In our business we help a lot of people in situations where they are starting up or starting over. And the uncomfortable truth is that most every time we are starting up, first came a tough decision to call something else quits. Sometimes the universe has other plans for us and we might do well to listen hard and go gracefully into our unforeseen future. But. . . that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt like a son of a bitch. My phone call started me thinking about the times in my life I had to make a decision to quit something dear to me and the importance of going through that to get to what came next.
One of our clients called this week to tell us about having to close her brick and mortar women’s clothing store, which she opened just over a year ago. This young woman chose a great location for her store, but she was one of the first tenants to go in and for quite some time, she was pretty lonely there.
She would have had a much better chance of success if only she had opened this year rather than last since the larger tenants have finally come on board and are now bringing in foot traffic she needed to make it work. I could hear in her voice, how difficult it was for her to let go of her dream. I’ve been there.
Sometimes knowing when to call it quits is crystal clear.
When I was about her age (late 20s), I worked for a national healthcare company as product manager for mental health programs all over the U.S. The company was based in Dallas, I lived in Atlanta, and all the traveling was a great experience for a 29-year-old.
Until it wasn’t.
About a year into the job, I flew to Dallas on a Sunday night, and the next morning I showed up for an early morning marketing department meeting.
“Don’t tell me,” the receptionist said with a sympathetic face. “They forgot to tell you the meeting was canceled … again.”
Unfortunately, this was not the first time this happened. And there were other situations where I felt discounted by the Marketing Director and the team.
They rescheduled the meeting for the next morning, so I hung around trying to get some work done. Then it was back to the hotel to check in again. I got the key, went up to my room, unlocked the door, stood in the room and thought: This has to stop. I deserve better and I don’t have to take it anymore.
I turned around and returned to the front desk to check out.
“Is there something wrong with your room?” the person there asked.
“No, there is something wrong with my life,” I replied.
The very next day, I sent my letter of resignation from corporate life and never looked back.
Sometimes calling it quits is ambiguous and anguished.
There can be a lot of fear, internal and external, around calling it quits. When I was in my mid-40s, the decisions to sell our medical records software company and at the same time to leave my marriage were not that easy. These choices and transitions were gut wrenching.
My ex-husband and I separated for three years. It did not make my decision any easier that during that time, my father called with a threat: He had to have heart surgery, and he told me that if he didn’t make it and I got a divorce, he would come back and haunt me!
I did divorce my husband, and we sold the software company—the hardest decisions in my life. My father made it through heart surgery and came around to see my side. These were the right decisions, and they were hard for everyone to live through.
As a parent, here was something harder: Watching a child (or anyone close to you) call it quits. This is the moment when the control you may think you exert is only in your mind.
Sometimes an act of God calls it quits for you.
My daughter was going to be a sophomore at Tulane majoring in pre-med when Hurricane Katrina blew into town and changed her plans. She returned to Atlanta and got accepted into Emory University, and started classes a month late. This was not the best way to enter pre-med, so she went back to the restaurant that had employed her before college.
She ended up finishing her first year at Portland State in Oregon before returning to Tulane. When not in class, she had a part-time job in an Italian restaurant as the bar manager and learned Portuguese from the kitchen staff that had replaced the workers who left when the hurricane hit. This exposure to a new culture and language led to her junior year abroad in Rio de Janeiro and a new major, International Relations.
When Amanda graduated, she accepted scholarships to pursue her master’s degree in foreign service at Georgetown. She likes school and did very well, but really disliked the type of work she experienced in her internship. With only a single class and final comprehensive test standing between her and the degree, she took a job at a high-end Georgetown restaurant for the summer. Her plan was to return for her master’s in the fall.
Best laid plans and all. Amanda did not go back to school. Over the summer she was promoted to general manager. She never went back. You might agree with her father’s fury. After all, she had done 90 percent of the work for her Master’s Degree! But at 24, Amanda was setting her own course. Soon she was promoted to handle marketing and PR for the company’s three restaurants. Today she is brand manager for a popular restaurant group owned by a large corporation.
Whew, what a whirlwind journey for this young woman, starting with a hurricane. After all those starts and stops, she called it quits for an opportunity and that seemed unwise to most everyone else. Being a grownup often means knowing when to call it quits and not listening to criticism, especially from those who love you.
Saying no is in effect saying yes to something that is probably going to be better for you, even if you don’t know exactly what that is yet.
Sometimes ego gets in the way of calling it quits.
For me, WordCamp Atlanta was a story of letting go and moving on.
After five years of being lead organizer of the 600 person conference, it was really hard to turn over my job to one of the committee members. I didn’t know I was having trouble with letting go until I had several run-ins and then a major meltdown with the woman who took my place. When I stepped back I could see that it was bigger than the particular decisions that were being made, the fact was, I felt out of the loop and left out. I held on to that story for a while when I realized that it was no wonder that my friend was “shutting me out”. I am stubborn and opinionated about things being a certain way and was probably a pain in the ass about it. I called and apologized to her and told her that given my behavior, I would have avoided me too. I also told her that the bottom line was that I missed her and our relationship working on the event together all those years before and saw how resistant I was to call it quits, even when I knew it is exactly the right thing to do.
Back to my friend who is closing her store.
Author/speaker/entrepreneur Danielle LaPorte wrote about having a permission slip from the universe. And I believe that too, especially when faced with the pain of letting go.
In honor of my friend whose location and timing made her have to call it quits, I will leave you with Danielle’s liberating words.
You have permission to:
try and fail and try again.
trust your inner voice that says, “this is not your path.”
let go with grace when the choice is not yours.
believe there is something more perfect waiting for you to let go of the past.
Calling it quits is damn hard! And when you need a little tender loving care and time to lick your wounds, Danielle has one more that I really love.
You have permission to: skip out of work, eat some ice cream and go sit in the hot tub at the gym.