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The Art of Quitting

by ChristinaPilkington on March 9, 2011 · 0 comments

 Have you ever heard someone say, “I’m not a quitter?” Someone who hangs on until the very end even when it’s best to let go? Now, perseverance can be a great thing. If we all quit at everything we did, nothing would ever get accomplished. But sometimes we fear being seen as a quitter so much that we continue with a goal, project or activity even when we’re no longer progressing or accomplishing anything we really care about.

I fall so easily into this category. When I start working on a problem, I will work hours and hours if I have to in order to solve the thing. The problem is that sometimes I neglect other responsibilities in the process. Or I work so hard that my brain just can’t take it anymore, and I end up going around in circles. But when I put the computer away for the night or walk away from that room I just can’t quite get organized, I’m amazed at how often the answer comes to me when I wake up in the morning. Something that seemed impossible just ten hours ago suddenly seems so simple.  

Sometimes stepping away from a problem or a new skill is the only way to get closer to solving it or progressing to the next level.

When my daughter Alexa was three years old she wanted to take ballet lessons. We had watched several ballets on DVD when she was two, and she begged to learn how to dance. So we paid for the lessons, and it really seemed she liked it at first. She went once a week for six months and even performed in a little recital. But after the recital was over she said, “I’m not going back.”

I admit. I felt a little frustrated, even though that was highly irrational. She was just three years old! Still, it really seemed like she liked it and it felt like she was giving up. Still, I said, “Sure.”  Fast-forward eight months and she said, “I want to take dance lessons again.” So we signed her up… again. Sure enough after four months this time she was ready to quit. Oddly enough, I felt very much at peace the second time. (Of course the cost of the leotards, slippers, and costumes might have also added to this feeling, too).  She had jumped right into her second set of lessons doing steps with ease that had been extremely difficult for her eight months earlier.  And she had done it without weeks of sequential, steady practice.

Most people need built in time to process things. We don’t usually learn at an even, steady rate. Despite what the school system might think, many people learn in leaps and bounds. They may appear stuck at a step in the learning process for awhile, but then jump way ahead of where they were- seemingly overnight.

But most teachers and parents feel that if they let their kids stop working on a skill for a while it will teach a lack of follow-through. They get this fear that if their child stops thinking about addition or subtraction for a month that he’ll digress in his ability. That is often so far from the truth. The truth is that kids, and adults, unconsciously realize they NEED time to process things – to let their mind play with the concept, problem, skill – for as long as they need before progressing. If that time is not given to time, THAT’S when you’ll see a digression of skill, or a numbness or lack of interest in the skill or topic altogether.

When your child wants to quit something, instead of having that, “Quitters never win” speech prepared, take some time to consider why she wants to quit. Is it something she’s always loved and has now lost interest in? Would you like to continue doing something you weren’t interested in? Is this something he’s made a commitment to others and now wants to back away from? Could it be he might need a little help in setting smaller, more manageable goals so it doesn’t appear overwhelming? Or could he have unreasonable expectations about solving the problem within a certain timeframe, coming from either himself or someone else?

Children taught the art of quitting don’t have to fear failure.

If your goal for your children is for them love learning, pushing them beyond enjoyment and personal satisfaction will only lead to frustration. Respect and honor their need for process time and don’t be quick to judge how long that process might take.

In case you were wondering, after that second session of ballet lessons, Alexa quit again. Maybe she’ll go back in six months- or maybe in five years. Or maybe she’ll never put on a tutu again. I know she’s learned what she’s needed for the time being; she knows where to go back if she needs to learn more.

What have you quit before and why? How would things be different if you picked that skill, knowledge, or hobby up again?

Creative Commons License photo credit: woodleywonderworks


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