Category: Blog

Quitting as Self-Care


A few years ago the term self-care appeared as a means of describing anything that a person does to take care of themselves, like getting a massage, meditating, going for a walk in nature, or taking a relaxing bath in essential oils. All of the above are great ways to improve your physical and emotional health; however, they are often used not as a way to improve health, but to undo the damage caused by underlying stresses and simply restore one’s previous level of health.

Take meditation. It’s a practice that has been used for millennia as a means of trying to reach an enlightened state. But what do we often use it for now? As a means to calm ourselves down after an argument with a significant other or a way to gain a glimpse of equanimity before what we know will be a tough day at work.

In the above instances, meditation isn’t being used to take us to a higher place, it’s being used to get us back to baseline. And then the next day, when our job or our toxic relationships drag us back into sadness or anxiety, we use it again to bring us back up.

This is akin to using Tylenol to treat cancer. Cancer causes pain, so we take Tylenol to relieve the pain. This treats only the symptoms and ensures that we’re going to have to take Tylenol again and again each time the pain arises.

How would we stop that cycle? By curing the cancer.

Similarly, you can’t massage away a bad job and you can’t journal away a toxic relationship. In both instances, you’re merely treating the symptoms.

What’s the cure? Quitting.

Quit the job that’s taken your sanity day after day. Quit the relationships that have led you to the negative self-talk that requires hours of journaling and meditation to sort out.

Because all of the above self-care tools are amazing in their own rights, but are so much more helpful in improving your physical and mental health if you’re starting from a more stable baseline — which requires taking a good look (often through journaling!) at what is disturbing your peace.

So next time something has you anxious or depressed, grab that journal and write down what led to that feeling. Then start analyzing whether the cause can be quit. You may need a job-ectomy, or to have some toxic friends surgically removed from your friend circle.

And after you do, be sure to light some candles, throw some essential oils in a bathtub, and meditate your way to enlightenment — free of whatever was holding you back!

Quit and Unquit ‘Til You Find Something You Love (The Capoeira Story)

In med school I recall attending a cultural fair and from afar I saw a circle of people doing gymnastics, playing drums, and singing in a foreign language. I’m not sure any trifecta of things has ever been more in line w/ stuff I already loved, so I had to find out what it was. It was capoeira, and while I immediately looked into how I could learn it, I realized it was a little more intense than med school would have allowed, so I quit and let it go.

Fast forward four years and I’m at the University of Arizona for my sports medicine fellowship and they gave me an ID card that essentially let me do anything a student could do. So at 30, I decided to try to blend in with the college kids and I went to the student activities fair because I had heard they had a capoeira club and it was time to try this out.

I went to capoeira class there all of three times. There was no music, and no singing in foreign languages, but what there was was a lot of gymnastics on hard floors without mats and a ton of sit-ups on the same hard floor that my spine wasn’t having.

Let’s be honest, I was a very fragile, delicate, breakable flower who hadn’t done a sit-up in over a decade for fear of, and I’m not kidding, visible stomach muscles.

At the same time, I was working at the student sports med clinic and I’d see people from the class coming in with their capoeira-related injuries. I thought for sure this thing was gonna injure me in some fashion, and I was pretty fond of being uninjured.

So I quit capoeira.

With no regrets. Capoeira equaled pain and injury as far as I was concerned, and again, I had grown up as unathletic as you could imagine, so I ran far far away.

But then the next year I ended up playing in a Brazilian band called Group Liberdade, and during our shows, capoeiristas from Capoeira Brasil Arizona would play capoeira in front of us while we sang the capoeira music. And I looked around and realized that half of the people playing capoeira were women about my age and about my size.

What was wrong with me? Why was I such weak sauce?

Well not long after, fate stepped in. I moved to San Diego and my gym offered capoeira, so I decided to try again. And after a few months, someone suggested I check out Capoeira Brasil San Diego.

I did. On May 7, 2011.

Now the reason that’s my capoeira anniversary and not whenever I started back in Tucson is because like with any relationship, you don’t celebrate an anniversary from the day you met, but the day you made a commitment to each other. That’s the day I bought the uniform and made the commitment. I unquit capoeira.

Three months later, I was in the ER. I had taken an overly-aggressive cartwheel to the face.

Seven stitches, a chipped tooth and one sweet facial scar later and I had been more injured by capoeira than I could have imagined. Everyone was sure I would quit after that.

But I didn’t.

Two years later I landed a flying kick wrong and completely tore my ACL,requiring surgical reconstruction. Again, probably more injured than I had even feared I could be from capoeira.

But I didn’t quit then either.

A year after that I was told it was unsafe for me to continue training with the group I was with, thanks to some less than stable students (ok just one in particular). I had a choice: change groups (which is realllllly rare), or quit.

I changed groups and kept training.

Since that first capoeira quit I’ve tried more unsafe gymnastics on hard floors and done tens of thousands of sit-ups on concrete-ish surfaces. I’ve also gained more confidence than I could have ever imagined. The super fragile flower is now significantly less afraid of physically-demanding, super uncomfortable situations. And though it took about five of the seven years to get to this point, I actually enjoy playing in the capoeira games instead of just dreading it and hoping no one accidentally kills me.

Oh and there’s the music, which I live for…

Anyway, the point of this is that most quits aren’t fatal. Or permanent. So quit stuff if it feels wrong, because someday the right situation will come along and you’ll be ever so glad you’re not stuck in the old situation.

The other point is that I love capoeira. And my capoeira family.

And quitting.

Breaking Up With Burpees

The above photo (borrowed from F45 Training’s instagram account) may remind you of the ol’ Sesame Street days. As in, one of these things is not like the other. Even though this workout was done in groups, it’s probably clear that everyone in that middle group is in some mid-burpee position. All except one…

Yeah, that’s me, the one sticking out like a sore thumb.

Now why, you may ask, do I seem to have confused horizontal and vertical when deciding the direction this was supposed to go? Well I wasn’t confused. This was a conscious choice:

Because years ago, I quit burpees.

Not because I wanted to. But because not all surgeries go well, and some go kind of terribly.

My issue started with a bunionectomy gone wrong on my right foot. During the surgery they cut my big toe into two pieces with the intention of pinning it back together internally. Well, someone cut off too much bone and they had to pin it externally…so I woke up from surgery looking kind of like THIS:

burpees

NOT MY ACTUAL FOOT (but in those days no one had a camera on their phone. My pins were green and stuck out of the top of the foot.)But while I don’t have a photo of my actual foot, I do still have the actual pins, seen below:

burpees

This was definitely not something I would have signed up for had I known it was a possibility. To make matters worse, I was supposed to have this pin cushion thing going on for a month…but in less than a month I was also supposed to walk across the stage at my graduation from medical school.

Yes, that’s right, the moment I’d been waiting for for YEARS and I was going to be partially out of commission for it?

Not on your life.

So I called the podiatrist and said something like “Um, yeah, so about those four weeks…” and I recall quite well his response. “You’re young and healthy, maybe it won’t take four weeks to heal. We’ll remove the pins in three weeks.”

Phew. What a relief. I’d be able to walk at graduation like a normal person.
Or so I thought.

The day came for them to take out the pins. I was stoked, and the first thing me and my pin-free foot did was head to Target (this was before Amazon, you had to go to Target like every other day). But while walking through the parking lot back to my car after the Target-ing, one of my steps with the right foot was met with a pain like no other. “STAB STAB STAB!” went the pain. I fell to the ground. It felt like my entire foot had exploded.

So what did this genius do? NOTHING. I hobbled back to the car with my ‘ignorance is bliss’ firmly in check and went home. Nevermind that I definitely couldn’t walk painlessly. I told myself this was normal. Again, I had some graduating to do and nothing was going to stop it.

So graduation day comes around and said foot is about twice the size of the other foot. It was so large that I had to wear my mom’s shoes for the ceremony, which were an entire size larger than my own. I managed to cram footzilla into this low-heeled shoe and hobbled off to the symphony hall.

After hours of waiting around, the ceremony began and finally they called my name. It was one of those times I swear you could hear a pin drop as my entire family held their breath hoping I would make it across the stage without collapsing or screaming out in pain.

The following week the pain continued, and I finally ended up chatting with an old friend of mine who had been a doctor longer than I had (meaning longer than 6 days…). I told him about the foot pain and he asked a question I’ll never forget:

“Can you dorsiflex the big toe?”

Dorsiflex means to flex it upwards towards the head. I tried. I could not.
Now had I been thinking, I would have tried this on myself a week earlier, but again, doctoring yourself is hard. So when I told him I couldn’t move the toe, he broke the news to me:

“That means your toe fell apart.”

Ugh. So without so much as an appointment, I limped into the surgeon’s office the next day and showed them my lack of dorsiflexion toe, which earned me an insta-xray and almost as instantly, a diagnosis:
“Your toe has separated. You’re going into surgery tomorrow to fix it.”

Great. I was supposed to be dancing Bollywood at two of my closest friends’ weddings in the next month, which would no longer be possible. I would spend yet another month with pins sticking out of my foot. Awesome.

Now you’d think this time they’d be extra-careful in getting it right, seeing as how the pins were due to their error in the first place but no, I later found out through follow-up x-rays done at the Mayo Clinic that the toe was re-pinned in a rotated position!

You had ONE JOB! Pin the toe STRAIGHT back like it was!

Now I only know this because the toe never recovered. Months of physical therapy and no one could figure out why it still wouldn’t dorsiflex much. But the x-rays cleared that up. The toe is shorter, rotated, and now, thanks to all those months of me trying to rehab a rotated toe, full of arthritis.

So it’s like I’m 40 years old, but my toe is 140.

To make matters worse for my poor right foot, years later this happened:

burpees

The (almost) hilarious part of that is that when I got x-rays taken for the pinky injury, the doctor (who saw them before seeing me), walks in and starts talking about what to do about all my big toe arthritis, including … wait for it…

A TOE REPLACEMENT!

I chuckled and told him I was there for a DIFFERENT injury and that he could keep his fake toe, but thanks.

So what’s the result, these 13 years later? That toe doesn’t do the motion that it’s supposed to do when you lunge forward with the opposite foot, or, more appropriately for this article, the motion that is required to propel you back off the ground from the bottom of a burpee.

Have I tried? Yes. Has my foot told me exactly what it thought about those tries? Also yes. Just ask my Costco-sized bottle of ibuprofen.

It does still affect my ability to ginga and esquiva in capoeira, my ability to do crescent pose and a ton of other yoga poses, and at this point walking lunges are a torture to which I no longer subject myself.

But in 2014 I signed up for a free month of this online workout called the Daily Burn. In it one day they had us do something they called “handstand burpees.” I saw the online fitness goddess do the traditional burpee jump up to start, then she put her hands on the ground, but then instead of shooting out into a chest-to-the-ground position (my nemesis), she shot up into a handstand.

Whaaaaa? What is this awesomeness?! A burpee I can actually do?!?

So I tried it. And then I tried it again. Trust me, it took more than a few tries to get it to look like the goddess’ burpee, but eventually I got it.

Now, not being able to burpee is generally a fairly private battle…unless you do group fitness. So my ‘deficiency’ first came to light at a CorePower class where we were asked to do burpees.
To paraphrase the now infamous quote, when the rest of the class went low, I went high. Like vertical. No one seemed to judge me negatively (note: all anyone wants in life it to not be judged negatively, let’s just admit it and move on, k?).

But then I joined November Project, a morning workout group of generally awesome athletes, and the number of people witnessing my abnormal burpees went from 16 to 160, and with it, my self-consciousness about them also increased ten-fold.
Because here’s the reality. If you can’t do a handstand, they look hard. If you can do a handstand, which I’ve been able to do since the age of about 4, they are extremely not hard.

Burpees are hard. My version of burpees are, dare I say, fun. Not hard. Not easy, but on a scale of 1 to actual burpees, it’s about halfway.

However, they definitely elicit a response. Well, two responses.
1. Wow. That’s impressive. Or…
2. Show off!

The first is sweet. Unwarranted (again, cause I’m working only half as hard as everyone else), but sweet. And supportive. I feel unjudged.

The is less awesome. Because I then feel forced to stop and explain that I have a defective toe that had two surgeries and now is arthritic and won’t dorsiflex and that if I want to still be able to walk later in the day, that’s the only option I have.

Now my friends know that one of my biggest challenges in life is to convince myself that no one is judging me. But guess what, when someone calls me a show-off, it’s really hard to feel not judged. It’s much more likely that I’m going to feel like I did back in grade school when I got teased for being a nerd who knew stuff. Not exactly my favorite feeling.

Now I’m well aware we all have our injuries. Especially those of us who are 1. older or who 2. do crazy sports like capoeira. I bet most of the people in November Project could print out their own shirt with a list of the injuries that impact them on a daily basis and yet they still do 100% of the exercises we’re given.

However, as a sports-medicine doctor, I’ve seen what happens to people as they age when they don’t listen to their bodies. It’s not pretty. And since I plan to be training capoeira in my retirement home, I’m gonna go ahead and respect my body…by breaking up with burpees.

So see you in the upside down! 🙃

burpees

Not All Quits are Created Equal

I met with a friend last night who was contemplating quitting his job. And not because there was anything necessarily wrong with the job. More so because when he wasn’t at his best or most efficient, there were no actual repercussions, which allowed time for his mind to wander and for him to often feel bored. And also because he wanted to do the same type of work, but with the freedom of being able to do it wherever and whenever he wanted.

So while some of us get anxious or stressed because parts of a job are causing us grief, he was suffering from a different sensation, one I can only best describe as restlessness. A feeling of “there could be more.” I appreciated him bringing this to me, because that’s a quitting situation that generally only those really in touch with their true desires approach.

Like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, there is also a hierarchy of quits. There are the basic quits that can save a life — for example, quitting a relationship that involves abuse. Then there are the quits that can save one’s health — like when you quit a job that causes ulcer-inducing levels of stress. But somewhere near the top are the quits that aren’t due to decreasing health or happiness…they’re due to knowing that on the other side there’s even more happiness and fulfillment.

In the hierarchy of needs, a person has to fulfill the basic needs of food and shelter before moving on to fulfilling the desire for love, and eventually, self-actualization. Similarly, quitting something that isn’t harming you in any way assumes that nothing is currently jeopardizing your life or physical/mental health. It’s the goal to which we should all aspire.

But it’s not where most of us start, so let’s start at the beginning. Is there something threatening your life? Start the quitting there. Please. Like immediately. With a call to 911 or a visit to a local shelter or to a medical professional. And if not (which I sincerely hope is the case), then ask yourself if there’s something jeopardizing your physical or mental health. If so, then make that your quitting priority.

However, if none of these describe you, well, first of all — congratulations! You’re at the level where you can evaluate whether there’s more that life can offer you. So take a look at your relationships, your job, your career, your living situation. If any part of it could be more fulfilling, more rewarding, more aligned with your goals and mission, then perhaps it’s time to consider an upgrade.

Quitting Clients (aka Ditching the Diamondbacks)

I always stress that strategic quitting differs from regular-ol’ quitting in many ways, but one of the most important is knowing what exactly you should quit. Very often people know they’re not happy with their situation, but they’re not exactly sure why.

Unstrategic quitters at that point quit either everything, or random things. Like “Let’s randomly move to a new city, or quit a relationship. Maybe that’ll help.”

I mean, maybe it will, but it’s a gamble.

What’s more strategic is deciding exactly what isn’t working and then quitting only that.

This quit is a great example of a small one that can make a big difference: quitting clients.

I know CPAs who quit doing taxes for individuals and instead only focus on businesses. I know coaches who stopped doing group coaching sessions. And I know doctors who stopped seeing insured patients and now see cash-only patients.

If you’re in any of these fields, the reasons why my friends made the above moves probably jump out at you immediately. But if you’re not, just know that in every field there are going to be clients who take more of your time and energy than others, or who in some way or another lead to less return on investment than others do, or who just happen to rub you the wrong way more than others.

Quit them.

Unapologetically.

But first, apologize.

Let me clarify. If you’re servicing a certain type of client and you want to stop doing so while there is still a relationship, that’s going to take some artful finagling. Especially doctors and lawyers and CPA-types who have a fiduciary duty to their clients must take special care that you let your clients go in the most legal and ethical means possible. Ensure you have someone else ready to take your place as best you can, and do apologize for the inconvenience.

Some more examples of this include an attorney friend who quit civil cases and decided to focus only on criminal because they are a lot more cut and dried and they’re shorter from start to finish, which allowed him to better plan his schedule.

I also quit a type of client: high maintenance athletes and their staff. I’ll never forget the time I was a sports medicine fellow and I was called by whomever was working for the Arizona Diamondbacks at the time they were in Tucson, Arizona for spring training. My fellowship, at the University of Arizona in Tucson, had me working with the team, which probably sounds really exciting, right until the calls start. I’d get calls in the middle of the day to go to their facility and do physicals on the latest round of new players. Were they emergency physicals? (Is that even a thing?) No. They were just requested by people not used to anyone saying no to them.

One day they called and said they needed me to come give a player an allergy shot. Now, I won’t debate the efficacy of the shots I was asked to give, but let’s just say this wasn’t a “dude ate a peanut, now needs an epic-pen” situation…this was for seasonal allergies. They make this request in the middle of a full clinic day. Yet I go over there, leaving my patients to sit in the waiting room while I get this shot ready. I go to give it to the player and I can’t find him. “Oh he’s batting,” they tell me. ARE YOU SERIOUS? I interrupted my day but he can’t skip an at-bat, during an intrasquad game, by the way, for me to give him this shot he apparently needed RIGHT NOW!

So I waited. And after whatever time period an at-bat should have taken, I asked again if he was ready. “Oh he’s in the outfield now.”

Oh no he didn’t….

At that point I lost what little patience I had and headed to the field with syringe in hand, declaring if they wanted a steroid scandal I was going to give them one cause I was going to inject him on the field because I HAD PATIENTS WAITING!

He came in.

But moral of the story is that if a client or group of clients gets you to the point that you’re about to shove sharp objects in a left fielder while dodging a line drive, you may want to consider quitting them.

Just my two cents:)

Quit Valentine’s Dread, not Valentine’s Day

This time of year people are often either anticipating or dreading Valentine’s Day, depending on their relationship status.

Being able to poke fun of your singleness on Valentine’s day is one way to cope with the lack of a romantic Valentine with whom to share the day (see photo below), but many others have chosen to quit recognizing the day altogether.

Remember Liz Lemon from 30 Rock? She chose to celebrate Anna Howard Shaw day on the 14th instead. Others have rebranded it “singles awareness day.”

I’m no different. For the second year in recent past, I’ve purposely booked a red eye that leaves on the evening of Valentine’s Day just to take off any pressure. Cleverly disguised as a Valentine’s gift to self, of course.

But I have a suggestion. Instead of quitting Valentine’s day or finding some way to run from it or disguise it, how about we quit the dread associated with it?

Why? You may ask. Or, more likely, how???

Well as I recorded the intro to the podcast that I’m releasing tomorrow, I started by wishing listeners a happy Valentine’s Day…something I think the jaded me would never have done. But I’ve developed a gratitude practice that helps remind me of what I have to be grateful for instead of focusing on what I feel I lack…like an actual Valentine.

How this may sound like hippie mumbo jumbo, but I swear it works. I’m not dreading tomorrow. I’m actually looking forward to getting to send love to everyone who’s made me feel loved this year.

And the list is not short. Did you read an article I wrote? Or purchase a copy of my book? Or encourage me when the pre-sale was rough? Or give me feedback on my podcast? Or say a generally encouraging thing during a tough time? Or participate in any of the activities that bring joy to my life?

Then you are my valentine.

I have great friends:)

Finding ways to send and receive love that aren’t romantic, and generally appreciating all those in your life who support you every day, are great means of turning Valentine’s Day from your greatest fear to yet another chance for celebration.

I’ll start early. You read this far? Guess what, per the above, you more than qualify. I love you!!! Happy Valentine’s Day:)

Quitting Bernie Sanders: One Delegate’s Journey

I remember the exact date I fell in love with Bernie Sanders. It was December 10, 2010.

That’s when I happened to tune into a 69-year-old white-haired senator from Vermont in the eighth hour of his famous filibuster against extension of the Bush-era tax cuts.

Fast forward to 2015: Bernie Sanders announced his bid for president. Elated, I volunteered with the San Diego for Bernie Sanders group, holding signs on interstate overpasses, making calls to voters, standing on street corners registering voters, and marching in parades, handing out stickers alongside a Tesla wrapped in Bernie logos.

I was even elected as a delegate for Bernie to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.

Yes, the Democratic National Convention. Because as you well know, to have a legitimate chance at the presidency, candidates have to pick a team.

More specifically, they have to choose between the blue team and the red team. Otherwise, they get relegated to a footnote. Just ask someone like Ralph Nader or Gary Johnson.

The further I got involved, however, the more it became apparent that the “Democratic” team had little interest in the candidate that passionate voters like me supported. The evidence was everywhere — from the lack of support from Democratic elected officials, to Tulsi Gabbard having to step down from her position as vice-chair of the DNC in order to support Bernie, to Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s position that superdelegates exist to make sure party leaders aren’t challenged by “having to run against grassroots activists.

So by the time that Wikileaks released emails proving that DNC officials actively undermined Bernie Sanders’ campaign, no one in the Bernie camp was surprised. The emails, however, were released on the day we delegates were heading to Philadelphia to cheer on our anti-big-corporation hero at the Democratic National Convention — an event thrown by one of the two most powerful private corporations in the country, the DNC.

Ironic, right?

About as ironic as the “Democratic” Party leadership actively trying to prevent their own voters from opposing their chosen candidate.

And we all saw how things played out. Bernie lost the nomination and endorsed Clinton. After Clinton lost, and after hanging up his “D” and returning to his status as an independent senator, he almost inexplicably went on a “unity tour” with new DNC chairperson Tom Perez.

It was as if Bernie Sanders had some type of Stockholm Syndrome — playing nice with those who had treated him so unfairly in the entire election process.

So what were the dedicated Berners left to do? Bernie’s supporters were put in a position to have to choose between two bad outcomes. Trump wasn’t acceptable, but for those who truly believed in Sanders’ principles, neither was Clinton.

All we could do was focus on restructuring the rules of the game.

Because while Bernie is a great catalyst, this entire experience made me realize that political parties are not the vehicle for change. They all have a stake in enacting only the reforms that will benefit their side, but a true democracy should have electoral systems in place that benefit the people, regardless of their party affiliation (or lack thereof).

The political revolution has to come from outside — from the true independents.

We need election reforms that will decrease the power of the duopoly and increase competition while leveling the playing field for those running as independents or third-party candidates. We need our primary election process to serve the public, not just the two major parties, and we need to allow independent voters a voice in the primaries, not just in the general election.

Now there are many Berners still dedicating their time and resources to getting him to run again or to advancing the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. And I understand why: many of us invested a lot in the movement and some may be finding it hard to quit.

I did. As an author, I just wrote a book about strategic quitting. And as I wrote the book, I began to realize maybe myself and the other Bernie die-hards could benefit from yet another strategic quit.

We have to quit thinking that Bernie Sanders can fix a political system that is rigged against true independence.

Now this doesn’t mean we should quit supporting the reforms he champions, like open primaries, campaign finance reform, and working outside the two-party system.

It does mean that we should work toward fixing the system that the two parties have rigged in their favor so that in the future, candidates that don’t fit into the two-party mold, whether a Bernie Sanders or a Ron Paul, don’t have to pick a team to be taken seriously.

If we really think that partisanship is a problem in the country, the first thing we need to do is quit partying. Stop putting our confidence in the two parties. Stop taking it for granted that our tax dollars should pay for their primaries. And most importantly, we need to stop thinking that good ideas come from only one side of the political aisle or the other.

What I’ve found out since I quit partying is that I’m able to learn from more people with widely varying viewpoints — more people with whom I can hold a political discussion. And I’ve had less anxiety from the false narrative that one side of America is at war with the other.

I’ve also found comfort in the fact that I don’t need to know the answer to every political woe. And I’ve found an appreciation for the fact that government itself isn’t supposed to be made up of men and women who hold all those answers, but of adults who can sit down at a table, talk to each other, and try and figure them out together.

I was sick and tired of partisan politics. So I quit. Maybe you should too.

 

Published on Medium.com here on January 17, 2017.

Originally published at ivn.us on November 27, 2017.

A Doctor, a Lawyer, and a Quitter Walk into a Bar…

No, it’s not the beginning of a joke. It’s just what happens every time I go into a bar. I have a medical degree and a law degree…and if there were a professional certification for quitting, I’d not only have it, but I’d display it in my office as proudly as I do the other two.

I consider myself an expert-level quitter, and it’s a distinction to which I firmly believe more people should aspire.

Why? Because quitting is the most underrated tool for achieving success not only in business, but in relationships, personal happiness and well-being. In fact, it’s one of the most underrated self-care tools out there.

The walls of Amazon’s virtual bookstore are overflowing with self-help books telling us to live our best lives. But rarely do they address one of the main reasons that people get stuck in something less than their best life: no one tells them how to get through the necessary quits to leave whatever isn’t working. They just tell you to transform your life and strive to make progress…until one day you’ve suddenly arrived at said ideal life.

And quitting ain’t easy.

It’s a process fraught with unwarranted stigma -partially thanks to unhelpful sayings like “quitters never win and winners never quit.” And if you can get past the stigma, you’re then smacked in the face with many of the fears associated with quitting, like wondering if another opportunity will arise to replace whatever you’re leaving, or wondering what people will think about your quitting, or fear that the new scenario you find post-quit won’t truly be more fulfilling than the original one.

It’s enough to make someone just stay put. Stuck in the less-than-ideal.

But it doesn’t have to be. Quitting can be your best friend. But not just regular old quitting. Strategic quitting.

Now I could tell you theoretically about why strategic quitting is the greatest thing since avocado toast, but I think it will be slightly more effective if I show you what it looks like in the real world. Because at this point you may be (understandably) wondering how someone with both medical and law degrees has ever quit anything.

I quit all the time.

Because what does it take to get through that much school and training? Time, money, and energy. How was I able to make sure I had enough of all three to get through? By quitting things that were draining my time/money/energy and focusing only on the things that served me.

So what does it look like in action? Before medical school, I was a multimedia designer, but the sinking feeling I got while sitting in coding classes learning new programming languages told me this was not the field for me — so I quit. I started completely fresh and decided to try to get into medical school.

And after I finished medical school and residency in family medicine, I finally got to my sports medicine fellowship, as I had decided I wanted to be a sports doc. However, I got that same feeling when I was doing sports medicine — like something just wasn’t right. Mostly I didn’t like that the hours were somehow both 9 to 5 and nights and weekends, leaving little time for myself.

Wilma the Wildcat

 

So I quit. Again.

At this point you may be thinking, “whoa…but what about all of that time and money you wasted on medical school?” Well that’s where strategic quitting comes in. With regular quitting, I would have walked away from medicine altogether and tried some other career that may have had all the same attributes I disliked about medicine.

But with strategic quitting, you take stock of exactly what parts of a job or relationship, etc. aren’t working for you, and quit only those…and you stay vigilant not to get in new situations that have features that didn’t work for you previously. And as long as you learned something from a past situation, it wasn’t a waste.

So I quit the long hours of sports medicine, and took a job where I make my own schedule. And in the future, you can bet that I won’t be taking any new jobs that have night or weekend hours, because I learned from my previous experience. And as for the money and time I spent? Well having spent a lot of time or money on something that isn’t working for you is a terrible reason to spend more time or money on it. Sticking it out doesn’t get you back your investment, it just gets you further from where you want to be.

Now you may be plenty happy in your job or relationship, but what about some smaller things that may be stressing you out?

Here’s another real-life example. I finished yoga teacher training last year, and during my training I had an unlimited membership to the yoga studio. However, shortly after receiving my instructor certification, I started volunteering with a political campaign and didn’t have time to go often enough to make the membership worth the money, which started to stress me out. Yes, you heard that right, yoga was stressing me out.

Yoga with Bernie

So what did I do? Did I quit yoga? Obviously not! I just quit the unlimited membership and switched to a class card, thereby taking away all the guilt and stress I felt over not being able to make it to class as much as I needed to.

Now look at your own life…is there something that brings you stress or causes a sinking feeling in your stomach? Is your body subtly trying to tell you to make a change by giving you heartburn or keeping you awake at night? As a doctor, I can tell you the effects of staying in something that is wrong for you are not minimal. Stress is a leading health risk these days, and a major cause of stress is doing something that’s not in line with your own personal good.

So if your job doesn’t light you up, or your relationship brings you anxiety, or your city just isn’t working for you anymore, I urge you to make close friends with strategic quitting before your body stops whispering to you and starts yelling in the form of chronic pain, depression, anxiety, insomnia, and more.

Strategic quitting is the self-care tool you never knew you needed, but that you’ll never give up once you’ve got it down.

Society says…

Well it’s the day before NYE and I have planned no one special with whom to ring in the new year. This is something that in previous years would have rendered me a hopeless mess of anxiety. I start worrying about NYE approximately January 2nd. It’s a problem. Especially because by that time I’m already deep into Valentine’s Day anxiety.

 

And why? What makes these days any different from any others?

Society.

I mean, to be fair, the change from one year to another is an actual, non-Hallmark-created event, but no one says it has to be celebrated in a certain way with a special person. I mean, I’ve had great years that didn’t start with a New Year’s kiss at midnight and less than awesome years that did.

Then why all the fuss? New years and Valentine’s Day come and go and if no one asks you what you are going to do for them or what you ended up doing for them, how would they ever know? Would there ever be any pressure to do anything? Not any more than on any other day.

So as I took a long walk through my lovely neighborhood this morning and basked in the 75-degree sun-soaked day here in San Diego, California, it hit me: I’m not anxious at all. In fact, all week I kept forgetting that Sunday was the big day.

What led to this mental transformation? Well, I can’t be 100% sure, but I think there are a few big factors.

First, I have become a lot more mindful and grateful. On my walk, I looked up at the sky and was grateful for the sun’s warmth, and for the fact that I live in a beautiful city and a neighborhood that’s adjacent to a park with first-rate walking trails. It’s hard to simultaneously be overcome with gratitude and super worried about the future. You know that whole “be present” and “be grateful” business you always hear about? Well, it kind of works…

And I’ve also come to realize the joy of freedom. I can make my own new year’s plans, and in fact, I’ve made multiple. If I don’t like one, great, I’ll go to the next. I won’t be stuck hanging out with anyone just for the sake of being not alone.

I owe this second realization to having spent a good amount of time focusing on my intuition and listening to what it’s telling me. I’ve stopped waiting for it to yell “YOU SHOULDN’T BE HANGING OUT WITH THIS PERSON” and started listening to the times it whispers this isn’t the best situation for you right now, which makes it a lot more difficult to stay in sub-standard situations and leads me to be a lot more grateful for time on my own.

Finally, I’ve started applying the concepts I teach in strategic quitting to other parts of my life, namely the not caring what society thinks part. I always advise people that they should focus on how quitting a situation would make *them* feel instead of worrying what others would think of their quit. So how could I *not* apply this to what society thinks of certain days? If I was counseling people to quit anxiety-producing jobs or relationships regardless of what others might think, how was I not quitting anxiety-producing thoughts about certain days that were only important because society decided they were.

So I did. I quit putting so much importance on these days. I quit worrying about what I’d be doing and with whom.  Because I don’t have to wait until there’s a societally-promoted day to have a good time. I can make a random Tuesday awesome.

And I have.

And I’ll do it again:)

My First Quit

I was listening to a podcast today in which the guest was describing some events from his childhood, and suddenly I was transported back to one of my most vivid memories from grade school – the day I enacted my first quit.

I believe I was in fourth or fifth grade, and all the popular kids were signing up to play on the softball team. So me, with my zero athletic ability, decided to join as well. You see, I was the definition of unpopular, and I was particularly upset about my station in life.

I had tried nearly everything to break in to the popular circle, but I had designed my attempts using logic, which is definitely not how things work in elementary school popularity contests.

My plan was to be great at things and as a result, the popular kids would love me. Well I realized soon enough that this tactic almost exclusively works with sports, as I was a darn good dancer and a pretty smart cookie and neither of those had won me any friends. So I was going to try my hand at this sports business and see if i could win the favor of the popular crowd that way.

My first day of softball practice was an eye-opener. I was worse at it than I had even expected, and trust me, expectations had been set pretty low. To this day, if a sport involves a ball, I should be nowhere near it. Well for as bad I was at hitting the ball, things got even worse when I took the field. I think I was assigned to second base, or shortstop, or something where you’re close enough to the batter for the ball to still have some serious momentum if it hits you.

And it did. The one and only time the ball came my way was a line drive directly into the left side of my chest, which at the time hurt so badly I was sure an ambulance was going to have to carry me off the field (yeah, what I lacked in sporting ability I made up for in dramatic imagination).

Did everyone come running to see if I was OK? Nope. Hilariously to the contrary. As I struggled to get myself back on my feet, I realize the game had continued as if nothing had happened. And oddly, my teammates were cheering for me. I was confused until I heard one of them, a girl squarely from the popular gang, encouragingly yell, “Way to stop the ball!”

This, to me, was an epiphany. What it had taken to get the popular kids’ approval was no less than physical danger and agonizing pain. Great…

Prior to this, the decision for a secondary hobby (my primary one was dance) had come down to softball versus gymnastics. Despite being a huge fan of gymnastics, I had chosen softball for the aforementioned misguided reasons. So when my mom picked me up after softball practice and asked how it went, I informed her that I was done with softball. Yep, one whole practice in and it was over. I started gymnastics almost immediately thereafter.

Now at this point you may be thinking it was a shame I didn’t give softball more of a chance. Or that I might have been well-served by having to struggle at something. Or that I may have improved and grown to love the sport. All of which are valid possibilities.

However, what is true now was also true then: we have a finite amount of time, money, and energy. My parents weren’t super wealthy to where I could ask them to pay for ten different hobbies. I also didn’t have time to do ten different things — I was already hard core into dance and I ended up being good enough at gymnastics that I made it to the pre-team (just one level before the actual competitive team), which required multiple nights a week at the gym.

So what did I get out of gymnastics? A plethora of broadly useful skills. In high school, I had been featured in multiple musical theater performances based on my ability to do a back handspring in a dress and heels or a no-handed cartwheel dressed like someone who lives in the magical land of Oz. I was also one of the few freshman to be asked to cheer on the varsity cheer leading squad thanks to a jankity but sufficient back flip.

Even now I still use the skills I learned. I do handstands in my yoga practice. In capoeira, the Brazilian martial art I train, I regularly do that same no-handed cartwheel I learned back in grade school. And in case you were wondering said elementary school was in my recent past, it most certainly was not. I’m forty, and I still spend as much of my time upside down or flying through the air as possible.

And while you can truly never know a negative, I can’t imagine softball would have been nearly as useful to me, aside from the ability to have joined a softball team later in life (which I still could, but I’m guessing I’d be equally as terrible now as I was then…there’s still a ball involved, after all.) Softball skills just don’t have nearly as much cross-over application as gymnastics skills do, so I am ever-grateful that even ten-year-old me had the power to quit on something that:

  1. I had started for the wrong reasons,
  2. I didn’t enjoy, and
  3. didn’t play to my natural strengths.

So what’s it for you? Is there something you started that may no longer be (or may never have been) in line with your true goals? Is there something you struggle against routinely that gives you more stress than strength? And is there something else you may want to be doing but you don’t have the time or resources to do it because your energy has been directed somewhere else?

You can’t physically/mentally/emotionally/financially do it all, so choose wisely and definitely you’ll have the utmost power to quit at anything in life.

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