It’s a hot morning in mid-August, and I’m asking myself “why, why, WHY?!” I agreed to be here. It’s the beginning of twice-daily practices for the girls’ soccer team at my high school, and my friends roped me into joining the team our senior year. “Just for fun!,” they said. “It’ll be great!,” they said.
So here I am, already sweating, painfully regretting my decision not to exercise at all this summer. The coach, a Brazilian soccer connoisseur named Jose, is commanding us through various drills, and within 15 minutes, I can tell he’s about to up the ante and whip us into gear.
Jose starts to explain that the next drill we’re going to do is a technique used by professional teams in his home country, but I was too focused on trying not to pass out that all I heard him say after that was “running.”
We form a circle on the field and just start running around in single file. At various times, we do kicks or jumps, but we keep moving. And moving. And moving. And the sun is beating down, and I’m looking around to see if other people seem miserable, but no one looks as desperate as I feel.
My mind launches into familiar territory: “How do I get out of this?”
I wonder when this will end. I pray that someone else collapses on the ground and sacrifices herself so that the rest of us can be saved.
But still we run. And kick. And jump. I feel like I’m at the breaking point when a bright realization comes down to save me: “I have a dentist appointment.”
“I HAVE A DENTIST APPOINTMENT TODAY!,” I remembered gleefully.
Sure, my mom scheduled it for the break in-between practices, but no one had to know that. I mull it over for a lap and resolve to use this as my ticket out of this madness. As I round the corner to where the coaches are standing, I break rank and jog toward them.
Sweating, heaving, and my face beet-red, I say, “I forgot that I have a dentist appointment I have to go to.”
The assistant coach looks at me skeptically. “Um, okay…,” she says. “So, I’m gonna go,” I tell her, and I leave. I don’t even look back at my friends. I just walk joyfully and slowly to my car, free from Jose’s drills and so-called “exercise.” I feel amazing, almost giddy about the fact that I don’t have to stay.
Needing to kill time before my dentist appointment, I make the natural decision to go get a milkshake and cool off from my morning activity.
“I’ve earned it,” I tell myself.
You’ve probably guessed that I didn’t go back for the afternoon practice, and even after Jose called my parents that night and asked them to encourage me to try it again the next day, I refused. I quit the team instead and chose to enjoy the rest of my summer in a more comfortable manner.
I’m generally very “good” at quitting. I don’t stick around long unless the situation is feeling right, and for the most part, I think that’s served me well.
I’ve left relationships, jobs, events, towns, and situations in time for my health and well-being to be preserved.
But I’m learning that this ability to throw in the towel quickly and with sharpness has a shadow side.
I don’t believe in regret, but I do wonder how many of those relationships, jobs, events, towns, and situations held something important for me that I didn’t get to experience because I left too early.
My quitting process is very clear and routinized, and I’ll share it with you below:
First, before the thing starts, I feel idealistic about it. I imagine how awesome being on the soccer team is going to be. I think about how cute I’ll look in that jersey and how we’ll all sing songs and gossip on the bus to and from games. There’s a romantic period before the work actually starts.
Then, twice-daily practices start under the hot August sun, and I go, “Oh, shit. This is not what I thought I signed up for.” I realize that it’s more work than I want, or the wrong kind of work, or I don’t vibe with the people, or I just feel a full-body “No!” while I’m in it.
Then, I try to make it work. I jog. I do the jumping jacks. My thighs chafe, but for a little while, I tell myself to just hang in there. The time in the “make it work” phase depends on the situation and how painful it feels. Sometimes it’s 15 minutes until I realize I have a dentist appointment, and sometimes I stay for three years.
Next, and this is the part I hope you skip, I loop into a self-hatred tape that kicks myself for getting into something like this again. “Why do you keep working with people like this?!” or “How could you sign up for another thing that you can’t commit to?” or “You’re so flaky.” On and on, blah, blah, blah.
Finally, if it really feels like I need to quit something, I move through that phase into a kinder one that says, “It’s okay to leave.” I come to peace with what I really want, which is a milkshake and power ballad in the car with the windows down. So I leave. I quit. I tell the people that I won’t be around anymore. And I feel a huge wave of relief.
Generally, I’m pleased with my quitting ability, because it’s kept me out of many soul-sucking endeavors, and as a result, I don’t have as much emotional baggage as I think I would if I always forced myself to stay.
But like I said earlier, I’m learning about the value of discomfort, and I wonder how my senior year of high school might have looked if I’d tolerated a few more miserable hours on the soccer field.
I was reading recently about the Danish concept of “hygge,” and the author was talking about the principle of getting out into the wild during the dark winter, because coming inside feels that much cozier if you’ve been out in the harsh cold. Candles, a hot beverage, and warm slippers are that much more magical if you’ve been without them for a while, and that idea really struck a chord with me.
To live a pleasurable life, to enjoy hygge, to grow in our creativity, I see now how important discomfort is. Not that bullshit “sacrifice your soul so that the CEO’s stock options get better” kind of discomfort, but the “I’m going to climb this mountain because it’s important to me” kind. Or the “I want to step into my destiny” kind of discomfort.
My life today feels uncomfortable a lot of the time - I’m still a new mom, I’m trying to grow in a few key areas (including my career), and I want to unravel the subconscious knots that keep me stuck, like this tendency to jog off the field mid-practice.
But the discomfort starts to feel less awful when I remember the value of it - the potential richness ahead of me if I can just stick with it and grow gracefully, over time. So I take my kid to meet other babies and have awkward conversations with the other parents, or I set up a networking date with someone I feel intimidated by. I listen to the news and just let myself feel sad for awhile.
I think for some of us, the work is learning how and when to leave, and for me, I think the work is in learning how and when to stay.
I’m learning to better tolerate getting to that edge of discomfort. I’m trying to step out into the harsh, stormy wild of life more often because I know that when I come back into the comfort of my cabin, I’ll feel that much more grateful for its warming glow.