We can attach a lot of meaning to the idea of ‘quitting’. Whether it’s the judgement that ‘winners DON’T quit’, ‘winners know WHEN to quit’, or the mantra that ‘quitting is the only real failure’.
There are obviously times when these ideas are helpful to remember and they carry elements of truth. But they are definitely not philosophies of life. They are far too simplistic.
Quitting carries a whole load of baggage as a word. And much of the messaging is oozing shame from its heart when you drill down a bit. A negative picture of what it means to quit is never far away from shame (a story we believe about ourselves that we want to keep hidden).
We quit when we believe the story we tell ourselves. For example, ‘I’m a failure, I can’t get anything right’ (I will just quit!) Or, ‘I must shut up and be grateful. I can’t get above my station, and just remember how lucky I am to have a job at all given how useless I am…’ (I can’t quit!)
Should I stay or should I go?
Quitting is neither positive or negative. It’s simply a helpful option that is always there. We can remember this when we quieten that voice of shame.
As Brené Brown points out in her work, the best tool we have against the destructive force of shame is vulnerability. It’s to name the shame, and tell the story. Only when we do this does the power balance shift.
Blackmail and Internal Ransom Notes
Shame is like a blackmailer, holding you ransom with a secret that you don’t want anyone to know. ‘Do what I say or else I’m going to reveal your humiliating secret to the world!’
It’s not always big things. In fact, it works its insidious way under our skin with the smallest things.
- Making a mistake at work (‘typical, it’s crazy that you still have a job…don’t tell anyone about this, they’ll know how useless you are’).
- Building a new relationship (‘You’re ugly, they’re never going to like the real you’).
- Disappointment (‘Don’t tell anyone it didn’t work out as you hoped. It makes you look stupid. I told you not to get excited!’)
- Around Others (‘Everyone is happier without me. They’re joking and laughing together. They don’t want me here’).
Shame tells us a story about ourselves and about the world. And it demands that we keep it a secret. And we respond by staying around against our will, or dropping everything and leaving against our will.
Shame drives spiralling debts, affairs, addiction, and unhealthy patterns of behaviour. Because it tells us ‘no one can know’. It traps us within fear and silence.
The Perfect Crime
There is a modern phishing scam that I’ve seen over the past few years. It taps into shame in a big way, using the weapon of ‘sextortion’.
It tells the recipient that there is proof of them doing something (e.g. watching porn). They tell the potential victim that they have planted malware on their device, and have access to the camera and their entire address book. They’re told that if they don’t want to be humiliated they can simply pay a large but not obscene amount of money (bitcoin), and the problem will go away. The most advanced ones will even have a very old password in the subject line, to deepen the sense of legitimacy.
There are a huge number of victims of this. Why? Shame. And many many more victims who will never admit they fell victim. Why? Shame.
It’s the perfect crime because it knows that shame is our kryptonite. Shame drives us to pay them off. And shame keeps us quiet about it.
When the shame gets too hot to handle and the truth has no choice but to come out we hit a breaking point. This is when we quit our bond with the shame. And it often gives us the opportunity to be free. Shamelessness becomes a winning strategy.
Quitting is ALWAYS an option. It’s not always easy. It might be unbearably painful. But it’s always possible.
Why Embrace the Possibility of Quitting?
Quitting is about releasing, letting go, abandoning, clearing, wiping the slate clean, and so on. It’s pretty much always an option in some way, whatever we are doing. And if there is stuff overwhelming, burdening, or stressing us, it is more than likely we can look with fresh eyes at the struggle and embrace the truth that quitting is an option.
We can develop a healthy relationship with the option to quit. To embrace a life of crafting, refining, tweaking, bringing in, and letting go. In other words, to adapt to the inevitability of change. Quitting becomes an all or nothing concept when we refuse to accept the truth of change. It can seem like a bolt from the blue, alongside the myth that we often want to believe, that things shouldn’t change. How things are, they should always be.
But we all know that this is not life.
Attached to the Unhealthy Stories We Tell Ourselves
We often attach ourselves to our struggles. Even creating a sense of identity around them. They become stories about who we are, based on the thoughts, habits, and relationships we just can’t seem to let go. Or we tell ourselves stories about ourselves and how ‘this kind of thing always happens to me’, and create narratives about ‘people like them’.
There is both fear and freedom in letting go.
When we see quitting as an ever present option, it allows us to see the stuff to which we attach with a fresh lens. What if this story I’m telling myself isn’t actually true?
We find freedom when we release those things that keep us trapped. But it’s also a source of fear. And it can be more comfortable to stick with the familiar pain, than allowing ourselves to enter a new unfamiliar hope or joy.
You don’t find many smokers who aren’t aware of the health risks that the habit brings. Knowing is not enough. We’ve got to truly grapple with HOW to make quitting an option for us as an individual. We need to learn how to release ourselves from those stories.
Ego Fear vs Real Fear
Fear is not all the same, and it’s not all bad. ‘Real fear’ drives the instinct to protect ourselves from imminent risk. It keeps us away from ledges. It encourages us to stay the other side of the fence to a lion. And it helps us avoid using toasters in the bath. It’s a healthy instinct, which increases our likelihood of survival.
‘Ego fear’ comes from the same basic mechanism, but responds to things that don’t pose a direct risk to survival. It is driven by the ego and self-perception, which wants to feel safe and attaches meaning to things and for me, always tells me to quit and run away when I’m facing a challenge. It happens when I get criticised, when I struggle to master something, and when things aren’t as easy as I hoped they might be.
The desire to quit can come alongside both types of fear. There is a story being told: you should leave this place before it gets dark and the tide comes in. You should leave the stage because you’re going to make a fool of yourself.
The option to quit is always there. But so too is my ability to assess the reasons and consequences. How much does the impact of quitting or not quitting matter to me and the life I want to live?
Over to You
What was the last thing you quit? How did it go? Please leave your response in the comments below.
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Shame and Impostor Syndrome
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