Sunday, April 23, 2017

On Quitting Versus Adjusting Sails

I was called a quitter for bowing out early on my Baja trip. (As you may recall, from Reflections on My Baja Trip, I left Baja a month early, after having pedaled only 600 of the route's 1700 miles.) I felt ashamed for quitting, for not sticking with the ride. After all, I had invested quite a bit of time and energy planning the trip. Plus, I had spent a good chunk of change outfitting myself with the appropriate bike and gear. Fortunately, the feelings of guilt lasted only a few short seconds.

I hadn't quit; I had adjusted my sails.

Sailing with Jake on Bonne Vie in March 2014.

The word "quitting" carries with it a deeply negative connotation. A quitter gives up easily because he or she doesn't have the strength, courage, or determination to keep pushing on and seeing a task through to completion.

I've pushed through to completion so many times in my life -- homework assignments, work projects, personal obligations. There is a time and a place for pushing through. But there is also a time and a place for quitting. In the life I now live, where I don't owe anything to anyone, I find myself quitting a lot.

I quit because I respect myself.

I think of quitting as adjusting sails. Those familiar with sailing know it is not the direction of the wind that determines where a boat travels, but rather how the sails are adjusted. With a downwind force, a sailor simply sets her sails and enjoys the ride. When sailing upwind, a sailor tacks back-and-forth to arrive at the desired destination.

But winds aren't always consistent; they can shift, increase, decrease, or die all together. And sometimes other factors affect how a sailor navigates: a problem can arise with a charting tool, a crew member can become ill, or the boat can be dismasted. A sailor constantly adjusts course given the present conditions.

I view sailing as I do my life. As I'm living my life, sometimes the direction in which I'm traveling is straightforward. In this case, I throw up the sails and head a consistent course downwind. If I'm facing a headwind or a challenge, I will likely need to tack back-and-forth to get where I'm going. Sometimes unexpected variables come into play that throw my sail plan entirely out the window -- perhaps a lack of connection with a place or a change in relationship status. Like a sailor, I adjust my course given the conditions of the moment.

There is a saying: "Pessimists complain about the wind. Optimists expect the wind to change. Realists adjust their sails." I am a realist.

I've adjusted my sails at many points in my life. Some adjustments have been more dramatic than others -- getting divorced, withdrawing from a PhD program, and leaving the job world, to name a few. Life is too short to be on a course I don't wish to be traversing. I deliberately choose not to squander my precious time and energy on things that aren't bettering my life. I'm comfortable letting sunk costs be sunk and letting bygones be bygones.

'She stood in the storm.
And when the wind did not blow her away,
she adjusted her sails."
~Elizabeth Edwards

As children, we're taught that winners never quit. How untrue! Winners quit all the time; they just quit for different reasons. They know when to quit the right things at the right times. They respect themselves enough to walk aware from whatever is no longer serving them, making them happy, or growing them.

It's okay to quit, as long as you're adjusting your sails. There is absolutely no value in suffering through something. Suffering doesn't make you a better person; it encourages you to be dishonest with yourself.

Be honest with yourself. Respect yourself. Give yourself permission to make a course correction in your life.


  1. Sarah this post spurred SO many emotions and memories! (Allow me to cast aside my cold and callousness for a bit)

    First off, ANYONE who calls you a quitter with a negative connotation answers to me! Lord, you are one of the toughest people I know! So first emotion a bit of anger mixed with protectiveness! (no one messes with Sarah)

    As with many I SO relate. The first 3 times I 'failed' to summit Rainier, I called myself a quitter and more, beat myself up a lot.

    The forth time though, is why your post made me smile with joy and happiness. After the 4th attempt, I adjusted my sails. I hung up the ice axe and bought the bike. I haven't looked back.

    Sometimes its the right thing to do to quit. Suffering is just that suffering. And why continue doing what you hate.

    This post may have touched me more than any others you have written! Thank you! From one quitter to another, keep moving those sales woman!

    1. Quitters unite!!!

      To be honest, I'm glad the whole Rainier thing fell though. Cuz, otherwise, I'm not so sure Mountainstroh would have discovered the world of cycling! ;)

      As always, Tony, thank you for your kind words.

    2. You are very welcome! I miss the mountains that gave me my name, but I've never regretted putting it behind me. And you are very welcome Sarah, thank you for posting once again the thoughts that ring so true with me!

      Glad my cycling and blogging introduce me to you!

  2. I used to perservere with finishing books that I didn't enjoy reading. Weeks or months spent slowly completing a book just because I had started and felt compelled to finish. I can't remember when the change came, but I'm now happy to hit eject when it isn't goimg well. There are more great books written than I could ever hope to finish, and by realising when something isn't doing it for me I can spend more time on things that do. It's liberating. Life is short.

    1. Hallelujah, James! Hit eject!

      I feel the same way. I have no problem setting a book down if it doesn't grab my interest within the first few pages. Same with movies. Same with conversations. Same with a lot of things.

      Thanks for sharing. :)

    2. Have to admit giving up the book is hard for me still... I need to do that more! Conversations now, I will cut and run quick!


    1. Thanks, Jake. I recall reading awhile ago the chapter in the Freakonomics book about quitting. Too bad quitting has such negative connotations in our culture; I really don't think there's anything wrong with it.

  4. So beautifully written. So much wisdom (for such a young person :-)). Sailing is an excellent metaphor for you. My metaphor is surfing. I ride a wave of inspiration or opportunity when it presents itself—for as long as possible. Then sometimes wait for a long time for the next wave. But the ride! The ride! Admittedly, my metaphor tends to have a lot of slow time. Maybe I should try sailing.

    1. Thank you, Ron. Surfing is a great metaphor for you! There is nothing wrong with downtime between waves -- it's ideal for recovering, relaxing, and preparing for the next wild ride. :) Surfs up, dude!

  5. I heard a literary expert (an author or a librarian) once speaking about books: "You're allowed to 'quit' a book after you've read (100 - ) pages." In other words, when we're young, we need to learn to persevere, but we can also learn when to quit.

    1. I like that! When it comes to books, I'm going to consider myself old enough to have already learned about perseverance. 😀

      Thanks for sharing, Susan. I'm glad you reached out. I didn't know you also have a blog. I look forward to reading about your adventures. 😀


I would love to hear your comments on this post!