My teenager recently had a big decision to make. She had to decide if she should quit something that had been a big part of her life for several years and an even bigger part of our family’s life for longer than that.
This wasn’t a mid-stream decision; it was a pre-stream decision. In fact, the heaviest weight of the decision-making load came from the fact that if she committed to another (long) season, she would have to see it all the way through, with excellence and an agreeable attitude.
I couldn’t tell her what to do for lots of reasons, but high on the list was that I didn’t know what she should do. I was as torn as she was. I could see both sides of the equation, could envision the pros and cons behind Door #1 and Door #2. I told her I would practically and philosophically support whichever choice she made, but I mostly just listened as she talked it out.
What to Think About Before Quitting
In the end, at almost the 11th hour, several pieces of the puzzle fell into place, and my daughter made her choice: to be done. To take herself literally off the roster.
And here again, my child has been my teacher. Watching her carve out this decision taught me some lessons about the process of knowing when to be done with something and when to sign up for another go-around. Observing my teenager clarified in my mind some questions I’d know to ask the next time she’s trying to decide what to pour her time and energy into…because this surely won’t be the last time.
1.Are you staying in only because you’re trying to hang onto something or someone?
Leaving friends behind—or at least not having the same kind of regular interaction with them—was the #1 force wooing my daughter toward committing to another season of this particular activity. “I’ll never see them if I don’t do it,” she told me. I understood: those friendships had been hard-won and long-sought and were not insignificant considerations. I was proud of my daughter for valuing relationship enough to weight that factor so heavily in her decision equation.
But wise advice from another friend’s mom—not to let friends hold you back from doing something new that they’re not part of—ended up applying in slightly reverse fashion here. If they were true friends, I told my teen, they would still be her friends. And since relationships in high school are notoriously transitory, staying in only for that reason would make for a lot of misery if those connections faded. The same would apply to sticking with something only for prestige or a reputation or some status.
2. Do you like the process or only the product?
The show, the game, the performance, the presentation: these are usually the end result of a lot of practice and effort and time…too much time, in fact, for these elements to only ever be endured. When I ran down a list of the process pieces of my daughter’s commitment, she told me, “When you were listing those, I just thought, ‘Yuck.'” It wasn’t quite the big “aha” moment for her (see #5 for that), but it sure was for me.
3. Are you staying in because of guilt or fear?
Are you only doing this so you don’t feel guilty about not doing it? Are you sticking with it only because you’re afraid of the unfamiliarity of life without it?
4. Are you making this decision based on one insignificant fact or on something you don’t actually know is a fact?
A huge leadership change in the activity at the center of my daughter’s decision hovered in the background of her thoughts. We could not see any way it would be a positive change. We were in no way in favor of it. But when my teen ran down her list of reasons to be done, this was only in the periphery, and I was glad.
To make her choice based on a presupposition that might not play out would have been concerning. But she made her choice based on personal realities, not on personnel eventualities (and then watched as those eventualities played out and confirmed her decision over and over).
5. When you’re doing the thing, are you always waiting for it to be over?
This was a tide-shifting wave in the ocean of my girl’s decision-making process. The day her choice crystallized was the day she realized that at pretty much every stop along the way in the season of her “sport,” she realized she was always gauging how much longer she had to do it. I told her there are too many things in life that have to be endured to have an optional activity be one of them.
6. What would you do with your time, energy, talents, etc., if you weren’t giving them to this?
Try something totally new? Sleep more? Get better at something else you’re already doing? The best thing I heard my daughter say on this subject was that if she decided to be done, she’d have more time to spend with a particular friend.
7. When you think about not doing this, do you feel relief or sadness more?
Some of both would be expected. But which is the dominant, unguarded reaction? Your answer to this is probably telling you some truth.
A few days ago, a friend reacted to something I posted with, “That’ll preach!” As I watched my daughter wrestle with her choice and come to her decision—“I’m done”—I was happy she was immediately relieved and reassured. I was happy she’d reached that conclusion on her own, thoughtfully and carefully. But maybe most of all, I’m happy this isn’t a one-and-done lesson. I look at it and think, “That’ll teach”—and keep on teaching.
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Elizabeth Spencer is mom to two daughters (one teen and one young adult) who regularly dispense love, affection, and brutally honest fashion advice. She writes about faith, food, and family (with some occasional funny thrown in) at Guilty Chocoholic Mama and avoids working on her 100-year-old farmhouse by spending time on Facebook and Twitter.