Sunday, September 17, 2017

Quitting isn't always failing: The four levels of quitting

A few days elapsed since I posted my latest news.  Rather than keep bludgeoning you dedicated followers with my weekly updates, I intend to send out some of my musings about preparing for these events.  Today's musing is about quitting.  

A few friends recently attempted some epic swims and some of them in their words "failed themselves."  One person went so far as to offer an insight so rarely read on the always positive side of Facebook by stating publicly "[t]hank you all for the comments and messages. The recurring theme seems to be one of assurance that I "gave it my all". Unfortunately that was not the case. Not going to make excuses. Simple answer is it all got too much for me and I gave up and quit... again" (PH, 2017 after he "quit" his North Channel attempt; permission granted to include quote for those who are wondering).   I admire the honesty in this post - especially in a forum so replete with syrupy sweet positive posts.  My friend was right.  The situation got too much for him and he gave up.  So, is he a quitter?  I think not.  Let me explain fully....

Quitting isn't always failing

Quitting doesn't always fit into a neat little box where we ought to characterize someone as a quitter and/or a failure.  Sometimes quitting is the smartest thing a person can do given the circumstances; sometimes quitting is what a person does who is not committed to an outcome; and even other times, quitting is what quitters do who never attempt anything.  To explain these dimensions, let me break down my own taxonomy of quitting and you can decide for yourself if you fall into any category at any one time.  I experienced all four and probably other levels of quitting without realizing it.

Patrick's Taxonomy of Quitting

Quitting while you are ahead:  Professional athletes who age to perfection often get questioned about quitting "at the top" rather than slowly deteriorating and retiring as a "washed-up" hero.  Those questions are tough because professional athletes often persist at their sport because that sport is all they know.  Quitting in those circumstances might be quitting on life and losing the only semblance of meaning the person maintains.  Even people outside sports understand this problem.  Do you retire early from work and "soak in" the virtues of a retired life or do you carry on with your work to provide you with meaning?  These questions haunt us all.  Quitting is part of this question and the decision to quit does not characterize who we are or what we value.  Sometimes quitting is a good thing and other times quitting can be quite foolish.

Quitting without trying:  On the opposite end of the value spectrum are those who quit without ever getting off the couch.  I quit piano without practicing one lick; quit learning Spanish without much effort; and quit learning to program in C (opted for C++) because I simply couldn't muster the enthusiasm.  I quit a lot and a quit without trying.  For those activities that I quit, I have nothing to say but that I obviously didn't have the desire to continue on.  Does that make me bad a person?  Nope.  I simply quit because the activity held little value in my overall purpose in life.  Quitting under these circumstances means that I had no staying power, no motivation to strive for more, and no will to put up with the hassles.  I know many people who quit without trying.  I'm not proud of these moments because these represent what we think when most of us envision quitters.  I fell into this category of quitter many times.  

Quitting while under duress:  Many of us have quit when the going got tough.  I recall many instances in my life when things just turned sideways and I had enough.  There were countless climbs, outings on the ocean, and such that simply overwhelmed me at the time and I felt at peace with quitting because I had no other option.  I quit when I know the stakes are too high and I don't wish to test my fate.  Quitting here is not quitting.  I see this version of quitting as the one that creates the greatest shame for those who experience it.  My friend who posted on Facebook probably felt a bit of this but I would argue that his quitting falls more with the last level than with this one.  Sure, the North Channel between Northern Ireland and Scotland is one if not the most challenging marathon swims on this planet but quitting under duress here is not quitting and giving up.  I believe quitting under these circumstances fall more in line with...

Quitting to reassess and to attempt again:  Many of us quit while we are ahead.  We quit after we assess the objective and subjective risks with an endeavor and, after careful reflection - the kind that is so abundant for us marathon swimmers and mountaineers alike - we opt to turn around or to stop.  That judgment is hardly quitting.  Sure, we quit but that act is not the same as any other act of quitting.  Our decision to quit stems from motivation to pursue the goal, faith in ourselves to accomplish that goal, and the meaning we derive in attaining the goal.  All of these parts and perhaps others go into what we consider before we pull the proverbial plug.  After we quit, we start planning our next attempt.  Quitting in these circumstances is learning from our failures of preparation - sometimes both physical and mental.  I spoke with countless adventurers and they all recount times when they quit but never times that they simply gave up and never returned.  Each of these "quitters" were simply taking a break to reassess their objective.  They dust themselves off and dive back into the next attempt.

I admire those "quitters" who fall into the latter taxon.  These folks are my heroes.  I admire those who succeed by facing adversity - especially if they find themselves on the lousy end with several attempts.  Think about all the times you believe you quit.  Do you consider yourself a quitter or a loser?  If so, think carefully about those instances and whether you gained much from the experience.  Quitters who never even attempted the risk are those who might be most apt to criticize the failure but for those of us who have failed and then succeeded, we admire you.  Keep on quitting until you get it right!


Thanks PH for granting me the rights to quote you.  Your post stuck with me for weeks and I was bursting to write this blog post for myself and for others.  Hope you found it somewhat instructive.  Also, thanks for all of you for following along with my adventures.  You'll read more about how I quit, pick myself up, dust off, and keep going.