Some of this might be familiar, because I’ve written parts of this story before. And it’s still an incomplete thought, as you’ll notice:
In my late teens/early 20s I changed faith lanes from Presbyterian to Episcopalian, not for any particular reason but generally because the Anglican tradition felt tidier and more intellectual, and the liturgy was logical. Beyond all that, though, was the appealing, affirming, foundational notion that free will, God’s greatest gift to humankind, came with responsibilities – to be educated, to be caring, to be active, to participate fully and not passively “let Jesus take the wheel.”
The switch stuck, even if I’ve never really been a fully dedicated congregant at any church, ever.
The one anchor I have kept, for the most part, is Ash Wednesday service, because the liturgy is my favorite. “Remember that you are dust” is always helpful to hear, at least for me.
But as much as I felt drawn to the Ash Wednesday service, year after year, I could not work out a fundamental disconnect between the directive to “pray in private” and the ritual of wearing a big, black cross of ashes on our foreheads as we walked out of the church when service ended. What’s private about having a smear of ashes on your face?
Then one year, almost 20 years ago now, an interim rector at the church I used to attend took that mismatch head on. Maybe you’ve wondered, he said, about this seeming contradiction between the Gospel reading and the practice of wearing ashes on public display…
Um, yes. I have wondered and wondered and wondered about that, I thought to myself.
He went on to offer this perspective: Check your motivation.
If you want people to notice your ashes and think you virtuous and pious, the priest offered, then you should wipe them off before leaving the church. If, on the other hand, seeing that mark is a reminder, when you look in the mirror or in a store window as you walk by, if it strengthens something within you, then leave the mark as long as it lasts naturally.
A year later, maybe two, I was scrubbing my forehead in the church ladies’ room, when a woman – a prominent member of the parish – started fussing loudly. “You’re not supposed to wash them off! You’re supposed to wear them ALL DAY, it’s Ash Wednesday!!”
Keeping in mind the priest’s words and my self-assessment at the time, I kept scrubbing anyway. But I felt, for the rest of that day, as if I’d somehow misbehaved.
Chastised by the Ash Wednesday police. What the hell?
The next time Ash Wednesday rolled around, a friend called to see if I wanted to carpool to service. I said I was going to skip it. I was having a busy day at work; that was my main explanation. And then I added the detail about the prior year’s encounter.
“You’re going to quit doing something you enjoy because of one fussy old lady?” my friend said. “Really?!”
What, exactly, DID I need to quit?
I’ve been thinking about that story, though it may seem odd and unrelated, in the context of what’s been dubbed “The Great Resignation” happening in the U.S. workforce (and other places, too, but the U.S. is where I live, so it’s where I have a front row seat as the story plays out). After years of pressure and dissatisfaction with the daily grind, everyone, from line-cooks to C-suite office holders, is mad as hell and not going to take it anymore. The pandemic has offered a way out, a green light not just to quit, but to do it on TikTok and share that moment of self-liberation with the world.
Like the sweeping impact of no-fault divorce laws in the 1970s, the pandemic’s true effect on the workplace (and workers, and the economy, etc.) won’t be clear for decades. What’s likely true is that upending the traditional system will have both benefits and consequences for everyone involved.
If you are in this “quittin’ time” space – in a job, a relationship, a dwelling, or whatever – the seeming solidarity around you might feel like the encouragement you need to take an important step forward.
Before taking the giant leap, though, perhaps take just a moment to check that motivation. And, if the motivation is true and good and right, then take just one more moment to consider HOW to take the big leap if it is, in fact, quittin’ time.
If we work together in real life, then you already know my favorite question to ask in situations like these. I’ve used different words over the years (“what’s the problem we’re trying to solve today?” “what’s our goal here?” “what’s the main thing?” etc.), but this gist has been the same. In short, failing to frame a problem clearly will almost always put you face-to-face with a new and different problem.
But since I’m an art teacher-turned-marketer, and not a therapist or career counselor, perhaps you’d like some more credentialed expertise on this one.
Back in 2015 – before the 2016 election, before Brene Brown became a cultural phenomenon, before the pandemic, before the racial protest, before before before… Peg Streep (co-author of the book, Quitting: Why We Fear It, and Why We Shouldn’t) offered some tips that might hold even more true today than when they were first published on the Psychology Today blog.
I was looking for that advice then, in 2015, when I found myself at an unexpected career crossroads. Something I’d worked for, hoped for, and helped plan had come to life in an entirely different way from what I’d anticipated. I had to choose between working with (and for) people I didn’t respect or quitting my job even though I didn’t have another lined up. As our family’s earner, I couldn’t just quit, willy-nilly, in a huff.
The important, central notion of the article, the book, and the overall thought here is this: Sometimes quitting is exactly the right thing. And sometimes it isn’t. In either case, the decision requires more than a reflexive response in the heat of a moment, even in the heat of a larger movement.
The cultural norm of “quitters never win” is bullshit. But the bandwagon trend of the moment to quit with reckless abandon is bullshit, too.
Maybe, in the end, it’s something like this: Remember that we are but dust, and to dust we will return.
Now is as good a time as there will ever be to recognize and let go of the things, and people, and habits that get in the way of being the best version of ourselves. Hold fast to what’s true, and relinquish – QUIT – the rest. Because It’s impossible to be fully present for other people if we are not first present and true to ourselves. And, in the lovely words of Henri Frederic Amiel:
Life is short, and we do not have much time to gladden the hearts of those who make the journey with us.
So… be swift to love, and make haste to be kind.
This post is 17/56 in a self-directed challenge to write (or at least post) something (SOMETHING) every day – a birthday gift to me from me, because writing gives me a place to put the clutter that lives in my head.