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:
- I had started for the wrong reasons,
- I didn’t enjoy, and
- 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.