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The Art of Quitting

I thought it might be apt to have my first proper newsletter of this new series about quitting, having recently left my own job. I was listening to a great podcast episode the other day with Elizabeth Day on Steven Bartlett’s, Diary of a CEO. In a very open and honest conversation the pair were discussing the fact that as a society we glamorise starting new things without giving significant acknowledgement to leaving things, be that a job, relationship, friendship, home or country.

Making space for something new often requires a loss or compromise somewhere else and we do ourselves and others a huge disservice not to recognise the strength, pain and relief that can come from quitting. But leaving something requires vulnerability and facing uncertainty.

In uncertainty there could be a whole host of negative experiences that will flood our thoughts: failure, pain, sadness, rejection. But there could also be fulfilment, joy and integrity. Our brains will favour a negative, yet familiar scenario over a new unknown situation and bridging that gap is often the work of a lifetime. In a world where we’re tricked into thinking we have control over most things in our life, learning to be comfortable with uncertainty will go a long way in increasing our resilience when it comes to change, be that out of our control or otherwise. In the instance of quitting I think it’s important to emphasis that knowing that it’s down to us to make a decision can feel completely overwhelming. From the outside you never see the time spent worrying to friends and family, asking if they think you’re doing the right thing, mentally mapping out every eventuality and sometimes just ending up paralysed by indecision that we carry along down the same road for weeks, months or years.

The quitting or leaving of anything requires a conversation to be had and most of us hate having those difficult conversations. A vulnerable, honest discussion about what you’re thinking and what you want for yourself in that moment can feel like the most terrifying thing to do, or even contemplate. Perhaps it’s our failure as a society to equip children with the right conversational tools at school to navigate moments where they feel a boundary being crossed, or an event playing out that they don’t want to be a part of, and reminding them that it’s okay to leave, it’s okay to quit and walk away if something no longer serves you, as long as you do it with compassion for those involved. Through our fear of being vulnerable we often end up saying things we don’t really mean to either protect ourselves or another person/company or retreat further from our authentic selves that we feel disconnected from those around us.

Brené Brown, the Queen of vulnerability says: ’Vulnerability is not winning or losing. It’s having the courage to show up when you can’t control the outcome’. And ultimately, quitting is standing up for yourself and what you believe is right for you in the face of great uncertainty or fear. Which brings everything back to the fact that we need to more openly acknowledgement that everything doesn’t always turn out like we imagined it would. We need to talk about the process of change: the difficult conversations, self-reflection, saving money, making social sacrifices, facing failure and regret and all the things we fear so much but will encounter at some point anyway! Our wants change, other people change, catastrophic things beyond our control force change and in being more vulnerable through the art of quitting we’ll empower those around us to contemplate a different future for themselves and remind tired minds that we're way more resilient than we ever imagined anyway. I hope this makes you feel even somewhat better if you're in the middle of chaotic or quiet change. Either way every Brené Brown book that I've read feels like a reassuring hug and is the perfect Sunday salve.

Originally published in my newsletter 02/05/2021


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