A dear friend of mine recently posted the following declaration on FaceBook:
“Starting something new is fun, but I’d like to propose that quitting can also be EXHILARATING.”
This was the result of months of deliberation about her employment situation, the nature of success (and failure), and her personal life goals, leading up to a decision to quit a job that was causing undo stress and imbalance. After several false starts (or “false quits,” to more accurately state the situation), there was the moment of release when she actually delivered the resignation and walked away. At which point she walked toward a greater sense of clarity and freedom than she had felt in a very long time.
Twenty-some Facebook “likes” and comments later from envious well-wishers, I got the sense that my friend had hit a nerve. People’s lives are overfull with unnecessary, unwanted, or unfulfilling detritus. The shame of it all is that we know it but we don’t know what to do about it. Most of us don’t realize that we can – and should – quit. And we should do it often.
I’m not talking about completely dropping out of society, or giving up on important projects. But I propose, with my friend, that quitting something on a regular basis plays an absolutely necessary function in the creative process.
This is true whether writing code for the next killer app or writing the next great American novel. As we go through the iterative process from concept to creation, we have to give up so much more than we keep. It is the chipping away that takes place with any great sculpture. With each letting go, with each chip, the vision of the final sculpture/product/poem/program/painting comes into clearer focus.
That beloved character that you simply adore cannot possibly live to the end of your story. The perfect image placed on the third line of the sonnet… it isn’t perfect there. In fact, it is perfect nowhere in this poem. It must go. The extra side-gadget doohicky on the iPhone – had it stayed, it wouldn’t have been the iPhone. Kill it.
And with each little death, we are brought to life again. The emergence of the “thing” itself exhilarates even as it propels us forward toward that slimmed down bit of new creation we can just about call art.
This is how I think we are meant to live. I am sure it is how we are meant to create. The template for all creative activity is stamped in Genesis 1. The Creator separates specificity out from the nameless void and names singularities. He puts one thing over here, and another over there, careful to keep them from crowding into each other and becoming nameless again. Intent, implementation, naming, evaluation (“good”). And then, after a full week (in God time), He quits. For a spell.
It’s all there at the beginning.
I’m on the side of my friend – and I daresay, the angels – as an enthusiastic proponent of quitting. To quit is to clarify. To quit is to compel your life toward a new or re-energized goal. To quit is to say, “I’ve done all I can do. I am done.” And it is good.
What will you quit today?