Some things are counterintuitive. For instance, conventional wisdom tells us to never quit. Keep at it until you get it right. Author Malcolm Gladwell wrote about the now infamous 10,000 hours needed to achieve expertise in a discipline. While it’s true that practice can make perfect, there are some things that we’re just spinning our wheels over.
Los Angeles is full of undiscovered actors waiting tables and working in coffee shops. I’ll bet many of them have been at it for awhile now, acting here and there. Celebrating the bit parts they land or commercials they appear in. They don’t quit, understandably, because that big break might be around the next corner. But what if it never comes?
The reality is that people quit all the time. And sometimes it’s the right thing to do. In fact, quitting can sometimes be downright freeing. Some people quit an unfulfilling job. Others finally hang up those violin lessons, much to the pleasure of loved ones who endured the effort.
I quit martial arts. I got all the way to my brown belt in Dan Zan Rye Jujitsu. It took years. I injured my back one night and had to be carried home. Another time I was thrown so hard it knocked my heart into super ventricular tachycardia. That led to a scary ambulance ride to an emergency room where they gave me an injection that corrected the heart rhythm. After that I did some soul searching.
I concluded that as much as I wanted to get that black belt, it wasn’t worth destroying my health. I also realized that while I was a decent martial artist, I wasn’t playing to my real strengths. I was a much better artist than martial artist. And so I focused my efforts on painting, cartooning and writing.
Sometimes you have to let go of people. Maybe it’s a toxic relationship or a fair weather friend. I read somewhere that we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with. I certainly am not advocating that you abandon good friends. But sometimes we surround ourselves with people that aren’t really good for us. Quitting those unhealthy relationships can be freeing, too.
David Wallace Foster once wrote ” Everything I ever let go of of has claw marks on it.” We hold on to things. Sometimes it’s just stuff that is cluttering up our life. Or painful memories in our past. Author Gordon Livingston, in his excellent book “Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart,” wrote “Life can be seen as a series of relinquishments, rehearsals for the final act of letting go of our earthly selves. Why, then, is it so hard for people to surrender the past?” Livingston also wrote ” The statute of limitations has expired on most of our childhood traumas.”
The power of letting go is freedom. It closes one door so that others may open. It can be painful but the rewards immense. In 2004 my father’s body had had enough. At eighty three years old, having survived a past heart attack and bypass surgery, he began to decline.
I watched this once brilliant administrative law judge and former United States Marine descend into the fog of dementia. He was in the final throws of renal failure when I visited him in hospice. He was unconscious but the nurse said “hearing” is the last sense to go. So I held his hands. Told him everyone was fine. That I loved him. Then I said that if he was tired to go ahead and rest. Just rest.
We got the call two hours later. He had let go. I don’t know what he discovered when he passed over the vale, but if my instinct about the power of letting go is true, I believe he found freedom and peace.