He exhaled loudly and fidgeted in the seat next to me. Out of the corner of my eye I could tell that he was nervous. “It’s going to be ok, you know?” I said softly. He looked at me and smiled. “Yeah. I know,” he agreed. “It’s just….I’ve…..never done anything like this before. I’ve never quit anything before.”
Since spring training we’ve watched painfully as our oldest son’s love of football has slowly faded. A new head coach has left many of the players on the team unhappy, disgruntled, and simply dreading practice; unfortunately, Jimmy has been no exception. But gradually, over the course of the past two years, Jimmy has come face-to-face with the reality that football simply may not be his thing. In talking with him over the past several months, he has expressed (rather maturely) that he loves being with the team–weight lifting, hanging out, running drills– but when he’s fully dressed in all his gear, he just doesn’t feel like himself. Yesterday, over breakfast, he told me, “It just doesn’t make sense, mom. I mean….I love football. But then, I’m there…in my helmet and pads….and I just don’t love football.”
I don’t know about you, my friend, but what he has been feeling makes all the sense in the world to me. I’m even willing to bet most of us have been in that tricky and confusing place where we started off down a certain path because it just felt right. At the beginning of our journey, we knew in our bones that whatever that thing was, it was what we were always meant to do. And then, with the passage of time, it just doesn’t feel so right anymore. And then one morning we simply wake up, and just know we are supposed to be doing something else. If you’re anything like me and Jimmy, this causes a deep and sincere internal conflict because the minute you actually consider what it will require to do that “something else,” you instantly feel like a quitter and the self-condemnation begins.
But lean in close, friends, because I’m about to tell you a little secret that it has taken me nearly 40 years to unlock:
There is a HUGE difference between quitting and walking away.
Quitting means that rather than digging in and doing the hard thing, we simply give up. Quitting means stopping before we give ourselves a fair chance to succeed. Quitting can look like barely getting started in the first place because we pitched our tents in the camps of fear where we just knew that we would never measure up; so we rightfully decided to spare ourselves and those around us the grief. Quitting is safe because we never risk the embarrassment of failure.
Lest there be any confusion, let me tell you what quitting doesn’t look like: It doesn’t look like showing up early every day or missing only one day of practice in two years’ time. It doesn’t look like doing your time on the scout team and taking hits from the bigger boys so you could learn and grow and prepare yourself for the moment the coach calls your number. Those things require dedication, patience, and persistence and quitting is devoid of all three.
But walking away? Walking away takes courage. Walking away means that we have to do the very hard work of admitting that we gave it everything we had and that there may just be a reason we just kept coming up short. Walking away requires us possess the audacity to watch as our comfortable hopes and dreams morph into new and often uncomfortable things that may never have been on our radar. And when we are staring dead-on at new dreams, we must somehow find the nerve to try again–-all the while being acutely aware that we are risking potential failure.
Walking away can sometimes look like trading in the glory of the football team, for the guts and grit of the swim team; fully knowing that when everyone else may assume you are a quitter, you can look yourself in the mirror and know that you simply weren’t in your lane to begin with. This can be so terrifying that most of us will never muster up the courage to take a single step. But those of us who are brave enough to blaze a new trail may just discover who we were meant to be all along.
As we pulled into the parking space, I put the car in park and paused before getting out. He was hanging his head–looking scared and maybe a little ashamed. For a brief moment, I wished I could read his thoughts. I placed my hand on his and quietly said, “I’m damn proud of you, Jimmy. And no matter what, I love you. Hold your head up. It’s time to walk away.” He lifted his chin, looked me straight in the eyes, and smiling his handsome, grown-up smile he replied, “I’m ready.”