Most of the time when you quit, I would argue, it’s because you don’t know the reason behind why you do what you do. It’s likely that you started something (even if you were enthusiastic and excited in that moment) not clearly understanding why, or even if, it mattered to you. Maybe it mattered to someone else and so you claimed it as your own. Or perhaps you thought, well, it should matter to you, so you took up the cause. Or it could be that you just wanted to belong and so you joined in even though you didn’t much care about the topic.
Whatever the reason, at some point you got a few challenges thrown at you and because you didn’t have a strong foundation on which to build your life, you didn’t push through and instead you just gave up. No worries and nothing to be ashamed of because you’re not alone. You are in fact in excellent company with the rest of us who have, at one point or another, abandoned passions or projects or ourselves.
Your reason why is that strong foundation on which to build your life. Keep in mind that obstacles in life are inevitable; defeat, however, is always (always, always) optional. Many times when you give up or back down or keep yourself tucked inside your comfort zone, the why behind your actions has something to do with that particular event/activity/person/goal/etc. not mattering deeply to you. And whenever you’re doing something that doesn’t matter deeply to you, you don’t have a vested interest in seeing it all the way through to the end.
When the temptation to quit comes (which it will, that’s not a matter of if but of when), you need that why to hang on to. You need to let it be what pulls you along and keeps you going and gives you a light in the darkness that shows you the way out. Knowing your why will give you something to come back to, a soft comforting place to land, whenever you have challenges, setbacks, doubts, and the like. Your why will keep you going because it gives meaning to the things that you do. And it’s meaning, I would always argue, that you need to make yourself content and your life fulfilling.
How-To Find Your Why:
- Write a list of major passions/projects that you’re currently pursuing.
- Trust yourself.
- Listen for your intuition, which includes both your body and your mind (that nudge/voice in your mind; how your body feels/reacts).
- For each item, write quickly (so no editing or overthinking) an answer to these:
- Does this deeply matter to me? (If no, stop here; if yes, keep going to the next question.)
- What about it is important to me?
- Why does it deeply matter to me?
- Does it matter enough that I will decide now, right now, what actions I will take when the temptation to quit comes?
- Does it matter enough that I will commit to myself not to give up on it regardless of what happens?
- Does it matter enough to me that I will see it all the way through to the end?
And if you come to find that an item you’re pursuing doesn’t deeply matter to you, that’s okay. You have permission, right now, to let it go. Better now than weeks/months/years down the road when you finally decide the why behind it wasn’t strong enough for you to finish it. That’s true whether it’s just an idea in your head or if you’ve just recently begun or if you’ve been plugging away at it for a while; better to wish it well and let it go than to hold on tight and be dragged down.
Your why could be to:
- bring yourself joy and fulfillment.
- grow into the person you want and are meant to be.
- make the world/community a better place.
- help someone not make the same mistakes you did or show someone how to get out of a dark place that you were once in yourself.
- entertain or give comfort or help heal or encourage, both yourself and/or others.
- blow off some steam and have a great time.
- teach so both you and others can grow.
- and on the list goes.
Know this too: whatever your answer, it’s the right one for you.
Let Your Why Be Your Guide
Your why will show you what things you want to be pursuing and those that you don’t.
Do yourself a kindness and find your why for every major passion/project you pursue. I’m of the belief, having spent years following paths I thought I wanted to be on only to come to find out that they weren’t really my paths at all, that you’re better served to find out sooner rather than later if what you’re doing really and truly deeply matters to you. All you have to do is trust yourself, listen to your intuition, and honor your own wisdom.
It’s entirely possible your why may be different for each of the various things you do.
Some of your reasons why may be serious, others not so much. That’s okay, they’re all important if they matter to you. The main point with finding your why is that whatever you’re pursing deeply matters to you in some way, even if the reason why you want it in your life is because it’s fun, entertaining, relaxing, makes you feel the most like yourself, etc.
Your why can be as simple or as complex as you like; it is yours after all.
Although I’d argue that keeping it simple makes it easier to remember and use as a guide. You’re going to have to refer back to it at some point, especially when you start questioning (because eventually you will, that’s not a matter of if but of when) why you set out on the path you’re on.
Your why can be in whatever form resonates with you, whatever will help shape and guide what you do.
For example, I’ve been working on a project for the past three years (more on that in early 2019). My why for that particular project is a page I ripped out of a magazine (because in that moment, I was infuriated and inspired and impassioned with a phrase: you don’t have to live like this, you just don’t, and you never did). That page has a person’s picture along with a bunch of statistics/warnings on it. I scrawled—THIS IS WHY—in black marker across the top and stuck it to a corkboard in my writing room.
When times got tough and I really wanted to quit and do just about anything else, I made copies of that page and tacked them up all over my house to remind myself why I started, the promise I made to myself that I was in it for the long haul, that I had committed to finishing and so I would. If images are your jam, you can do the same.
Some things I’ve learned:
Knowing your why will help you:
- lessen the fear.
- stop sabotaging yourself and getting in your own way.
- be motivated to stop procrastinating and instead take the next step and the next and the next.
- help you stay focused and on track.
- make the obstacles and the naysayers fade if not wink out altogether so you can keep going when you want to quit.
- most importantly: give the work you do meaning to you (and that is meaning enough), which in turn makes your life fulfilling.
So what’s your why? And will you let it guide you?