The Beauty of Being a Quitter

true self

Photo Credit: timtom.ch via Compfight cc

Six years ago, my wife and I had reached a pinnacle.

We’d just had our third and last child, my wife had become the director of her graduate psychology program, my clinical practice was thriving, and we’d just purchased a house in the right neighborhood with the best schools.

We had arrived.

Before long, though, we realized the place we’d arrived was like a hamster wheel. With a motor. That couldn’t be turned off. We had a mountain of debt, mountains of responsibility, and mountains of stress. We had worked tirelessly for two decades to get to the top and, upon arriving, we were greeted with this disappointing news:

There is no top.

Slowly, it dawned upon us: you don’t find peace by reaching the peak of all good things; you find peace by getting a peek at the good thing you’ve always been. You don’t reach happiness by climbing; you settle into happiness by settling into who you truly are.

We wanted to make changes, but there was no room for change to happen. We sensed a different life around the corner, but our corner was too cluttered to catch a glimpse of it. Sometimes, life gets too cramped to move in any new direction. Sometimes, the direction we need to go is backward.

C.S. Lewis writes, “We all want progress. But progress means getting nearer to the place where you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turn, then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man.”

Sometimes, the best thing we can do is to undo the best things we’ve done.

Around the time my wife and I were wondering how to exit from the highway upon which we’d been racing, I heard Bob Goff speak at a small conference in Chicago. I remember it was jump-out-of-your-seat inspiring, but I can’t recall any specifics, except one. He said if you want new things to come into your life, you have to cut out old things. It was a Thursday, and he said he quits something every Thursday. On the way to the conference, he called a board of directors upon which he served and told them he was quitting. When they asked why, he told them: It’s Thursday.

For my wife and I, Thursday had arrived.

It was time to become quitters.

Of course, few of us have Bob Goff’s freedom to make such sudden and radical changes to our lives. We certainly didn’t. So our Thursday lasted six years. It was a series of slow, small, and subtle changes that amounted to a little bit of breathing room:

We changed our lifestyle and paid down debt as quickly as we could. We watched for the steady drip-drip of activities that were draining our time and resources. We cancelled our cable subscription. I stopped obsessing about the news and quit arguing about politics. I have no problem with news and politics, but they were leaving me with no room to turn around.

The same was true of our many obligations and commitments. So, I identified my five roles—husband, father, friend, therapist, and writer—and I said no to anything that didn’t fit into those five roles. My wife eventually stepped down from her administrative position. I eventually reduced my caseload by fifteen percent.

We made space.

While making space in our lives, we often don’t know what we’re making space for. We just know we’re going back to the fork in the road. And, years later, when we finally get there, we find a pleasant surprise waiting for us at the fork.

We find ourselves.

Next month, my wife will begin a job she’s wanted to work since high school, I’ll start a therapy practice I’ve been wanting to start for a decade, I’ll be writing a book I’ve wanted to write for as long as I can remember, and our family will be moving to the countryside, where we all tend to breathe a little easier.

When we make space to listen to our hearts, we realize we know what we’ve wanted all along. We find the room to settle into who we are and the freedom to shape our lives according to who we are. In the words of a friend, we can finally live the way we’re wired.

Is your clock ticking toward Thursday?

Are you ready to make space?

Do you dare become a quitter?

And what will you do when you find yourself again, back at the fork in the road?

You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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Next Post: How to Know Who You Belong To

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Disclaimer: My writings represent a combination of my own personal opinions and my professional experiences, but they do not reflect professional advice. Interaction with me via the blog does not constitute a professional therapeutic relationship. For professional and customized advice, you should seek the services of a counselor who can dedicate the hours necessary to become more intimately familiar with your specific situation. I do not assume liability for any portion or content of material on the blog and accept no liability for damage or injury resulting from your decision to interact with the website.

Kelly is a licensed clinical psychologist and co-founder of Artisan Clinical Associates in Naperville, IL. He is also a writer and blogs regularly about the redemption of our personal, relational, and communal lives. Kelly is married, has three children, and enjoys learning from them how to be a kid again. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • om

    Brilliant. It reminds me of when sometimes a drugs free labour gets “stuck” at 10 cm and baby wont go down past the birth canal to be born. It has progressed successfully until then, then it stops. Usually one helpful measure is to the mother to stop everything she was doing, try a new position which consists in doing a 30 sec. forward lining inversion, kind of being upside down, then baby goes kind of backward in uterus so there is more room around the pelvic area so the baby has now space to turn and find a better position to exit and enter into the world. Baby is usually born soon after these changes take place. Funny hey? Good luck with the birth of your new life, by stopping, turning upside down, going backwards, finding room and space to look for a better way, in yours and your family case, to be reborn.

    • Irina

      What a coincidence – I am waiting for my first baby to arrive this week, and came across your comment to a totally unrelated to birth and labor blog… I quit reading about birth and labor last week, and feel more calm now.

      • om

        Nothing is a “coincidence”… 🙂 Good luck with yours and Kelly’s birth!
        Thank you again for the post Kelly, today is Thursday and I quit procrastination! It’s working!!! With gratitude and appreciation.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Wow, this comment is really a gift. A rich metaphor and there is something very comforting about the idea of being “reborn.” Thank you very much. And Irina, congratulations and my best to you in this next chapter in life!

  • Amy

    Perfect words for me today. We started our “Thursday” 2 years ago. We made a radical move, sold our business and slowed down so we could enjoy the little things. However, It is surprising how quickly small things can creep back in, adding up to bigger things. Your post today reminds me to protect the space we have created. Time for another round of Thursdays Thank you

    • drkellyflanagan

      Amy, thank you for this. I have a feeling we will have to be just as intentional about the drip-drip in our new setting as we were in our old. Good luck to you in your next round of Thursdays!

  • Janeen Kilgore

    What a great point for me this morning; and some serious things for me to consider.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Glad it was thought provoking, Janeen!

  • Rhonda Frazier

    Timely and on point! Would you share the primary source for the CS Lewis quote?

  • Candice Marquette

    I feel like I should be paying for your blogs because they have uncanny timing to the very events my family is going through. We are in the midst of big life changes. New career and potential cross country moves leaving behind our close knit community and friends. We are using this opprutunity to downsize our belongings, house size and really reassess what’s important. We used to own a 35 foot Rv and some of our happiest family memories were spent in that rolling tin can as opposed to our 2500 foot McMansion. Recognizing that we wanted quality of life changes, it still feels scary to step away from the known to the new.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Candice, I had to smile at your comment because the next two blog posts are about friends and the people we belong to. Sounds like those might be well timed, too. 🙂 And then a post about how scary the whole thing is! Please keep us posted about your changes, would love to keep track of your journey.

  • Yancy W. Smith

    This post has helped me gather the courage to face today. Tomorrow is Thursday.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Have courage, Yancy, every day can be Thursday, in one way or another.

  • I am so there. I have been forced to downsize over the last few years while I thought I, too, wanted to be upwardly mobile. I have slowly over the last two years realized I am right where I am supposed to be–in the smallest house I have ever lived in, with less responsibilities, recognizing what is busy work and what is not. A book has been “stuck” in my computer for about 10 years. I am turning a corner to my true path after all of the life lessons along the way. Thanks for adding a few puzzle pieces for me in my effort to keep on keeping on.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Jean, it’s time to get that book unstuck. Good for you!

  • Dawn

    I love reading your blog and this one really hits home on so many levels. Just have to figure out what my “Thursday” will be. Thank you!

    • drkellyflanagan

      Thanks, Dawn, and you’re welcome. Good luck discerning your Thursday. The nice thing about Thursday is, if you get it wrong, you can always try something else!

  • Laura

    This is so good, and I imagine you’ve tapped into something that every last one of us can relate to. I know my man and I are looking for our Thursday and trying to decide the thing we most need to quit and how to gracefully do it without too much pain of upheaval. I know a little pain is necessary and unavoidable, but going into it with our eyes open will hopefully make it a little more manageable. Or maybe I’m missing the point entirely and still trying to manage too much. 🙂 Either way, thanks for the thought-provoking post and the hope and encouragement included in it.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Laura, I love this reflection; it’s exactly the kind of thing I would do. You make a keen observation that the tendency to “manage” everything is sometimes a good thing to put on the chopping block on Thursday! I’m still working on that one. : )

  • Beverley Croft

    I don’t regard you as a ‘quitter’ Kelly, you are just making a different choice. That is always open to us. It feels to me you are in a way simplifying your lives also. That is great to do, gives you more time and space to really feel yourselves. I admire what you are doing, you are following your heart, or I sense it is more your ‘inner heart’, the bridge to the Soul in this case. It will be great to hear of your adventures with your new life.

    I am gradually planning a ‘quit’, but no, in my case it is a choice. As I approach 80, I know I will have to move from the lovely 4 bedroom home I have near the sea. If I leave it too long, it becomes too hard to do. Especially as I live on my own. I feel 2 years max. will see me ‘quitting’. Although I have some family nearby, they have extremely busy lives and are often away travelling, so I feel I will need more support as it becomes needed in the future. I know the area I will be moving to, many friends there, and I know when I need it, there will be support for me. Another son in that area too. I am not sure yet exactly what I will do, have a little studio up there now, in another’s home that I could downsize to, that would really be simplifying my life, and has much appeal. I do feel the need to be sharing with another person. But I could also buy a home with another older friend, with the support of others in the area for both of us. Or I could buy a house and have a younger person rent a room cheaply with that person giving some assistance as required. Lots of choices when the time comes. At least I know there will be support there when the time comes. And the bonus of having a son and his family nearby, and yet not put too much responsibility onto him for me. Choices, choices, but that is what we grow from, if we make the right choices.

    I love the choices you are making.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Beverly, thank you. I know you’re making hard choices, but choosing in favor of the places we belong is always a wise idea. I’ll be writing about the idea of belonging next week. Hope it is an encouragement to you, too!

  • Patricia

    Wow! Love learning your story as to how you and your wife came to this life changing decision. I’m looking forward to the next chapter. Your blog is so inspirational to me. Thanks so much for sharing your journey.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Thanks, Patricia; you’re welcome!

  • Marv

    Thanks Kelly for this blog post… Just sent it to my wife as we were just discussing this same issue a little while ago. I thought I would share that my experience may be a bit different in that what I think I’m finding is that as I try to make “space”, what I’m really doing is trying to control outcomes and that tends to be very ego motivated and driven. What I’m trying to notice and be aware of is those regular moments of space emerging and allowing rather than structuring. It is becoming a way of being rather than a way of doing. Guessing other experience things this way too. All the best! Marv

    • drkellyflanagan

      This is so good, Marv. Laura and I exchanged thoughts about this below, as well. She called it managing, and you refer to it as controlling outcomes. I can relate to both. Being present to the space that already is is a lovely discipline. Totally undermines the managing tendency. Good stuff. Thank you!

  • T. Bergenn

    Yes, “quitting” has bad connotations in our society, for sure. But I am so glad I quit being politically committed to something I’d pledged not to quit.

    There is a little voice inside of us, that I have come to know as the Holy Spirit. And thank God I listened to it.

    Indescribably liberating to return to my Faith.

    Fearlessness was required, as the turn I took into the great unknown of “normal” life meant exposing myself to criticism, failure, and shifting all the people, activities, and even thoughts I’d ever known. rejecting my only familiar purpose for living.

    But I took a leap of faith, and later discovered how well God would provide. I don’t regret coming back, after 25 years as an outspoken atheist. I pray that everyone may experience the love of the Trinity. Don’t waste a day!

    Happy Thursday!

  • Maria Mouriki

    Is it pure coincidence that I am reading this on a Thursday? Commenting from a ‘GREECE in financial crisis’, where there is nothing to take for granted anymore, I have to say that your personal example is an inspiration to me. I have read loads of articles from people who do not practise what they preach and find them very uninteresting. Having had a great career in UK, with loads of open doors I decided to come back home. Things did not go according to plan however… I could never believe that I would leave my parents home once again and move to a remote island due to love! Work-related matters are difficult here therefore I had to cut down on my expenses and find new ways to entertain myself that did not involve money at all. And the result of all these changes (some are still ongoing) … I am less stressed, I get more exercise, I spend more time close to nature, I have met new people, I have realised what is really important to me and my family, I have set different priorities and also became part of the community. Some of my realisations and life changes were ignited from my therapist, my family, and other people I do not know personally, like you. Thank you! Good luck with your book!

  • Francis

    Today is Thursday and I will NOT quit reading your posts. NEVER. 😃
    They are so great, profound, honest and inspiring. Thank you.

  • Andrea Gailus

    Our Thursday came 12 years ago when we surrendered ourselves, our debts and our future to an inspired move across the country (inspired by someone else who asked us) and have not looked back since. I only wish my husband had lived longer to enjoy our new life. Close a window and a door opens.

  • Colleen Shields

    Less is More. Unpacking our bags and finally living an uncluttered life is heaven.

  • Carla

    This is by far the best post I have read in a long time. Thank you for beeing an inspiration!

    I often feel in our society that sucess or growth or even just growing up is understood in the sense of expansion or of having/getting “more”. The majority of people I see buy or build huge houses, have two cars, the latest electronical gadgets and vacation twice a year. I often think all they do is build themselves a golden cage. Most of the time people just do what “everybody does” and will end up in a corner with their backs against the wall..I decided to study again when I was almost thirty, instead of starting our own family we decided to bring my husbands son up as best and with as much love as we can and support our siblings as much as we can by bonding with our nices and nephews and godchildren. We resisted the temptation of buying a big house by thinking hard about what we really need: Time as a couple and privacy in our home. This does not equal space. So we settled on a wonderful smallish rooftop appartment in a small rural hamlet from where I commute to the city (and no, commuting by train is not a stressfactor for me despite everybody saying so), which is so affordable that we can work part time (=more time!). This allows me to work for a non profit-organisation I’ m passionate about and support my husband, who decided by the end of last year that he will start his own buisness after taking a long sommer off. We realized we don’t need the ski vacations or city trips: We’d rather save up and tour Australia every few years to get new input and bond over an adventure.

    The smaller things: I don’t iron. I don’t use shampoo in order to have to wash my hair just once a week and make my footprint a wee bit smaller. This works for me and actually added a ton of life-quality despite my friends rolling their eyes.

    Do what works for you. I think we all should be brave enough to do that.

  • Mike Gates

    I’m not sure I even want to read the article, the headline is soooo damn good. 🙂

  • This is awesome! It is exactly what I need at the moment. I knew my clock was heading towards a Thursday but an “enticing opportunity” came up that almost distracted me… Thank you!

    P.S. I am definitely subscribing to your RSS feed. Please do continue to share your wonderful insights. 🙂

  • Charito Perlado Nuestro

    My “Thursday” happened in 1995 or twenty years ago. I quit the job i had in a bank. Many thought that I was confused. Yet, after a six-month soul-searching or “leave” from the bank, I finally mustered enough courage to “quit”, and filed my resignation. Perhaps, that was because I had no husband and children of my own to take care of. I was single then up to now. I desperately clung to God for guidance and He led me to His Son, Jesus, who today is my Anchor and my Shield. I understand the feeling of how it is to quit at an early age. My piano teacher in grade school slapped my hands or beat them with a stick when i played or hit the wrong note that I quit studying piano in Kindergarten!

    I re-enrolled in Piano Lessons when I was in Junior High, such that, in a sense, I went back to the fork in the road. I may not be a piano virtuoso but today, i can play and read chords and I am happy with that.

    Truly the title of your arcticle caught my attention. I wondered whether quitting work in the bank was “sane” at that time. Just a week after I resigned I started a flower shop, Blossoms and Twigs. I had my first customer in August 14, 1995 and helped spread the Word of God by delivering flower bouquets/baskets with Biblical verses and cards, which to this day have become a Center for Christian activities like teaching art/painting lessons, compiling and translating to the Filipino language praise and worship songs, prayer cell/telephone brigade/s and many other tasks like visitation to the sick/unwell, specially, the terminally-ill.

    You mentioned that quitting early may mean finding the right path faster by turning around and restarting in the new direction. I believe, i had made my choice right on time. Indeed, God bids us not to hurry, and He also bids us not to tarry. He is with us every step of the way.

    “Be still and know I am God”.

    And with the stress at office work, I unburdened my heavy load,because i traded it with God’s. His yoke is easy and His burden, light!

    “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will come and call and pray to me and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all of your heart. I will be found by you”.

    (Jeremiah 29:11-14)

  • Charito Perlado Nuestro

    My “Thursday” happened in 1995 or twenty years ago. I quit the job i had in a bank. Many thought that I was confused. Yet, after a six-month soul-searching or “leave” from the bank, I finally mustered enough courage to “quit”, and filed my resignation. Perhaps, that was because I had no husband and children of my own to take care of. I was single then up to now. I desperately clung to God for guidance and He led me to His Son, Jesus, who today is my Anchor and my Shield. I understand the feeling of how it is to quit at an early age. My piano teacher in grade school slapped my hands or beat them with a stick when i played or hit the wrong note that I quit studying piano in Kindergarten!

    I re-enrolled in Piano Lessons when I was in Junior High, such that, in a sense, I went back to the fork in the road. I may not be a piano virtuoso but today, i can play and read chords and I am happy with that.

    Truly the title of your arcticle caught my attention. I wondered whether quitting work in the bank was “sane” at that time. Just a week after I resigned I started a flower shop, Blossoms and Twigs. I had my first customer in August 14, 1995 and helped spread the Word of God by delivering flower bouquets/baskets with Biblical verses and cards, which to this day have become a Center for Christian activities like teaching art/painting lessons, compiling and translating to the Filipino language praise and worship songs, prayer cell/telephone brigade/s and many other tasks like visitation to the sick/unwell, specially, the terminally-ill.

    You mentioned that quitting early may mean finding the right path faster by turning around and restarting in the new direction. I believe, i had made my choice right on time. Indeed, God bids us not to hurry, and He also bids us not to tarry. He is with us every step of the way.

    “Be still and know I am God”.

    And with the stress at office work, I unburdened my heavy load,because i traded it with God’s. His yoke is easy and His burden, light!

    “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will come and call and pray to me and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all of your heart. I will be found by you”.

    (Jeremiah 29:11-14)

  • elvira cansancio

    Im not afraid to quit! Though it takes alot of courage to do it. It tells me uncertainty along the way but deep within it develop more strenght to trust God of what is unknown. Thank God he include that word in our world. I had my piece of thursdays.

  • cheryl shelton

    Good luck with whatever you decide, Doc, just stay in touch if possible. You can always come out and just go fishing to clear your mind. We send our love.

  • Efren Bermudez

    the best reminder that ever seen in Facebook thank a lot

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  • SSS

    I’m thankful our Thursday to quit was realized and happened early in our lives, 18 years ago. It happened right after our 3rd child was born. One of us had to quit to be home and available for our children. My husband started a home based part time business, I continued with my career that took me all over the world. The funny thing is, we were able to enjoy our young children and each other. We took family vacations, put 2 kids to college w/o student loans, still able to have the lifestyle most dream of. Our 3rd just finished his 1st year in college. We have 25 monthly payments left in our house.