training feels like the right decision, and yet I find myself reconsidering it daily. I can’t decide whether it’s because I’m disappointed in myself for not following through, or because I worry others will be. But centering my life around running just isn’t where I am right now, and I’m trying to honor that. Not having to run three to four times a week means I can go back to doing my favorite workout, Bar Method, almost daily. I lose the cognitive load of trying to plan my social life, errands, and calorie consumption around running. I’m sad I won’t be running this year, but I also feel how much the good outweighs the bad.

Another thing I quit: My 16-year involvement in a volunteer organization. OK, so I didn’t technically quit—I simply changed to a status where I’m not required to fulfill any obligations—but to me it feels like a soft resignation. I finally accepted that I didn’t want to spend hours of my free time dealing with an onslaught of emails and tasks and pretending that doing so bore any relation to the actual impact of our work in the community. And I already do direct-impact community work through my role as a volunteer reading tutor, where I make a tangible impact every session and send a maximum of five emails per season. The thing about signing up for something when you’re 23 and sticking with it until you’re 39 is that your priorities have probably changed during that time. The biggest thing that has changed for me is that I’m happy now, and it turns out that happy people don’t need an endless list of things to do in order to feel like their lives have meaning. And it got to the point where seeing other women waste their lives this way was actively triggering for me. Why did I spend years curing myself of an obsession with productivity and external validation only to stay in an organization that was reinforcing that mindset?

Because it’s hard to quit.

There’s always a reason to stick it out, whether it’s a sunk-cost fallacy, emotional attachment, or simply old ideas about the type of person you are and what that person should do. I want to finish things. I set challenging goals for myself and I want to reach all of them. But sometimes, you commit to something—a person, an organization, some imagined version of yourself—and find, ultimately, that the commitment ceases to make sense. When that happens, here are a few ways I ease the transition from doing it to not doing it:

Reframe failure as progress. I set big goals for myself every year, with the understanding that I won’t reach all of them. The benefit of this is that I can almost guarantee that I will at least make progress on all. With the marathon, I can view it as a failure, or I can look at the fact that I got through seven weeks of training and finally figured out how to enjoy short runs, something I’ve loathed since I started running.

Rebrand the entire concept of quitting. This one is courtesy of my friend JJ, who taught me the phrase “strategic abandonment” to describe situations where a goal or commitment is no longer serving you and needs to be removed from your life to make room for other things that are more in line with who you are now and the life you want to lead. Doesn’t strategic abandonment sound WAY better than quitting? Hard to feel shame when you’re doing something strategically.

Examine WHY you’re so resistant to quitting. Is this something you actually really want but are having trouble allocating the (temporal, energetic, financial, etc.) resources for? If that’s the case, reevaluate what’s possible—if not now, then maybe at a future date. But if you know this isn’t what you want to do, and yet there’s something preventing you from being completely at peace with the decision, there’s probably some useful information to be found. Who are you afraid of disappointing? Where did this feeling come from? Is it even true, or are you projecting? Looking at uncomfortable feelings tends to be, well, uncomfortable, but it also tends to be a path to better understanding yourself and avoiding similar issues in the future.

How do you know when it’s time to quit? And how do you make it happen?

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