Episode #69: What Are You Going to Quit?
Our culture has come to celebrate performing and persisting at all costs. But what if some of those costs are actually way too high? What if not quitting could cost us our lives, families, relationships, careers . . . everything? Maybe we should break the stigma around quitting. Maybe we should learn to quit more and to celebrate others when they do the same. What are you going to quit? TW: References to sexual assault and suicide.
Welcome to the Freedom from Empty Podcast: Building Strong, Effective, Resilient Leaders and Humans. My name is Booth Andrews, and I am your host. Thank you so much for joining me for this episode.
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When I walked out of the gym this afternoon, I almost texted my Coach. You see, I didn’t push as hard on part of the workout as he urged the group on.
And I asked him to give me modification for a movement--a movement I modify on a regular basis because I don’t have any cartilage in my right knee--even though it was clear that the prescribed movement would have been most consistent with the intended stimulus of the workout.
Could I do the prescribed movement? Yes. Would that prescribed movement increase the likelihood of inflammation in my right knee, which might then preclude me from doing other movements that I love and I choose to “save my knee coupons for”? Absolutely.
And I didn’t do the finisher. Because as I watched him demonstrate the movements, my shoulders said “Nope.” The last couple of weeks at the gym have been very shoulder intensive. And while my shoulders are a whole lot stronger than they used to be--thanks to spending almost a year working on upper body strength as I rebuilt movement, mobility, muscle activation and balance to protect my knee--they still hit a point of fatigue way before my legs.
I wanted to explain. I wanted to assure my coach--who has watched me train now for at least 3 years--that I wasn’t a quitter. That I wasn’t just taking the “easy” way out for no good reason. I wanted to tell him that I had good reasons for the choices I made in the workout today.
And then sitting in my car in the gym parking lot, I opened up Instagram . . . and my stories were full of posts defending Simone Biles for pulling out of the team competition at the Olympics. These posts are in response to trolls who are calling Simone a “quitter” and likely worse. Thank goodness I don’t often allow myself to go down the rabbit hole that is trolls on the internet. One of the many ways I manage my energy and try to protect my mental health.
The very suggestion that someone who has endured more than most of us can imagine is a quitter makes my blood start to boil . . . Did you know that one of the reasons Simone stayed in the sport was because she felt like she would have more influence over USA Gymnastics--an institution which failed to protect hundreds of gymnasts like Simone from sexual assault by their coaches, doctors and gym owners? She stayed because she would have more influence if she kept competing. She wanted to make the sport safer for everyone.
And then I thought back to my instinctive desire to text my Coach and explain that I am not a quitter.
Our culture has deemed quitters weak. If we quit, we are losers. Failures. The worst of the worst.
I googled “quotes about not quitting” and got 8,700,000 results.
This “value” was passed down to me by my parents. And probably their parents before them. And I get it. There are plenty of good reasons to have a cultural value that encourages us to show up . . . particularly when other people are depending on us.
I have “not quit” myself into multiple injuries. A stress fracture in my pelvis at 15 years old because my cross country coach told me “no pain no gain” and made fun of my “weakness” throughout an entire cross country season.
A stress fracture below the ball joint in my right femur, from exerce.
A stressed (but not fractured femur) also from overtraining.
I didn’t quit working for a boss who regularly called into question my value to the company. A boss for whom I regularly worked 70 hour weeks, through weekends and holidays for 10 years.
I didn’t quit my role as CEO even as my body and mind began to fail (more on this in Episode 1 of the podcast).
I only gave myself absolute permission to quit my marriage when my therapist told me dying wasn’t an option.
I was willing to die before I was willing to quit. Can we please take a moment and process that . . . I was willing to die before I gave myself permission to quit.
I also acknowledge that when I made the decision to die, I had been living with and performing in spite of severe mental illness for 3 years. And I recognize that not everyone in the face of decades worth of overwhelming demands will put “die” on their “to do” list.
But I also know that the way stress, burnout and trauma are wreaking havoc on our bodies and minds, more and more of us are facing the demands of the world while also wrestling with anxiety, depression, PTSD, and other chronic mental and physical illnesses. But the world tells us that we better not QUIT. BECAUSE NO ONE LIKES QUITTERS.
Do you know what else?! My “perform at all costs mentality” not only almost cost me my life, but in some respects it cost my marriage, it almost cost me my children, it cost me a role that I loved. It hurt my family and also the team I was leading.
Because pushing through--aka ignoring every obstacle and acting like it isn’t there--isn’t necessarily the healthiest way to build a sustainable body, or mind, or even relationships. Because the more we act like robots, the more of our humanity we lose. Because as our bodies and minds fail, so do our powers of judgment, self-control, and discernment.
Not quitting almost cost me my life. Not quitting could have cost Simone Biles catastrophic injury. Not quitting could have hurt the team.
Maybe we should all quit more. It sounds almost blasphemous coming out of my mouth. Maybe we should all quit more. Maybe we should break the stigma of quitting. Maybe we should quit before our bodies break. Or our minds succumb to the dangers of soldiering on. Before we destroy ourselves, hurt our loved ones, and let down the very people we are leading or trying to help.
When I was leading an organization through a strategic and cultural transformation, we used to talk about creating a culture in which it was okay to take your oar out of the water. We were on the same boat, with the same vision, mission and values.
It was imperative that we were all rowing in the same direction. But we understood that sometimes, life might call for us to take our own oar out of the water. If we found ourselves in that situation, for whatever reason, our responsibility to the organization and the people we served was to tell our team that we needed to pull our oar out and to work together to ensure that the boat didn’t sink while we were taking whatever time and space we needed.
The irony hits me square in the forehead. When I was sinking myself, I did not know how to give myself this permission. It honestly had never occurred to me that this need for “permission” might apply to me someday.
I was so freaking good at persisting, surviving, and performing that it took me years to register that I was not going to “bounce back” and resume regular functioning.
What an example Simone set for her team. She wasn’t okay. She wasn’t confident she could perform (or perform safely). She pulled her oar out of the water. She told her team. She assured them that she believed in them and that they were fully capable of stepping up and rising to the occasion. She cheered them on. She got them chalk. She didn’t put herself at risk of catastrophic harm. She didn’t put the team at risk. And, with every step, she led by example.
Maybe it is time to acknowledge that “performance at all costs” actually costs too much. Maybe we should call BS on this cultural expectation that only losers quit.
Back to my story about my workout today. As a result of all that I have learned so far: I pace my workouts. I don’t do movements that risk costing me other movements that I love. Sometimes I choose a lighter weight. Or I don’t go as hard. I take breaks when no one else is taking them. I know that my body has no business hitting the redline. And so I don’t. Sometimes I have to remind myself that I am not “weak” because I make these choices. Let’s just say that I have been wizened by life and injury. And I am still learning to listen to (and honor) my body when it says no.
And so, I am going to end this episode with a challenge.
What are you going to quit?
What is one thing that you keep doing because you are afraid of what everyone else will think, say or do if you quit?
What is the aching in your bones that is crying out to be heard?
What is the commitment that is literally sucking the life out of you or causing you harm?
Where is your performance already faltering but you cannot see clear to give yourself permission to stop?
What matters more to you . . . really matters more to you . . . than not quitting? Is it your life? Your health? Your family? Your team?
I can assure you that there is something in your life that is more important than not quitting. Something really worth saving.
What are you going to quit? I would love to hear from you at [email protected]!
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I look forward to being back with you next time!