The Art of Quitting

 

 My dear son,

It's the first morning of the New Year. We’re at the airport waiting for our flight back home, after our annual year-end vacation. Everywhere I look, everything I see, is drenched in holiday cheer. The possibility of new beginnings, which have invariably come to be associated with this day, hang in the air, thick and slick. And yet, somehow, instead of talking to you about starting new things, I feel inclined, nay, terribly tempted, to talk about the art of quitting.

 

Let me explain why. Right next to me at this moment, is a man, tangled hopelessly in a call with his boss (whom he undoubtedly hates with every cell in his body, as is evident from his frowned forehead and tense shoulders). I've been listening to him for the last few minutes and whatever he’s discussing seems neither urgent, nor important. His wife is trying to get him to drop the call (with a bleakness in her eyes which suggest she knows he won’t). Something in this situation will leave a scar, tiny, indiscernible even, but a scar nevertheless.

 

This man could get off the call with a quick and easy, ‘I’m sorry, they just announced our boarding’ or the classic ‘Hello! Hello! I think I’m losing you. Got a pretty spotty network here’. But he doesn’t even try. Because perhaps somewhere in his mind, subconsciously, he is convinced that his equity with his boss and consequently his success at his job depends on enduring phone calls like these.

 

Could that possibly be true, I wonder. Could such small yet intolerable tortures really be the gravel that paves the way to our ultimate success and happiness? Or is that just something we've been led to believe?

 

So many things in our lives are hinged to our happiness (or a misplaced understanding thereof), incorrectly and disproportionately. And because of these false associations and assumptions, we endure far too much and for far longer than we have to. No, one does not need to finish engineering just because they already started it. Or be in a job they can’t stand. Or live in a city they dislike. Or stay in any version of their life they hate waking up to, every morning. And yet, so very few of us have the guts to quit.

 

Quitting; now that is a sweet, sweet redeemer. Unfortunately, by the time I realised this I had suffered through a graduation and a post-graduation in a subject that didn’t interest me quite as much. Weathered a ten-year-long career in a field, which I did enjoy, but the hours I had to put in damaged my health and sense of balance in life. Brooked people that and situations which I could have easily escaped. Because quitting, you see, is considered worse than the Black Plague. In the world we live in, one's life is only as meaningful as the size of the billboard of ambition they carry on their heads. So no one ever talks about quitting things. It's the devil. The one that shall not be named. Or even thought of. Why, I know people who cannot even bring themselves to quit a book they aren’t enjoying, just because everyone else is reading it. That’s how endemic and deep the 'thou shall not quit' problem is.

Thankfully, I did wake up to the beauty of quitting one fine morning. And now I practice it without compunction. I quit chores. Quit social engagements. Quit on deadlines. Quit on people and situations.

 

But isn’t it a slippery slope, you ask? How do you not let practicing the art of quitting turn you into someone who hardly gets anything done, ever. In other words, how do you know when to quit 'quitting'? And that, my child, is a very pertinent question. The answer to which lies in the universal barometer, the only barometer we should gauge our lives by—inner peace.

 

Quitting is an art, not science; and hence, like all arts, it needs you to use your heart more than your brain. You do this one by feeling, not thinking. When you quit something you should, you’d find yourself to be at peace. Conversely, if you are wrong, and you've walked away from something you shouldn't have, peace will elude you. It is as simple as that. It does come with a caveat, though. You need to use this instrument in a controlled environment; in complete isolation from the rest of the world and their expectations from you. It is, after all, about what brings you peace and happiness, not others. So if, on one particular day, you think you'd be happier painting flowers pots and rearranging your kitchen garden instead of actioning on a pressing deadline then paint away, my child, paint your heart away. Should you, God forbid, ever find yourself in a wrong career, wrong relationship, wrong situation—Quit. Without delay. Without regrets.

 

I wish as children, along with the stories of grand successes and accomplishments, we were also told stories of all the things people quit. All they managed to walk away from because it didn't feel right. Because that, to me, is a more accurate narrative of our lives. All the routes we backtracked because they weren’t leading anywhere. All the wrong turns we righted by turning around. All the lives we never lived because they weren’t meant for us. That is where I for one, at least, see real promise and comfort.

 

And hence, this New Year’s morning, as people wish for new beginnings, I wish for you the wisdom and the gall to quit what you must, when you must. So that whatever you do accomplish, has the spectacular brilliance of coming straight from your heart.

 

 

Love, now and forever,

Your mother

 

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