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  • Writer's pictureDoug Weiss

When the going gets tough, just quit

Before you let me have it for that defeatist headline, let me explain. I am anything but a quitter. My mantra is perseverance and if you follow this blog you know that even when I have one of those days as I did a few weeks back my natural tendency is to carry on. My penchant for staying at a task until it’s done has served me well at times—but it hasn’t always been the smart thing to do. There are times when we all should listen, observe and read the signs telling us to take a break. Frankly, that is not my long suit but I am learning that when I push past the point a sensible person would stop, all I do is waste a lot of energy and time.

It isn’t just the squandered resources that are in play. What I’ve found is that a seeming delay; an obstacle that I cannot easily overcome is sometimes the best thing that can happen. These moments of enforced downtime however much they may be unwelcome, require me to change course, do something else or nothing at all. That’s good, because doing can be a distraction; a way of distancing oneself from a troubling thought or avoiding an unpleasant task. Not always of course, but sometimes I throw myself into a relatively pointless, although often mindless effort because I am mentally unready to take on what I need to. It is a mind game, and like all deceptions we practice on ourselves it works only to the degree we are willing to look the other way. I know better, but that doesn’t mean I am willing to sit quietly and just think about whatever it is I don’t want to think about.

Although it isn’t often that I find myself practicing avoidance, when I do, I generally know why. The common cause is over reliance on myself. I have fallen into the trap of believing that I alone have the answer and the responsibility to address a difficult issue and worse, the hubris to believe I actually can, all by myself. Don’t misunderstand me, self-reliance is a good trait but it needs to be leavened by an awareness that none of us are so wise, capable or self-aware that we can overcome every obstacle in our path. Sometimes we need help, friends or colleagues, family or perhaps a higher power.

When I plough ahead with foolish obstinacy I not only avoid, I actively turn away those agents that might help me achieve what I cannot on my own. Whether out of pride or stubbornness, I distance myself from the answer to my challenges. Fortunately, I will eventually run out of distractions and have to face the fact that I am not able to solve that looming issue, I am just stuck in an endless loop. I am getting better at recognizing this pattern. So, when the going gets tough, there are times when I just quit, at least for the moment. I quit and give myself permission to admit that I cannot fix everything, solve every problem, escape the consequences of everything.

That is when things begin to get better. Maybe not instantly, and maybe not without some discomfort, but gradually things begin to move toward a solution. I am guessing I may not be alone in practicing this avoidance technique and I imagine others may feel that they too are at an impasse of their own device. If that is so, my counsel is just quit. Don’t give up, just surrender for the time being and allow yourself to listen for and await the help that is on its way. It will come. How do I know? Well, as it happens that is precisely the reason I wrote this post.

You see, I was not practicing what I preached, I was busily distracting myself earlier today to avoid thinking about an uncomfortable subject. I am good at this, as I said earlier. Go to the gym and work out, do a little yard work, clean the house. Any or all of these are reliable distractions that allow me to get fully absorbed in busy work without engaging my mind. But today, they did not work, and rather than get frustrated by temporary obstructions I just quit and then I sat and thought. And after I had thought for a while I reached out, made some calls and sent a few emails. I don’t have all the answers yet, but they are coming.

Of course, I should have done this in the first place and saved myself some angst. Maybe next time I will remember to do just that. I am still new at this quitting thing, but I am getting better.

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