Recently I quit a job. I felt slightly bad about it, sort of screwing over some people. The burden placed on those people, though, is not as large as the burden that would have been placed on me for the following year if I would have stayed. Plus they have the added benefit of the burden being spread out amongst a few people. Plus it’s a different kind of burden for them and for me. Plus it’s not really my fault that the system they choose to continue working in doesn’t have the reasonable braces set in place for if someone in my position quits.
‘Quitting’ holds a certain connotation, linked with words like failure, loss, defeat, submitting, linked with concepts like giving up or returning to some sort of comfort instead of forging forth. It hovers around in a negative crowd and has an implied passive coating around it. In all my personal experience with the concept, though, it’s more of an active thing. Some interpretive change in the jump from the subjective to the objective observation must be taking place. Just like I needed to leave my environment, ‘quitting’ also needs to leave these unfitting associations.
There’s a Toadies song that’s a little below the cream of the crop called “Quitter,” I think from their first album.
There’s a decent Lambchop album called How I Quit Smoking.
In its more archaic use, ‘to quit’ meant something closer to ‘letting go,’ as if of an attachment of some sort. Like in Willie Dixon’s/Otis Rush’s/Led Zeppelin’s/etc. “I Can’t Quit You Baby.” I think stuff like that sounds a little hokey. Like the word hokey itself does.
I recently quit a lot more things, actions or rituals that I thought defined myself. I quit drinking coffee, which I’ve done before, replacing it with the much calmer green tea. I quit a pretty rigorous meditation schedule because I felt like I hit a wall with it and needed to take a break. I quit writing for a while because I didn’t feel inspired to do it, and in turn started playing guitar and drawing more, things that I used to do more before I picked up writing. But all of these things aren’t really ‘quitting’ because I know that those weren’t the last times I’d indulge in those things, or even rebuild rituals out of them again in the future. The only thing that I’ve fully, consciously quit doing in my life, I think, is drinking alcohol. These other things ebb and flow in and out of my life, fitting into larger chunks of time, sort of like a revolving door of friends that I meet up with at odd intervals. These things don’t define who I am, they’re just patterns I accept until I don’t want to engage with them anymore. Which brings me back to my previous job.
I quit my job because I didn’t feel any kinship to the pattern of my day to day life, or to most of the people around me. I felt divorced from the way I was spending most of my day. I felt like I had to censor myself, act like I cared about things that I didn’t care about. And I’m a bad actor. I can only halfass things that I don’t care about, and apparently I can only do that for so long, even if I think I want to care. Even though I didn’t do my job well and outwardly told them that I didn’t care anymore, that I was the wrong person for the job they put me in, my bosses did everything they could to try and convince me to stay. I don’t mind the daily pressures of working life, but it has to be for something that resonates with me, has to be a process that I feel is worthwhile, if I’m going to settle down into it, that is. I can deal with challenges, but some challenges just aren’t worth engaging in, especially if done for the wrong reasons. Intention is everything, I’ve come to discover. I’m deliberately avoiding details because I don’t want this to come across as a complaining session. They’re too specific to the situation and how the intricacies of that situation interacted with my own overly complex and burdensome way of thinking. If I tried to describe the details, the real point, and in turn this entire tangent, would be lost, more meaningless … uselessly expended energy. I guess that’s what me going through those daily motions of my job was most like. Uselessly expended energy. It exacerbated my drive to waste energy. Nothing I did mattered to others or myself. It was all for appearances.
The way that I want to start thinking about the word ‘quit’ is more like the word ‘change.’ I consult the I-Ching, or Book of Changes a lot. Well … it comes and goes into my life like everything else, I guess. But its messages have stuck with me since I started getting really into it about four or five years ago. It always helps me understand situations and my own ways of thinking at really pivotal moments. It’s helped me get out of the mental prison of Marxism. A friend and I even used it once to plan a trip around Laos as we were on the trip. Reading some of its lines by chance have helped me see ideas or realizations that had been hovering around me, waiting for recognition in order to exist through me and alter me. Anyway, one thing that I’ve noticed about ‘change’ through this book is that it’s neither solidly passive nor active. We can enact change and change can happen to us. At the risk of sounding hokey, I think when it comes to being true to your own self, ‘quitting’ has this same sort of gray-area quality as ‘change’ does. You’re actively removing yourself from a pattern of behavior by passively accepting that you can’t continue on the path you’re headed down and be the person you want to be. But that’s a tricky statement—‘Being the person you want to be.’
There’s an ego-cultivating and an ego-diminishing way to be the person you want to be, and the latter tends to last longer, if not forever, and have less negative consequences. In the ego-cultivating way, a person expends a lot of energy in building a self that he or she wants to present to others so that it’s easier or more convenient for the person to tell him- or herself that he or she is respected, well-liked, or accepted. But the problem with the basis of that intention is that the drive is not fostered from your self. It’s through the imagined voices, gazes, judgments of others. It didn’t begin with you, almost as if the lack of respect from yourself morphed into an endless slew of artificial others created by your mind to continually judge you through its diverse syndicate. It’s a process that never ends, because you haven’t filled the hole inside yourself with your own acceptance. The deep insecurity that the drive ‘to be better’ was born out of never seems to leave and only gets worse the more you keep trying and interacting with this ‘bettering’ mechanism. Because the intention to be better has implicit in it a non-acceptance of yourself, the drive becomes an endless automatic process that eventually drains you of your true energy to simply exist. The focus gradually shifts toward placating these dire judgments by trying to convince you that these imagined perspectives are you. It winds up working toward the exact opposite of your intended goal. ‘Quitting,’ then, should mean something closer to ‘realizing that you’re wasting energy, or realizing that you need to stop perpetuating a problem with your own insecurity as the basis.’
The key to going on the ego-diminishing path is through living with humility. Hexagram 15 of the I-Ching (the Thomas Cleary translation, which I’m told isn’t the best, but whatever) says this about the quality of humility:
Humility is a way to get through successfully. To have the virtues but not dwell on them is called humility. If they manage themselves with humility and nonassertion, people can get through wherever they go.
‘The enlightened have an end’: such people aim to humbly go along to arrive at truth, so they appreciate Nature and do not compete. Inwardly fulfilled, they therefore defer to others and are not proud. Calmly practicing humility, never changing all their lives, they are all the more respected by others, and their virtues emerge from obscurity to shine all the more brightly. But petty people, when they want something, compete, and when they have good qualities they become proud. Even if they are urged to seek humility they are unable to practice it calmly and keep to it; so they cannot ‘have an end.’
Quitting something requires transitions. For me, transitions seem to be a form of my vitality, my flexibility expressing themselves, especially when the transition is based on major intuitive, split second decision. So far I’m not the type of person that settles down in nearly any aspect of my life. Just like quitting and change are nearly synonymous in my vocabulary, settling and death are almost identical twins, hence my not being able to stay in the same country for over 2 years since graduating college. But I’m back in a familiar terrain now, in a place I now know I love, and luckily my intuition seems to have guided me to a job that puts me in a much better position in every regard than previously, and for that I’m truly grateful to whatever it is that runs my intuition, and to whatever blesses me with what I can only call luck. The cycle of hardship got to its worst before the transition, and a breath of refreshing air came into my life.
Maybe someday I can quit quitting so much.