FEATURE — Miserable. That’s what she says he is. The “she” in this story is my sister. The “he” is her husband.
He’s miserable because he hates his job. And it’s affecting every other aspect of his life.
You can see it in his eyes. You can see it in his face. You can see it in the slump of his shoulders from across the room.
He doesn’t hate his job because he is averse to hard work; he spent the last seven years working 5 a.m. shifts as a driver at FedEx to supplement their income.
He doesn’t hate his job because he doesn’t have grit; he spent more than ten years working his way through school as a part-time student with adult-diagnosed ADHD, the FedEx job and three small kids.
He hates his job because he doesn’t feel like he’s good at it. Despite the college degree. Despite the additional professional certifications. Despite the toil and struggle it’s taken to get where he is.
And my sister – his biggest fan and champion – doesn’t know how to help him.
She poured out her worry to me over the phone a few weeks ago. I listened as I hiked. I do my best listening and thinking when a mountain is underfoot.
As she talked and analyzed, wondering if this thing or that approach could help him be happier where he is, something became very clear to me: He needs to quit.
Not just this job, but the entire line of work.
He has been in this field – the work for which he earned a degree – for four years and he has never been happy. Not one single day. And it is unlikely that in four months from now or four years from now he will be happy in it.
I told my sister as much. And offered her what I thought could be an excellent change in career path for him. But that’s not exactly an easy thing to hear.
And it’s not exactly an easy thing to do – to quit, to change course. Especially at age 36 with three kids, a spouse and a mortgage.
Because society says quitting is bad. No matter the motivation. And persevering is good. No matter the cost.
Don’t believe me? Just look at the English language. Our synonyms for quitting are: cowardice, deserter, and wimp. Our synonyms for staying the course are: grit, pluck, and moxie.
And look at the stories we celebrate and revere: Football’s “Rudy,” “Unbroken’s” Louie Zamperini, and “Into Thin Air” climber Rob Hall, who died on Mt. Everest.
But Annie Duke, author, behavioral scientist, and former professional poker player, says we shouldn’t be persevering at any cost.
Really, we should really be quitting more. Like a good poker player.
And what makes a good poker player? “They quit more often,” Duke said. “They fold more hands to start. And they change tactics or strategies in the middle of things.”
Duke says most of us have trouble quitting not only because it’s against the societal norm, but also because we keep escalating our commitment to our current path (we’ve put too much time, money and resources in it to stop now!) and we don’t recognize the regret of staying on a path when it’s not working out (we only seem to register regret if we change course and it doesn’t work out).
So, how do you get better at quitting? When faced with a decision about changing course or continuing on, Duke says it helps to get an honest assessment from someone who loves you but doesn’t care about your feelings.
It also helps to stop thinking about our paths, our choices and our goals as pass or fail and start thinking about them with a little more flexibility. Focus on giving ourselves credit for climbing ninety percent of that mountain, and getting back down, even if we didn’t make it to the summit.
I know that’s a tall order. To think differently about quitting. And it’s even a taller order to put that new thinking into practice.
But in this new year of 2022, that is my wish for us all. For you. For me. And for my brother-in-law. To allow ourselves to quit and start again. Because there should be room in the narrative for that kind of story, too.
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