when to quit and when to persist

“I don’t want to work,” John* said.

“Good. I don’t want you to work either.” I said.

He looked surprised. Like I was a weirdo or something.

“Aren’t you a Career Counselor? Aren’t you supposed to help people find work?”

“Yes, I am a Career Counselor, but if I thought my job was what you think my job is, I wouldn’t want to work either.”

(Now he was curious. Now we could have a real conversation.)

“What do you do then? And can you help me?”

“Well, that all depends,” I answered.

“On what?”

“If what you want is what I do. So, let’s find out. ‘Cause all we know right now is that you don’t want to work and I don’t want you to either. Work shouldn’t feel like work – a begrudged drudgery. It ought to feel … umm … different than that. Something that perhaps energizes you? Something that perhaps inspires you? Something that perhaps makes being alive more worth your while?” He nodded. This sounded nice even though it didn’t sound believable. “So,” I said, “ What do you want John, if you don’t want to work?”

“I want to be happy.”

“And what would make you happy John?”

“I don’t know.”

Fortunately, John was truly done working (approaching work as something that he has to do rather than something that he wants to do). And through guided exploration, he saw how wanting to work lies not necessarily in what you are doing for work, but rather in how you think about work and how you feel towards yourself doing what you’re doing.

Ephiphany moment: John didn’t like himself when he worked.

(And you, what about you … do you like you when you work?)

John was now interested in himself – in his inner workings that oriented himself to life. He was curious about why he would choose to do things that he disliked himself more and more for and not things that he liked himself more and more for. They were after all both possibilities.

The single biggest culprit in John’s life that you can probably relate to was: Not knowing when to quit and when to persist.

Turns out that John loved walking dogs for a rescue organization. He started doing it at the age of 9 and continues to this day in his 30s. Turns out that John’s parents would let him pick an activity at the start of the year and he had to keep his commitment for a whole year, then he could pick something else.

Walking dogs worked out but when I asked John about a time when it didn’t work out, he described to me how painful it was for him to continue to play hockey for a year when he hated it so much. How when he would express how unsuited to the sport he felt he was to his parents, that he was met with talk of the commitment he’d made that he was now obligated to fulfill.

(And yes, you need to follow through on commitments, but there are exceptions that need to be recognized pronto!)

There are some things that just are not life and death to un-commit to, yet they are treated like they are. When really they’re not.

Nothing, (and I really mean nothing) is more disorienting to your purpose and sense of raison d’etre than overriding enjoyment especially when it comes to getting paid for what you do.

And his parents didn’t do anything wrong (we’re not parent bashing here) because there were times when his parent’s strategy brought something meaningful into John’s life (remember – the dogs!).

However becoming a grown up isn’t just a physical act – it’s the ability to now self-acknowledge and self-direct to fulfill needs that have gone unmet.

Self-acknowledgement is what allows you to override your original conditioning with practices and thoughts that are far more supportive to work and care for yourself from a sustainable place.

Only you can resuscitate your soul. It’s your soul, so it’s your job.

So John simply had a pattern, a habit, and a misguided (not to mention very stubborn) approach to career navigation that he wasn’t aware of … until he became aware of it.

When John should have quit jobs because he felt queasy on the first day, he stayed.

And when faced with what to do for work, he had unconsciously pursued the thing that always felt harder. Because he relied on that feeling of dissatisfaction in what he did to feel like a good person.

He was confusing to himself (never mind everybody else!).

Because he couldn’t see himself or his circumstances, he was toxic inside with self-blame for how his life had ended up.

He couldn’t see when sticking to what he was doing was actually doing more harm than good for himself (and those that he loved in his life). By default, he would give and give and resent and resent and resent because he didn’t listen deeply and give credence to the subtle, yet sacred navigating feelings of gratification, satisfaction and contribution.

Doing for others and giving to others is tainted when it comes solely from a place of obligation.

And really, John could have looked at his life with despair when he realized all this, except he didn’t because he wanted something different for himself.

He knew that not a moment was wasted when he saw what he had been learning: When he treated his own life with a helluva lot of respect, he learned to recognize the signals and signs that it was time to quit – so that he could know when and how to persist.

And you can learn how to do this too.

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