Celebrating Quitting

Today, I am celebrating the act of quitting. I decided yesterday that I was going to quit the MIT Rocket Team, where I was learning about how rockets work and how to build one. I had been excited about this for months and even completed the first problem set from the liquid propulsion subteam.

Unfortunately, I had to quit because the meetings were on Saturday and I did not want to continue going to campus on Saturdays any longer. I’ve been working a full time job, 40 hours a week, while taking a class at MIT, and applying to graduate school. I’m also organizing a math conference and leading an Earth and Planetary Science seminar series. I desperately need my Saturdays to rest and recharge for my work week.

Instead of going to Rocket Team this week, I created this painting:

Watercolor painting of the view outside my bedroom window: a brick wall is outside, along with another brown building behind it. Inside, there is a line of books and a lamp, while Christmas lights dip in and out of the painting in the top left corner.
Watercolor painting of the view outside my window

It was hard for me to quit because it was something I enjoyed and wanted to do. In addition, sometimes I feel a lot of shame about committing to projects and quitting. However, as I have recently been diagnosed with ADHD, I realized that a lot of the times, I don’t know my own limits. Being able to exercise the simple act of quitting is something that helps me preserve my health and wellbeing.

We have all experienced a time where we felt the YES! We can do a project because we are excited! We say yes to the talk invites and the volunteer projects that will better our communities. But then we realize we’re not sleeping and taking care of our bodies. Our room or house is a mess and the laundry hasn’t been done in weeks. We feel empty again and unmotivated.

However, we’re too afraid to quit. We’re too afraid of the disappointment and expectations of others. We continue on, because we know that “winners never quit, and quitters never win.” We know that there is value in resiliency and that continuing when the going gets tough “builds character” and discipline.

I implore you, reader, to think about, though, what happens when our stubbornness creates more harm than if we quit? When do we decide that what we are handling is too much? I read an article in the New York Times once, titled Is Resilience Overrated?, and I think it’s applicable to this situation. This is a particularly apt quote from the article:

“‘You’re so resilient’ is just code for ‘You’re on your own, sorry.’”

People are being asked to be exceptional to get something less than exceptional in return: a basic standard of living. What is resilience anyway but an unfair exchange of energy? But who has time to consider these matters when they’re working to exhaustion?

I am talking about situations where we have the option to quit, of course. Not everyone can quit their job with an abusive manager or stop a project where the stakes are too high. Sometimes, there’s still things that you can give up on, though. I hope you’re able to think about quitting something that’s frankly, more energy than it’s worth. Remember to celebrate your ability to quit and understand the power of getting to choose. Then, enjoy whatever you gain from quitting.

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