I believe that there is no shame in quitting. American society has emphasized the importance of perseverance and finishing what you’ve started to promote loyalty and commitment. Perseverance is an essential idea to teach, but people really shouldn’t have to worry about being judged or belittled by others if they make a decision to quit playing a sport, musical instrument, or other activity. Because of this, too many have suffered just for the sake of not being called a “quitter.”
At the age of 14, I had to make one of the toughest decisions of my life. Ever since I was 5 years old, I had been consumed by the sport of gymnastics. I spent hours every week at the gym flipping around on everything from a springy floor to uneven parallel bars to a four-inch wide beam. I did endless conditioning to build my six-pack, and suffered in silence through several injuries. Plus, I was always taller, less flexible, and less coordinated than most of the other girls, so my learning curve was slower and I had to work extra hard. I began to get tired of enduring the criticism of my cutthroat coaches, and between the stress, time commitment and increasing intensity of my competitions, gymnastics just wasn’t fun anymore.
Each night, I began to dread my four-hour practices and the wrath of my coaches when I failed to produce a flawless routine. I could remember the times when I looked forward to learning new tricks and choreographing new routines, but they seemed far away as my hopes of progressing to the next level got bleaker. At this point I knew I no longer wanted to be a gymnast, but it was hard to imagine just quitting after all the time and effort I’d spent in the sport. I didn’t know what I would do with those extra 20 hours each week, and if I wasn’t defined as Jenna, the girl who is good at gymnastics, I had no idea who I’d be.
Kids are too blatantly identified by the sports they play or their other extracurricular commitments, and those who don’t participate in such activities tend to feel lost. Consequently, they may learn the hard way just like I did, and expend time, money and stress for months before they finally decide to follow their hearts and move on. That’s right, not quit, give up, or surrender; move on. Our society has taught kids to stick to their commitments, tough it out, build character, and come out on top, but that is not always possible. I guarantee that almost every parent would rather see their child content and unstressed after having quit an activity than allow them to suffer in silence. So please, don’t use the term “quitter,” and don’t belittle those who make the personal decision to make a change and move forward.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.