“To Quit or Not To Quit?” (Lindsay Swiggum)

Lindsay Swiggum, 18
Lindsay Swiggum, 18

Lindsay Swiggum, an 18-year old senior at Apple Valley High, is part of the youth group I pastor.  She recently took 1st place honors in the state speech competition in the category of “Original Oratory.”  The following is her original work that won her state.  I am very impressed with Lindsay’s writing talent — and you should see her give this speech live!  She’s electrifying! Enjoy.

The story is told about the Young Priest who had a life-long ambition: he wanted to move from one island to another…by walking on water. It was his goal, his spiritual quest. He practiced and practiced, and over and over he failed–but he never quit. Finally, after devoting years of his life, he did it! He walked on water. Triumphantly, he went to the High Priest–“Father,” he said, “I have accomplished my life’s objective. I can go from one island to another…by walking on water.” “Really,” said the High Priest. “You spent your whole life practicing that? Why didn’t you just take a boat?”

Now, this solution would certainly have been far easier and more practical. It would have saved both time and effort. However, that would have meant that the Young Priest abandoned his goal and quit. And in just about any society, quitting is a dirty word. It means that you gave in and gave up! And we can’t have that. But sometimes we should.

In his book, Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior, author Rom Brafman explains that in some personal and professional instances, quitting is absolutely the right and proper thing to do; and while it is critical in life to remember what’s attainable and what’s not, it is also important to realize sometimes it takes more courage to intelligently stop and change course than it does to blindly trod on.

So, for today, let’s dive head first into the quitting dilemma and analyze how often it can be a wise move to quit. Let’s, first examine the problem. Next, the causes and implications. And, finally, take a look at a boat right off shore that might help us sail toward a solution.

To paraphrase Shakespeare, to quit, or not to quit. That is the question! Well, there’s no question that quitting has a bad name. We hear that winners never quit! We’re told that America is founded on the never quit philosophy. Quitters are losers, even traitors. And that’s the essence of our problem. Our perception of the word is so negative that the possible advantages are rarely considered and for those who refuse to see the benefits of quitting, the results can be devastating.

Carsten Wrosch, associate professor of Psychology at Concordia University writes in the 2008 journal Psychological Science that “they followed 90 teenagers for one year and found that those who could not renounce hard-to-attain goals showed increased levels of inflammatory molecule C reactive protein which is directly linked to heart disease, diabetes, and early aging in adults.” They also the two areas where teenagers refuse to lose or quit is with grades and body image. Unfortunately, losing weight and body image often become such an obsession that we sacrifice good health in the process.

Now, I understand that no one likes to be thought of as a quitter, and parents certainly don’t want their children to quit what they’ve started, but when the cost exceed the gains, we need to consider quitting! Because winners do quit. Bill Gates quit Harvard law school to build computers. Best-selling author Michael Crichton walked away from Harvard Medical School degree because he felt that the life of an author was worth a shot. Both quit something to pursue something else. They didn’t stop. They re-directed their passion. It’s like W.C. Fields once said, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Then quit. There’s no point in being a darn fool about it.”

But why are we so reluctant to quit? The dictionary defines ‘quit’ as, “To stop trying and accept defeat.” I read and thought, no wonder society looks down on quitters. From our vantage point quitting means objectives have failed, efforts have been wasted, and dreams have been crushed. According to Seth Goden in his book The Dip: When to Quit and When to Stick there are times when the urge to immediately quit is wrong: when we’re stressed out by lack of time, lack of money, lack of energy, or lack of courage. But he pinpoints two Life Conditions that can put us in deep water. He calls them, The Cul-de-sac and The Cliff.

The first, the Cul-de-sac, is when your life goes around in a circle. You don’t move forward and you don’t move backward, you just stay in one continuous, unfulfilling circle to nowhere. Phil Knight realized he was in a Cul-de-sac when he was pursuing a career in Accounting by the insistence of his father. Well, he left that. He quit and created Nike!

The second Life Condition might be worse. It’s called The Cliff, where you have nowhere to go but down, and all life offers you is constant disappointment. For example, did you know that 80% of teenage girls who are in a physically abused in a relationship continue to date their abuser? When the outcomes are constantly hurtful, harmful, or hateful aren’t we definitely in over our heads?

Well known Hall of Fame coach, C. Vivian Stringer, knows first-hand how quitting can be life changing. The coach of the Rutger Women’s Basketball Team tells her story in her autobiography, Standing Tall. About a year after her daughter, Nina, was born the small child was struck with spinal meningitis. She was left unable to walk or talk. Together, she and her husband worked to provide the best possible care for Nina, but then, her husband died of a sudden heart attack.

About a month after his death, she remembered that she had forgotten to cancel a motivational speaking engagement. She tells how she only had 25 minutes to drive there and it was snowing heavily. About 15 minutes into the drive, she realized that she was going in the wrong direction. She said, “I put my head on the steering wheel and cried. I was supposed to talk about preparation and teamwork. What am I going to tell them?” Finally, she said, “Tell them the truth.” And she did. She told them about her daughter, her husband, the drive, about how life is a struggle. Vivian Stringer says that she had to learn to quit. Quit thinking that her life was based on basketball wins, quit thinking that asking for help is a sign of weakness, and quit demanding that life always be fair.

Life isn’t always fair. Each of us knows that. We know that life’s seas are often rough and the sky is often dark. So maybe we need a boat one that is right off shore and equipped with the following. First, a strong sail, a sail that will keep you moving forward, or slow you down if you need to be cautious. Second you need a rudder. Life needs direction and re-direction and a rudder will help you steer. Third you need an anchor so you can stop and take a look at the seas around to see where you are and where you are going. And finally, four, you need a good friend, a shipmate; someone who’ll going to be there for you for motivation.

Throughout my life, my motivation has always been my younger brother Alejandro. We adopted him into my family when I was only six years old. About a year after he came home, we found out he was developmentally and cognitively delayed. The doctors said he would never walk, talk, or communicate.

In order to come to terms with his disability, my family had to utilize each part of the boat and understand the wisdom that quitting sometimes offers. First, the sail provided a lesson for the doctors because they were thinking too fast. They had to quit jumping to the conclusions that Alejandro would never be able to walk, talk, or communicate. It may have been a long process but after 12 years of therapy, Alejandro is walking, talking and communicating. Maybe not at an age appropriate level, but in his own, special way.

Second, the rudder provided a lesson for Alejandro’s teachers. Through out his education Alejandro’s teachers have tired to teach him to tell time and count money, however, they had to quit those goals and understand those are skills he cannot comprehend. They had to re-direct their teaching path and understand that simply teaching him the task of writing his last name was a much better goal.

Finally, third, the anchor provided a lesson for my family. We had to quit thinking of all the things Alejandro would never do, and instead see the beauty in his life through his everlasting smile, incessant laughter, and unconditional love.

So, if you are in a cul-de-sac, on a cliff, or going in a direction that is plain questionable, my advice to you is quit it! And then, just maybe, there might be blue skies, and smooth sailing ahead.

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