My freshman year of college I went to a small school in Florida called Stetson University. It was their first year having a women’s soccer team and I decided to try out as walk-on player, which means I was not recruited with a scholarship. I had played soccer since fourth grade and was a decent player. I was particularly excited because I figured even if I was one of the worst players I’d be around people better than me and with practicing every day with a college-level coach I was bound to build my skills. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen that way.
The coach had never coached women before and had not coached at the college level. He was terrible. He insulted us, divided us, and it got to the point that I frequently cried before going to practice. I dreaded it. My skills were not improving and if anything were getting worse. But, I couldn’t quit. I had in my head that quitting something in the middle was a terrible thing to do. I’m not sure exactly where that came from. I know my mom would have supported me if I had quit, in fact seeing my pain she might have even been encouraging me to quit. I insisted I had to stick it out the whole season. Not because I felt an allegiance to the team, believe me, I was not an asset. I think I only played one game, when we were losing against University of Central Florida by 10-0. At that point the coach figured it couldn’t hurt to put me in. Instead I felt I couldn’t quit because of some rule that adults made up about quitting and how it was such a bad thing. I thought it would be bad for my resume or I would be asked about it in a job interview and then not get the job – because these are the type of skewed, messed up things I believed at age 18. Not once, ever, was I asked in a job interview about playing soccer.
There was one woman who had the courage to quit mid-way through the season. I wish I could remember her name. I stuck it out for the entire semester and finally in December quit. I later learned that 12 of the 20 women also quit. Clearly, it wasn’t just me who dreaded practice.
I have thought many times about this experience and why I didn’t quit sooner. I wish I had. It would have improved my grades, made life so much more enjoyable, and I would have got involved in other, more positive things.
I recently read this in another blog post – “if you never quit, you probably aren’t trying enough new things.”
Yes! That is so true! And, creativity is about trying new things. You cannot be creative unless you try new things. It is the very essence of creativity.
I recently heard a mom say that when her kids start something they aren’t allowed to quit. They have to see it through to the end. That end might be a full year, depending on what it is. Dang! That’s a big commitment for a kid (and even for an adult). That means if they start something and it’s horrible they have to suffer through it to the end. I get it. The parents are trying to teach perseverance and commitment and not walking away if something gets a little tough. These are all important skills. I think the challenge is to teach kids to not quit just because it gets a bit hard, but instead to teach them to think it through to make a conscious decision to quit.
A few years after that horrible soccer experience and after I graduated college, I ended up working at a small boarding school in Colorado. It was a toxic environment and I struggled with whether or not to stay the whole year. Over the winter holidays I left for a couple weeks to visit family. When I returned I walked into my room and my bed was gone. I finally figured out that another staff person has stolen it. Seriously, I am not making this up. To avoid boring you with the details I’ll just say that it was the last straw. Shortly after that I quit and ended up in a great job at Lakeside Bicycles in Portland, OR. The owner Gordon Haber taught me what it means to let employees bring creative ideas to work. I remember Memorial Day 1999. At the start of the day Gordon said to all of us that he was sorry we had to work on Memorial Day and to just take it easy. Feel free to play Nintendo or sit around reading magazines. While I thought this was very generous of him, I had other ideas. See, the week before he had given me the book Why We Buy to see if I might get some ideas for improving the shop. Well, if you tell me you want ideas you are going to get ideas. I realized if we rearranged the store we would sell more. Gordon humored me and so did the rest of the staff. We rearranged the shop based on my recommendations. The next month we sold more clothing than we did in the previous year! This was a much more valuable experience than being abused at that boarding school. Even though I was not at Lakeside Bicycles for long (I left to go to grad school in New Hampshire), I loved working for Gordon. He was tough, but kind. He was open to new ideas and let staff develop their strengths. In fact, he even offered to send me to bike mechanic school. But, I chose grad school instead.
Here is my point. Quitting is not a bad thing. It may be the best thing you have ever done. If you want to be creative sometimes you have to quit. Letting go opens up more possibilities. What are you holding on to that you need to let go of? Do you need a new job? Do you need to let go of that volunteer role you hate? What does your company do just because it always has? Is there a program you manage that needs to be dropped? What can you let your staff try that might fail, but might be a huge success? Creativity is always risky because we don’t know what will happen. Take a risk, quit, and get creative in other ways.
Here’s to quitting and creating!
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