How Do You Know When It's Time To Quit?

Have you ever found yourself in the midst of a project or task and you wanted to quit?

I bet your inner dialogue started tossing out all sorts of motivational mantras to encourage you to push through. Maybe something like...

Keep going! Persevere! Follow through! Remember why you started!

All of that advice is immensely valuable in the right moment (and it’s certainly advice I’ve dispensed before)... but what if “pushing through” the task at hand is ultimately doing more harm than good?

What if persevering down a path is only leading you farther and farther away from yourself?

These are the questions I was asking myself two weeks ago when we were about to leave for our trip to Tahiti.

I could feel myself being weighed down by the various daily commitments and projects I’d undertaken. During our trip, I wanted time and space to myself to be present and to reflect, so I decided I wanted to stay off of Instagram and social media for the duration of our stay.

This posed a bit of a conundrum, because as most of you know, for 2016 I had committed to posting a different abstract art piece and message every single day of the year.

I considered the possible solutions. What was I to do, program my posts and publish them while I was on vacation?

Not only did that seem to undermine the authenticity of the project, but I also didn’t love the idea of going on the most freeing, beautiful vacation of my life only to have this daily “task” weighing over me.

That’s when Jason asked the question I was too afraid to ask myself: “What would happen if you didn’t post at all?”

It was the first time since January 1st starting the project I had actually allowed myself to consider quitting.

There were plenty of moments throughout this art project when I didn’t want to do my piece for the day. Maybe I was feeling tired, or had a splitting headache, or didn’t feel inspired, or wanted to do something else, but ultimately I powered through anyway because I knew that resistance was part of the process. I learned a lot about myself and what I’m capable of in committing to push past that resistance.

But this road block felt different.

It felt like I had arrived at a moment in the project when every ounce of my original intention was no longer there.

In the beginning, my mission for undertaking such an ambitious commitment was essentially this list of things:

  • To develop my confidence when it came to painting and my own point of view as an artist
  • To commit to carving out time for creativity and make it a habitual part of my daily life
  • To push myself to explore new boundaries and share my art, even if it felt imperfect

But now, 10 months later, my confidence had been built, my creative practice had become a habit, and I have no problem exploring the boundaries of my creativity or sharing imperfect work.

So, if these original intentions had been met, what was the project about now?

I realized that the project was no longer about creating; the project had become about NOT quitting.

It had become about what other people would think if I didn't make it to day 366. What it might say about me if I didn’t follow through.

Liz Gilbert in a podcast episode once said something I'll never forget:

“Anything that doesn’t taste like freedom is not your path.”

This project stopped tasting like freedom and started tasting likeobligation. Once I realized that, I knew that was my cue to make the hard choice and, yes, QUIT.

It was such a difficult decision to make, and yet once I saw it as a possibility, it was the easiest decision to make too because I saw it as a path back to freedom.

During my delightful week of vacation (away from social media, away from my studio, just present to the experience at hand), upon Jason’s recommendation I picked up the book “The Dip” by Seth Godin. Here’s a quote I love that feels especially appropriate:

“Most of the time, we deal with the obstacles by persevering. Sometimes we get discouraged and turn to inspiration writing, like stuff from Vince Lombardi: ‘Quitters never win and winners never quit.’ Bad advice. Winners quit all the time. They just quit the right stuff at the right time.

The truth is, quitting things allows you to make room for other things. It allows you to reallocate precious resources, like your mental space and your time.

Now that this project has taught me what I wanted to learn, I’m ready to use that time and space for things that feel more valuable to this current version of myself.

What’s funny about this whole project as I think back to December of last year making the scary declaration that I was going to do a year-long project, my biggest fear was that I wouldn’t finish it. That I would quit. I was so terrified of putting myself in a position to look like a flake.

The irony though is that, in quitting -- in basically realizing my “greatest fear” -- I’ve also realized the baselessness of that fear.

Just because I stopped before piece 366 does not mean that the commitment and hard work and dedication it required to complete 280 pieces simply disappears. It does not eradicate the lessons I learned along the way, nor does it take away from the people whose lives were touched, even just momentarily, by the messages of these pieces.

And that in itself is a huge lesson I will take with me. That even if you’re afraid to start something for fear of not following through, do it anyway.

I also learned a TON about my own artistic voice. I developed a love of painting and it jumpstarted my point of view which has allowed me to move on to huge canvases like these two that I ADORE. I never would have had the courage to paint these last year.

I’ve brought in almost $10,000 to my business through selling prints and I learned how to get my art printed and sold without knowing the first thing about how to do that in January.

I’m so grateful for this project for all the things it taught me, but I think the greatest lesson of ALL is that it reminded me of what is most important to me -- the belief that is absolutely central to everything I do at Made Vibrant:

If I’m doing something that’s not aligned with my truth, my essence, my core being -- if it’s something that’s not lighting me up and I’m tempted to do it because of some type of external validation -- I always want to be the kind of person that finds the strength to walk away from that.

So, my challenge to you this week is to think about what it is in your life that you need permission to quit.

What one thing are you doing for everyone else BUT yourself. What thing is no longer bringing you value or joy or growth, but you continue to do it because you’re afraid of NOT doing it?

Let my own “failure” be an example:

When it brings you back to your true self, quitting is an act of self-empowerment, not an act of weakness. 

When it brings you back to your true self, quitting is an act of self-empowerment, not an act of weakness.

Once you’ve learned the lesson that a task or project or relationship was here to teach you, it’s okay to release it.

I will still be sharing abstract affirmations on my Insta account, just not within a formal “project” basis, and I’m excited to transition what I’ve learned into the 15 or so huge canvases that are currently taking up my studio.

Thank you guys for continuing to support every creative experiment and project I continue to take on. After all, what are we on this earth for if not to explore, discover and connect?

I’ll tell you the one thing I don’t intend on quitting any time soon… you guys. :)