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You Should Quit Something

12 June 2018

Barbara read The New York Times article, The Year I Learned to Quit, by Christine Bader and was reminded "leaning out" can be a good thing.

Tags: balance, barbara read, careers, women and leadership

In my last three blog posts, I’ve been writing about how women can have a good job, a satisfying home life, and sufficient self-care if they manage their time well. But I’m switching gears in this post. In her recent article, Christine Bader makes a case for quitting.

Having never quit before in her life, Bader gave up two big things close together. She was training for her second marathon and got injured when she reached the week of the 17-mile practice run. She rested two weeks, tried again, still had pain, so she gave up, and learned life went on, even though she knew she would be jealous when her husband and father boarded the bus to go to the race.

She recommends that we think about quitting as a desirable option sometimes—“I’m talking about quitting before the going gets tough. Leaning out. Not pushing yourself beyond what you think you can do.” (Janie blogged about the compelling case Sheryl Sandberg made in Lean In, but there's also been a powerful dialogue about the benefits of leaning out.)

The year before she quit marathon training, she also walked away from a dream job. She “had been working in corporate social responsibility for 15 years, and got the chance to lead that function for Amazon.” During her 22 months at Amazon, she realized the job was not “the perfect fit,” and her “twins had morphed from speechless baby lumps into wondrous compelling little people,” and she wanted to be with them more. She could have "had it all" because she “had a supportive stay-at-home husband, a corporate salary,” but she chose not to. She said she knows it’s a luxury to be able to choose to not work for a while, but nowadays people often don’t get still long enough to consider whether or not they have a choice.

Bader admitted that, “It pained me to walk away from the team I had built and what we might have achieved together, but the quality and quantity of time I’ve had with my family and for myself since then has far outweighed my regrets.”

In 2012 I quit my job of 22 years. I had always traveled and taught for the company and loved it, but I also had to do staff activities at our big meetings. That year I had gotten up each day at 3:00am to set up rooms for a national meeting and then had teaching and other client-facing responsibilities. I was sick on the plane ride home. My daughter asked, “How much longer can you keep doing this?”

A few weeks later on a flight to her house, I was reading a book that asked the question—What would you do if you weren’t afraid of anything? The answer—I’d quit— immediately popped into my head. When Allison greeted me at baggage claim, she said, “How are you?”

I said, “I’m quitting.”

She said, “Well, I thought it would take us all weekend to figure that out."

I said, “Let’s go shoe shopping. Richey & Co. is having a sale.”

I didn’t do much for the first three months of not working. I just relished the freedom of going anywhere I wanted at any time of the day I chose. I started to be more cautious about my spending so that I could make my savings last longer in case I live to be 99 like my mother.

Then I realized I needed some structure in my life, so I started volunteering. I read to young children at a local elementary school in a summer program called “Freedom School.” I said, “Yes,” to becoming chair of a large board. I joined a book club and paid to attend a writing workshop. I worked on a memoir. I quilted. A lot. I saw my children and grandchildren more, but it still wasn’t quite enough to fill my days in a way that satisfied me. After three years of doing a lot less, I told the people I had worked with before that I’d love to travel again and teach Communication Skills, Running Effective Meetings, and Resolving Conflict. Teaching once or twice a month and coaching individuals over the phone is a wonderful balance for my life now.

I also started working for Allison Partners on a part-time basis. I helped Allison get into this business, so it’s been a full circle moment to have her help me figure out how to be in the OWLS club. (Check out her post last week to learn more about those of us who are Older, Working Less, Still earning.)

Bader talks about the importance of Sabbath—quiet, rest, and contemplation as an important practice while you are working to keep you healthy but also as a necessary way to slow down to figure out if you need to do a little less for a time if you have that option. “Plants and animals do not defer dormancy until they cross off just one more thing on their to-do list: they have to shut down in order to live another season.” You may not be able to leave your job, but I predict there’s something else you need to quit (a bad habit, a friendship that hurts you, worrying, or working on a goal that's no longer good for you.)


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