Leaving Things Behind – A Quitter’s Manifesto


in Creativity,Personal Growth

Sometimes ideas arrive with the force of a whirlwind. You have no choice but to be swept up by their compelling gusts. You are engulfed.

You must take up line dancing or die.
You must learn how to knit or be forever cursed.
You must start that new business or be doomed to a life of working for the man.

Just as quickly, the tumultuous ride is over. What once drew you so irresistibly has no more impact than gentle breeze.

So you leave it behind.

With a little guilt. With a bit of self-castigation. Perhaps even a modicum of self-disgust.

Because you quit. You didn’t stick it out. You didn’t work past the rough spots until you reached the pinnacle of success. You didn’t hone your skills. You didn’t make “it” happen, whatever “it” is.

The f-word looms large. Failure.

Starting when we are the smallest of people, we are programmed to feel like quitters if we leave something behind. If we don’t finish what we started.

You must clean your plate or you won’t get dessert.
You must keep practicing the violin, French, baseball … you don’t want to be a quitter do you?
You must stick to something or you’ll never be good at anything.

These little words of wisdom designed to help us become successful human beings have, in fact, quite the opposite effect. They make us afraid to try. Because, if we try it and don’t like it, we won’t be able to quit because we’ll be deemed losers. So we don’t even start.

That is a shame. By not starting, we rob ourselves of a multitude of rich experiences.

I’m proud to say that I’ve left quite a few things behind. Jobs. Careers. Companies. Men. Hobbies. Hopes. Ideas.

When I first noticed this seemingly alarming trend,  I felt quite miffed at myself. I wondered what was wrong with me. Why couldn’t I stick things out? Why couldn’t I become an expert in one thing or another? Why couldn’t I achieve outstanding success in something?

Thankfully, as I grew older and wiser, I realized that it was OK to leave things behind. I discovered that my fulfillment came from dreaming, exploring, learning, and making a contribution of some kind along the way.

Quite simply, I had the most fun being caught up in the whirlwind.

And, I knew -deep down- that I wasn’t a quitter.

The reason you stop when you do:  you got what you came for. ~ Barbara Sher

I got what I came for. Whatever that was. The knowledge, the creative excitement, the experience.

That same is true for you. Only you will know what you came for and whether you’ve gotten it.

So, it’s ok to stop. Quit. And move onto the next thing.

With one little caveat …

Quitting something because you got what you came for is different than quitting because you are afraid – afraid that you can’t do it, that you don’t have the skills or the knowledge, or that you are otherwise lacking.

That’s what those little well-intentioned words we heard as children were meant to protect us from. To keep us going when we were overwhelmed by our own fear and lack of faith in ourselves. To help us learn how to finish things that were important to us even if it was hard.

Remember, you’re not required to finish everything you start, but you are required to know how. You’ll need that knowledge one of these days, when you find something that’s really worth finishing. ~ Barbara Sher

When you know the difference between fear and getting what you wanted out of the experience, you can walk away freely. Without guilt. Without self-castigation or disgust.

You have permission to start. Anything. And take from the experience whatever you need or want.

You have permission to stop. Any time. And leave it behind.

Doesn’t life sound infinitely more interesting already?

What have you left behind? Did you leave it because you were afraid or because you got what you came for?


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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Sandi Amorim August 11, 2011 at

Oh my, how I resonate with this post. For years, I would keep at things because “I’m not a quitter!” and that determination was exhausting. I love how Seth Godin says it, “Quit the wrong stuff. Stick with the right stuff. Have the guts to do one or the other.” I still have a tendency to stick things out, probably longer than I should, but the awareness has gotten much stronger and quicker!


Andrea Olson August 11, 2011 at

Thanks, Sandi! I totally agree with Seth. The quicker we can identify the wrong stuff, the better off we’ll be. It helps us get to failure faster which, in turn, helps us get to success faster.


Rita August 11, 2011 at

Found the Sher book via an earlier post of yours, and I found this particular idea the most liberating. Yes, I’ve been accused of being a quitter, all through my life. This question: Are you leaving from fear or because you got what you came for? is one of the most helpful I’ve ever encountered. I plan to use it the rest of my days.

To answer yours: Rather than quitting from fear, I tend to stay because of it. My biggest mistakes came from staying out of fear (in a job, in a marriage).

Unlike most educators, I have moved around a lot (6 different schools, 3 different kinds of jobs). Some moves were not my choice, but most were. I used to feel like something was wrong with me, that I couldn’t stay satisfied in one place. I can look back now and see that each one gave me something different. All were important to my growth.

I recently left the place I’ve lived for nearly 20 years. Staying would have been from fear. I’ve left because I got what I needed from it.

Thank you for bringing this back to my attention. Love a little confirmation with my morning tea.


Andrea Olson August 11, 2011 at

I’m so happy the post was helpful, Rita. It’s interesting how changing the story changes the experience and how we understand ourselves. Go get what you need!


Sandra August 11, 2011 at

Oh dear Andrea…….A multitude of deaths and births…….There is quite a bit of knowledge gleaned from this type of actual living rather than being blown hither and yon willy-nilly…..

It’s so not about fear but about being ok with moving on beyond expectation.



Andrea Olson August 11, 2011 at

Conscious living does have its benefits, doesn’t it? Thank you, Sandra!


Lorrie Jones August 11, 2011 at

I was JUST thinking of you, Andrea, and realizing more time has gone by than I intended…between lunches at Indochine…and now, this writing has made its way to me. And just in time. I have been feeling the guilt you speak to about quitting as I have recently been creating more order in my home and office. In “cleaning house”, I have found all sorts of abandoned projects, plans, dreams and hopes. Your words have saved me – or perhaps I am saving myself by letting your words touch my life right now. I have a great deal behind and always felt a sense of “quitter”, and not in a good way. Allowing myself to embrace a different story now, I realize I have not “quit” as much as I have taken the next step – one informed by a true calling and sometimes not appearing rational or sensible. Most of the time, I have moved on because I had, indeed, gotten what I came for. And the times that were based on fear – well, I have been invited to explore those occasions, right? And ask myself: where is fear stopping me today? I am grateful – and I thank you for sharing this wonderful writing.


Andrea Olson August 11, 2011 at

Lorrie – it is so good to see you here. I’m glad the post found you at just the right time. Funny how things work, isn’t it? Here’s to embracing a new story about your rich experiences!


Ronna August 11, 2011 at

So perfect. Thank you.

I’m struck by the thin line between quitting and letting go, between starting and risking. Similar concepts with similar pathology. Healing needed within all.

You offer it. I’m grateful.


Andrea Olson August 11, 2011 at

I wonder if the way to approach the things that seem fraught with difficulty is to simply be kind and gentle to ourselves. Thank you, Ronna, for highlighting the need to heal the fragile aspects of our “selves.”


Julia Fallon August 12, 2011 at

Lately I’ve been exploring the question of what makes me quit? Like you, I love the energy and excitement I get from spinning out new ideas and sending them on their way. But then I noticed that I tend to quit about the time I hit the part of the process when things begin to quiet down and I come upon stillness. It makes me anxious. Been exploring that anxiety so I can dissect what is holding me back from moving forward and what is worth sticking out until the end.


Andrea Olson August 12, 2011 at

Love that you have made the connection about stillness and what it represents to you. Being aware of what’s important to you and what you are feeling will lead you to the right decision. Thanks so much for commenting, Julia!


Jackie Walker October 20, 2011 at

‘You got what you came for ‘ …. I think you’ve just given me the 6 words which allow me to change :)
Jackie Walker recently posted..8 reasons relationships are like going to the dentists


Andrea Olson October 20, 2011 at

Your message made me so happy. I’m glad if those simple words allowed you to see something just a bit differently. Sometimes, that’s all we need to make a change. Yahoo!!


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