A native of North Dakota, Julie Henderson has been writing since childhood. Her other interests include backpacking, reading, and the Enneagram.
Acceptable Abandonment: Knowing When to Quit
I struggle to lead a balanced life. I’m admittedly more acquainted with immoderation—hence why I have learned firsthand how excessive stubbornness can be as, if not more, harmful than unchecked passivity. Similarly, quitting indiscriminately is inherently problematic; on the other hand, learning when to withdraw from a work commitment, relationship, or pursuit is invaluable. While staying overnight in Rigby, Idaho in 2017, I relearned the value of quitting. Eagerly and expectantly I perused the bookshelves belonging to Katie, my Airbnb host, and her family. Within minutes I found Jennifer Fulwiler's memoir Something Other Than God. Curious about her conversion from atheism to Christianity, I started reading. Hours later, feeling fatigued from driving over 600 miles, I stopped. With less than 100 pages remaining, I presumably could have finished it. And it isn’t as if a part of me didn’t want to. Since sleep was ultimately more important, I strategically set it aside. Previously I may have allowed myself to stop only if I intended to finish it later. Not so in this instance. Aware I had more urgent priorities, I cheerfully abandoned ship. Rest assured I realize this is a minor example of knowing when to give up. It isn’t equivalent to leaving a relationship, whether romantic or platonic, or a job, perhaps one you’ve had for years or decades, which has become unrewarding or otherwise unendurable. Sunk costs, the time, money, or energy already invested in a pursuit, occur in every human life. Certain efforts, no matter how disciplined, won’t yield the desired results. Experienced backpackers, for instance, will, because of injury or sickness, be forced to stop. Every so often these individuals return and finish their treks—assuming, that is, they still wish to. My friend Wade hiked over 1,500 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail before deciding, because of debilitating back pain, to stop. Now, over five years later, he isn’t interested in hiking the remaining 1,100 miles. For the record, I do not blame him. Quitting can, depending on the circumstances, be tremendously liberating. One experience in particular taught me how and when to accept all accrued sunk costs before walking away. In early 2014, while working in an irrefutably toxic environment, I applied to law school. This option had been suggested years earlier; since I had not, much as I had hoped to, gotten married and had children, it seemed worth investigating. Studying for and taking the Law School Admission Test, a.k.a. the LSAT, jumpstarted this process. Afterwards I researched schools, requested recommendations, penned personal essays, and considered scheduling a campus tour. Although legitimately stressful, I benefited from focusing on this task instead of brooding nonstop. On April 9th I received my acceptance from the University of Idaho. Interested in living in the American West, I paid my $500 seat deposit. I found a two-bedroom apartment in Moscow within walking distance of campus, wrapped up my North Dakota existence, and prepared for this adventure. Smooth sailing did not await. Much to my dismay and distress, I had significant misgivings about law school. My exhaustive research made me wonder if this was an approximate fit masquerading as a golden opportunity. After seeking guidance from trusted friends and weighing the pros and cons, I deferred my enrollment. I had invested too much to quit outright, though now I wonder if it would have been better for me to. By May of the following year, after doing substantial soul searching, I officially withdrew. Despite lacking a compelling alternative plan, I risked embarrassment and criticism by forsaking a supposedly superb option. This is a cautionary tale. It potentially occurred because I’m more able and inclined than many to proceed far into a situation without making a firm commitment upfront. Although this ability routinely enhances my writing efforts, it can (and often does) cause considerable trouble elsewhere. Aware of this tendency, I’m now more willing to quit when doing so appears to be in my best interest. Have I perfected this practice? Not even close. I’d rather not know how frequently I hold on, whether to cliché story ideas or expired relationships, because I’m reluctant to admit defeat. Yet at least I’m learning how and when to remove myself from harmful and ill-fitting circumstances. And, by so doing, I have become a saner and more responsible adult.