I have a strong memory from childhood of being taught that ‘giving up’ was a bad thing to do. The message I received was that once I committed to something, I should see it through… whether I liked it or not. It was ‘character building’ to stick at it (apparently) and conversely, showed an undesirable flaw in one’s character if one ‘threw in the towel’. I’m sure my parents believed they were setting me up to show fortitude and commitment… But I know there have been times in my life when this teaching has not served me well.
I think that one of the most destructive outcomes from respecting the rule of ‘stick’ happened when I was 18/19. Anyone who knew me then, knows that since I was a child of single digit age, I had wanted to be a professional flautist. I had won competitions, accolades, played some great solo gigs and been a high flyer in local and national orchestras. On leaving school, I took up a scholarship at the Royal College of Music… and my dreams looked as if they were unfolding perfectly.
Within the first couple of months, I knew I had made a mistake. Music college was not for me – I felt restricted, pressured, the enjoyment of playing was being overshadowed by the expectation to practice, practice, practice… For most of my fellow students, music was their entire life; for me it was a constituent part, which worked better when other stuff was running alongside it.
At Christmas, I came home and announced to my parents that I wanted to leave the college. The ‘don’t be a quitter’ message was trotted out, and I felt ill-equipped to fight against it at that time. I don’t think I exaggerate when I say that what happened next changed the course of my life…
I went back to college. I spent the next two terms hating it, hating my flute, and losing connection with music… to the point that by the end of the academic year I had decided to study something completely different. At the age of 19, I put my flute away in its box, and that’s pretty much where it stayed for the next 20 years. For me, the effect of ‘stick with it’ was not the character-building triumph that had been fed to me. It was the complete reverse. My entire relationship with my flute and with music was tarnished, and I honestly believe that the course of my life changed as a result of the message that ‘quitting is bad’.
So, why am I telling you this? Why am I seemingly still hung up on something that happened so many years ago?
Well, I guess it’s come to the surface these last few weeks as both myself and my own kids have faced the ‘stick or twist’ dilemma. Not for the first time… but at each dead end, my assimilation of the teaching I received as a child / young adult has definitely made me reconsider the value of keeping going on a path that your ‘spidey-senses’ are telling you is not the right one. I know that I have done it in relationships, in jobs… and it has not served me. And, as a parent, I have wholeheartedly rejected the trope of not quitting in favour of encouraging my kids to assess every situation on its own merit. Whilst I don’t want to give them the message that it’s ok to be ‘flaky’, neither do I want them to think that sticking with something when your gut is telling you to ‘twist’ is a commendable character trait. Sometimes it’s about learning to be brave and maybe finding a different route from A to B…
So, at risk of looking like a quitter, I quit my job this week. It hasn’t turned out as the JD suggested it would, I haven’t been happy, and life is definitely too short to waste time trying to offer my expertise to people who don’t want to use it! I’ve decided that ‘twist’ is better than ‘stick’ and have accepted a different role in a different company. Looking forward to seeing where that path takes me 😊