Here’s A Thought: Give Yourself Permission to Quit

I’ve already given us permission to eat ice cream for supper, ditch the gimmicky toothpaste, and feed our kids more cereal (if that would make life easier). Now I’m going to suggest we think about giving ourselves permission to quit.

Years ago, at a local craft market, I came across a piece of art that used rocks and sea glass to create a whimsical and minimalistic (but recognizable) scene. I set out to recreate something similar on my own – not only would I save money, but I’d also be able to give personalized art to people about whom I cared deeply. I started the creative process – with enthusiasm.

First step: sourcing materials. While visiting my parent’s beloved lakeside house a few weeks later, I went to a nearby island and collected a baggie full of suitable rocks. My family has been visiting this island for over thirty years, so these water-weathered pebbles had deep nostalgic significance. Off to a good start! I pulled together a collection of sea glass sourced during various coastal adventures and prepared for the next stage: planning.

I generally enjoy creative projects but this time I was just not “feeling it.” I wanted to be engaged and loved the idea of the project, but felt no actual motivation to keep going.

So I put the rocks in a drawer and told myself: I’ll tackle this next year for Christmas. It was just a little baggie, but every time I opened the drawer I felt a stab of guilt, mixed with dread. I’d need to get special glue and a shadow-box frame. Then I’d need to think of sentimental scenes for each recipient. What extra materials would I need to create a canoe out of tiny pieces of driftwood for my Dad? And those beach-loving friends might appreciate an abstract campfire, right? I wanted this to be perfect.

Then, one random weekday while I was doing a load of laundry, I thought of those rocks. Again. Several Christmases had passed me by since I collected them from the shoreline of Goat Island, but not a week went by that I didn’t see (or at least think of) them. I stopped sorting whites from darks and headed straight to my desk; seconds later the entire contents of the bag were at the bottom of a garbage can.

I texted a friend in triumph. Truth was, no one was forcing me to complete this project. No one even knew I was planning it; there was zero external pressure. And, frankly, after a few years of this…I’d had enough internal pressure. So I gave myself permission to quit. It felt exhilarating. 

Rules can be arbitrary (especially the ones we set for ourselves) and projects can be misaligned with our interests and time. As Laura Vanderkam writes: “Possibilities are infinite. Time is not. You are always choosing. Choose wisely.

It’s great to set high expectations and give ourselves room to grow through challenge and novelty. But other times? We need to cut ourselves some slack, and that might include granting ourselves permission to quit. This could be a job, training for a marathon, or stepping back from a toxic friendship; maybe you need to quit the PTA committee or say “no” to the expectation you have to host the entire family on Christmas Day (even Uncle Steve’s crazed Rottweiler). Or, maybe you’ll just give yourself permission to throw out a baggie of rocks. You are an adult – and that comes with a lot more autonomy than you may think.

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