“No one likes a quitter.” I can’t recall who first said it to me or why, but the words have stuck like glue.
There are others. Practice makes perfect. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Winners never quit and quitters never win. It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop. Hang in there. Google antes up thousands of motivating sentiments if you need some online encouragement, but few daily affirmations ever remind you to quit while you’re ahead.
From an early age, I was not someone who gave up easily. I recall beginning the recorder unit in my elementary school music class. My parents paid a few dollars for the black and white plastic instrument with lesson book stored in separate pockets of a clear plastic sleeve, and I was immediately hooked. Mrs. Tomaselli would demonstrate the basics, but occasionally would bring in an older student to play for us. Thalia was amazing. She seemed to play effortlessly on her delicate wooden recorder, breezing through Tumbalalaika and Go Tell Aunt Rhody and the Battle Hymn of the Republic, adding fancy trills and contrasting dynamics to impress our class of novices.
I was forced to conform to the robotic drudgery of group lessons as we relentlessly quacked after the teacher like ducks in a row. Yet every day I brought home my trusty Making Music Your Own book from school and worked through the songs, page by page, night by night, until I could play the same songs that Thalia performed for us.
Mrs. Tomaselli must have noticed my progress, and one day invited me to join Thalia before school so we could play duets together. I was elated. My parents even indulged my success by purchasing a wooden recorder that I was saw in a music store, just like the one Thalia played in class. I still have it today. Playing duets was by far the highlight of first grade, and while eventually my enthusiasm for the recorder waned as we advanced to mixed choir and band instruments, I was proud that I pushed myself to learn something new and realize my dream to play with Thalia.
I did quit flute. After interminable hours practicing the Emperor’s Waltz so that I could audition for first chair in band, I lost out to a tiny blonde girl also named Mary-Lynne who reminded me of Marcia Brady. How many people named Mary-Lynne are out there that we had two in the same band? When my dad found his old trumpet in the attic, I returned my delicate flute case and shuffled to the back row of the band with my clunky, moldy case, where I sat with the boys who used trombone slides as swords and leaked spit on their stand partners’ legs. I had found my people, and I have been in the back row ever since.
I quit a few other things over the years, but not without enormous guilt and hours of debating with my inner self: Girl Scouts, ballet lessons, youth orchestra (actually, I was kicked out for a few weeks because I was caught eating part of my lunch during an interminable string sectional of Capriccio Italien, but was eventually reinstated, only to quit later and join a different ensemble). But more often, I have challenged myself to learn something new and persevere until I at least felt competent, served my term limit, or went down with the ship.
Throughout my adult life I have joined many groups, forced myself to learn new skills, and quit surprisingly few things. I did quit a few tennis partners (no matter how hard you try, it never ends well), Weight Watchers (too many overly enthusiastic group leaders) and I left a couple of boards after one term because I was frustrated by fellow board members with grave lack of initiative. I rarely ever walk away from an argument without a good fight. I’ve also quit a couple of design clients over the years, mostly because they were very demanding of my time then MIA when it came time to pay the bill.
Yesterday I quit a design project. In the midst of COVID when work is scarce and future income potential questionable, I turned down a project that I couldn’t bring myself to tackle. Just to be fair, the project was to typeset a technical book in Russian. The text was littered with mathematical equations, charts and graphs that needed to be converted, and included a table of contents and index that would also need to be regenerated. And, it was all in Russian.
I consider one of my greatest skills to be able to reorganize material and present it in a way that is clear and attractive for readers, but I met my match with this project. I tried for hours to find shortcuts or a process that would that would make the job cost effective for them and profitable for me, but I couldn’t, so I quit.
It felt great.
It was so liberating to acknowledge my limits and be honest with myself and my client. I was so much happier the rest of the day knowing that, while I was going to be quite a bit poorer this month than expected, I was not going to torture myself, either.
So today I woke up with newfound energy to reinvent myself and my career in this time of COVID so am starting a new MLB TO DO list. While it’s probably not a bad time to put my trumpet in the case forever, it’s hard to imagine not being a part of that first concert when we live performances return, joyfully sitting on stage next to 70 of my colleagues, with no plexiglass between us and a sold-out audience in front of us. I need to be around for that moment, whenever it happens, so I can’t quit now. Keep practicing on the list…..
Next, I need to set some new goals for my design career. I should probably update my website and add samples of some of my other skills like writing and photography, and hone skills in social media marketing or grant writing. I need to meet some new clients, and maybe explore partnering up with someone to expand the business rather than work as an independent as I have for so many years. Or, maybe I should get a part time job doing something completely new, or train in something completely different. Add those to the list…..
But the fun part for me now will be to decide how to use my free time. For the first time in 19 years, I have no volunteer commitments come September. My kids are finished with public schools, and so am I. I can finally select my own volunteer exploits, or choose not to volunteer at all.
I do believe some of my time needs to go to a town committee—we have so few volunteers here and their names seem to regularly swap places on the town website pages. Some of my time needs to go to arts advocacy and fundraising as the arts are always in need, especially so now. And some time needs to go to crafting so I can continue my lifelong pursuit to create something artistic with my hands that doesn’t have a hole in it or is lopsided or missing a stitch. These should go on the list………….
One thing I’ve learned about not being a quitter is that the fear I might fail sometimes prevents me from ever getting started on a course. Take, for instance, the concept of dieting. The word diet suggests a long and arduous effort to reduce food intake and increase exercise, only to see the scale move by one pound each week. The thought of the deprivation in choosing lettuce over bread, giving up desserts, using diet tonic in a G&T or going to the gym 5 days a week is enough to make me delay a makeover for one more day while I feast on enchiladas and margaritas. I’ve quit many times before I ever got started. OK, lets add "improving wellness" to the list, too…………………………..
I don’t want to continue to play the waiting game called COVID-19 without setting some goals for myself. I hope to use this extended free time to simplify, to perhaps try some new things, but mainly focus on fewer tasks and do them better, and to walk away from things not worth my time with no remorse. Nothing may come of this, but something might. I may be a chef without a recipe, but I have pantry stocked with food. Let the cooking begin!