When I was around 10 years old, I joined a YMCA basketball team. I cannot for the life of me remember why. I was the only girl, and I was not good. And when I say not good, I mean sometimes I would get confused in all the sensory input at a game and go the wrong way towards the wrong basket and take a shot… What’s amazing is that I don’t remember anyone making fun of me or giving me crap. They were probably just dumbfounded, wondering what was wrong with me… lol!
A year later, I joined a community volleyball team…again, why I wanted to do that, I don’t know. They put me on a team, and in the very first practice, I felt completely intimidated and lost. The coach even talked to me as if he’d known me for a while, like I had played for him the year before. He said things like, “Come on, you can do it, I’ve seen what you can do.” In my head, I’m like, I have never seen you before in my fucking life…
I go home that day, after my very first practice, asking my mom if I can quit. She was not happy, as she’d gone through the trouble of signing me up and making sure she could take me to all the practices, planned time out for my games for the season, etc. She said that I should really learn to finish what I start, and that it’s not good to just quit things all the time instead of pushing through and completing them. I remember feeling really weird about this, and I started crying as I thought about having to try and play with these obviously very skilled volleyball players as a complete newbie. At some point I was finally able to explain what was going on, and my mom made a few phone calls. She found out that I’d accidentally been put on the wrong team—an advanced team that had been playing together for years. I was supposed to be playing with beginners. I didn’t even know how to serve, lol.
That conversation stuck with me for a long time afterwards, in which my mother, before understanding the situation, impressed upon me the importance of “sticking with it” and “not being a quitter.” There was a great deal of anxiety bubbling up whenever I thought about trying something new only to find out I didn’t like it but being unable to get out of it for fear of being called a quitter. (For the record, my mom was never overly harsh about this and was always very understanding.)
Luckily, when I got to high school and discovered color guard and dance, I found something that I wanted to stick to for as long as possible, because I both loved the activities and had an aptitude for them.
Since then, it’s been a subject I’ve thought about off and on. I’ve had many conversations with many people touching on the virtue of finishing what you’ve started. For example, I often start books that I decide I don’t like and then stop reading them a chapter or two in. I have friends, including my husband, who is my best friend, who feels adamantly that if he starts a book, he MUST finish it. I do not for the life of me understand why someone would continue reading a book that they do not enjoy. And that is the ultimate point at which I arrived years ago regarding this subject. Let me explain, lol.
As an Aspie, I regularly find new sources of intense and rapt preoccupation. Many of these obsession cycles are triggered by a band or musician. Other times it’s a movie or actor or series. Sometimes it’s an activity, like playing guitar, working on an electronic piece, or writing a book. I’ve gone through phases that were quite random and off the wall, like baton twirling after seeing a Cirque du Soleil show or magic tricks when I was a kid while watching the old 90s TV show “World’s Greatest Magic.” One of the most powerful of these was Irish dance, and it lasted for years as I competed and obsessed over becoming a professional Irish dancer touring the world in Riverdance or Lord of the Dance. When I was injured in a competition, I decided it was time to call it quits. Likewise, when I’ve run through a cycle of obsession and I begin to lose that interest, usually because something else has begun replacing it, I call it quits on that behavior as well.
When I do not like a book or I find I’m not getting the value or experience I expected from an engagement, whether with people, activity, or something else, I QUIT—but quitting doesn’t mean losing whatever it is I’ve gained from that experience.
For example, I went through a very intense Pink Floyd phase in college. I read books on the band’s history, listened to every album religiously, learned songs on the guitar, etc. Then gradually I moved away from it into something else. I hardly ever listen to Pink Floyd now. But that doesn’t mean I don’t remember and appreciate their music. I know it has fed my own creativity in ways I can’t even see. When I create electronic music, I am influenced by all of my different musical obsessions that have come and gone throughout my life. I may quit the obsessive listening behavior, but I don’t quit the source or the effect. That stays with me forever.
Similarly, when I decide to stop engaging with a person, it’s because I am not receiving what I’d intended upon first meeting them. And I do not believe in forming friendships based solely on how much time you spend with them, i.e., the fact that I have spent several hours with you does not mean you are just automatically my friend now, lol. I used to find people online to meet up with and play music. Most of the time these engagements fizzled out because I did not feel comfortable or was not enjoying the experience. I quit just a few sessions after starting.
I had somewhat of a heated argument about this with my husband early on in our marriage. Every time I talked about wanting to try something new, he would say he had reservations because I had a habit of quitting things right after starting them. The Tai Chi class, the gym membership (I’ll definitely back him up on that one though, lol), dance teaching, MeetUp groups, and other examples I can’t think of at the moment.
Here’s the thing. I like to try new things. And I love that I am constantly learning and searching and experimenting. I don’t think people should make you feel bad about quitting something you started if/when you find out you’re not receiving the value or experience you were hoping for and expecting. Meetups, hobbies, whatever it is. I can’t imagine why I would have stuck with volleyball or basketball for the empty reason of “because you started it.” I can’t imagine spending hours reading a book I don’t like “because I started it and I shouldn’t quit.” Why the fuck not? Life is too short to “stick with it” when it’s not something you want or enjoy. I’ve known people who “stick with” torturous careers they hate just because it’s comfortable and they make money and quitting seems scary. You’ve got one life. And you’ve got choices to make. Don’t make them based on how others are going to perceive you for those choices if you are living true to yourself and according to your own values and principles.
I can see how this mentality plays a part when it comes to parenting children. Of course we don’t want kids to quit school because they just don’t like it, lol. But as adults, we are free to evaluate the cost/benefit of the choices we make and live according to those things we value above anything else. Social obligations/pressures that hold us into a position that only makes other people comfortable is wasting our time and sentencing us to meaningless misery.
But, and this is important, this should not be confused with sacrificing one’s time, resources, etc., in the name of something you care about. You might not love getting up on Saturday mornings to go volunteer at a school for autism or whatever other cause you support, but you do it because you believe in the positive effects of what you are doing on people that you care about. The same goes for spending time with family whom you love but may not always see eye-to-eye with on certain topics or issues. My point is that I’m not just a hedonist living according only to what makes me happy in a moment. I’m not eating junk food 24/7 and spending money haphazardly or pursuing empty relationships based solely on what I can get from people! I have given my time and energy to others who need something when they need it because I value our relationship and respect them as people. As my husband likes to say, it’s all about whether “the juice is worth the squeeze.” If it’s not worth the squeeze, don’t spend your precious time on it. And if the book sucks, for Buddha’s sake don’t spend the next two weeks reading it… Put the book down and find something you will actually get something out of lol.
But this is just my opinion, of course. Perhaps you are a compulsive completionist. And if you are, I’m not trying to attack you. These are just my thoughts, as someone who decided I was tired of being called a quitter like it was a bad thing! =)