Fabulous, inspiring stories of quitting from Utne Reader visionaries
Ursula K. LeGuin, author:
I’m a sort of ignorant, imperfect Taoist, and in a sense the point of trying to follow the Tao is that you have to quit trying to do it.
I’ve found this to be true in my art. When I’m trying to control the story and make it do something, it doesn’t work. When I quit trying, I get to a whole deeper level in my writing. When I let the story tell me what it is.
Letting your work do itself this way requires, of course, an extremely intense, alert attitude. It’s not passive; it’s actively passive, passively active. One of those great Chinese ideas you chase all your life.
Ray Suarez, radio show host:
I quit my last job. I had been at the NBC-owned TV station in Chicago for over seven years, and I quit and went to NPR, where I work now.
I could see where broadcasting was heading. Every time those of us in the newsroom thought we’d hit bottom, well, there was another, lower bottom waiting down the road. I got to the point where I could hardly watch what I was producing on television anymore. My wife would say, “Oh, here’s your story,” and I would walk out of the room. That was a good sign that it was time to go.
My quit felt dramatic. I walked into my news director’s office and just put a letter on his desk. It was just six lines long, and I said “I just don’t think there’s any point to my being here anymore; therefore, I quit. Let’s arrange my final payoff and I’ll work for two more weeks.”
But then I talked to reporters about why I’d left, and my station decided that they didn’t need me there for two more weeks!
Here’s what happened. The morning after I quit, some reporter from a local news station called me. It was six o’clock in the morning, and I had just awoken from a deep sleep, so I was sort of befuddled. I gave a slow, thoughtful, calm rundown of the reasons I was leaving.
Then I went back to sleep, woke up, turned on the radio, and heard the anchor say, “Take this job and shove it! That’s what a local reporter told NBC today!” I thought, “Oh my God, I’ve really done it now!” I went to the studio of the radio station and said, “Look, I never said anything remotely like ‘take this job and shove it!’ I quit out of regret, not out of malice. You guys made it sound like I was giving them the finger, and nothing could be further from the truth.”
It was a bittersweet experience—but it sort of proved my point about commercial broadcasting.
Katha Pollitt, columnist:
I’m planning to quit voting for Clinton. I decided that the lesser of two evils isn’t good enough for me. I came across a book about the Henry Wallace campaign in 1948 and noticed that the arguments against voting for his third party candidacy are still being made. If you don’t vote for the Democrats it’ll bring fascism, if you don’t vote for the Democrats the sky will fall. Well, constant voting for Democrats has brought us to where we are now!
I’m fed up with this guy Clinton. He’s set into motion the ruin of the poor through welfare reform. He’s in the pocket of Wall Street and big business. He’s a Republican. A nice Republican, but a Republican. But I’m not. So why should I vote for him?
Molefi Kete Asante, Afrocentric culture critic:
I quit wearing neckties. When I was growing up, almost everyone in my circle of friends wore ties, especially on Sundays. That was the way it was in south Georgia. Even the few Black Muslims I knew wore bow ties.
I decided about fifteen years ago that I could not wear a tie because to me it represented, in a crazy sort of way, the colonization of my body. It was a throwback to the days of lynching—of hanging by the neck—and in the agony of my imagination I took action. I became a tie quitter.
Kate Bornstein, author:
For nearly fifty years, I’ve been quitting identities. I left the torment of being a boy to join the safety of being a man. I left the ruin of being a man to join the comfort of being a woman. I left the sadness of being a woman to join the strength of being a lesbian. I left the clinging of being lesbian to join—and leave, in turn—riot grrrl, femme, dyke, transgender. Finally I realized that as long as there was a specific identity I was quitting, I’d only get stuck in yet another one. I think it’s identity itself I want to quit now.
Bo Lozoff, spiritual teacher:
Most of the great spiritual commandments, precepts, and teachings throughout history have been merely guidelines for what we should quit. Most of the Ten Commandments start with “Thou shalt not.” The Buddhist precepts and Hindu Namas and Niyamas start with “non-,” as in “non-killing,” “non-stealing,” “non-lying,” and so on. Many contemporary people have complained about such overwhelmingly negative wording in the ancient teachings. But the reason they’re phrased that way is that there really isn’t anything to do in order to realize the Divine Presence, the natural holiness life offers. We merely have to quit thinking and acting in ways which are harmful or selfish.
The great teachings unanimously emphasize that all the peace, wisdom, and joy in the universe are already within us; we don’t have to gain, develop, or attain them. We’re like a child standing in a beautiful park with his eyes shut tight. We don’t need to imagine trees, flowers, deer, birds, and sky; we merely need to open our eyes and realize what is already here, who we really are—as soon as we quit pretending we’re small or unholy. My practice of quitting has already led me to experience the truth of this, so I’ve become a more and more devoted quitter.
I could characterize nearly any spiritual practice as simply being identify and quit, identify and quit, identify and quit. Identify the myriad forms of limitation and delusion we place upon ourselves, and muster the courage to quit each one. Little by little, deep inside us, the diamond shines, the eyes open, the dawn rises, we become what we already are.
Quentin Crisp, author, actor:
When I was recently in Germany, people asked me why I had left England. Why hadn’t I stayed in order to make England better for the gay people? I must admit it had never occurred to me that I was somehow forsaking my post.
It seems to me a terrible thing to want me to stay in England after all I’ve suffered there. But people expect you to suffer indefinitely for their sake.
So you can just leave something and be accused of quitting.
For anybody it’s hard to live in England. Nobody ever speaks to you. But here in America, it’s wonderful. Everybody speaks to you, everywhere you go!
Pico Iyer, author:
Quitting, for me, means not giving up, but moving on; changing direction not because something doesn’t agree with you, but because you don’t agree with something. It’s not a complaint, in other words, but a positive choice, and not a stop in one’s journey, but a step in a better direction. Quitting—whether a job or a habit—means taking a turn so as to be sure you’re still moving in the direction of your highest dreams.
For years, for example, I dithered and debated about whether to leave the graduate school where I was incarcerated and try the precarious life of a freelance writer. Finally, I gathered the resolve to pitch myself into the black hole of unemployment—and, two weeks after I made the decision, out of nowhere a perfect job appeared and whisked me into a life far richer than I could ever have imagined. I’ve always thought that, in some mysterious way, through the kind of logic that we don’t understand (and therefore ought to trust), it was the very fact of summoning enough nerve to quit what I was doing that somehow threw open the doors to new possibility. In the leap of faith came the destination.
A few years later, when I was beginning to enjoy that job too much—to the point where I could see myself spending a lifetime there—I left that, too, for a more uncertain kind of life, telling myself that continuing the job would represent an invisible kind of quitting—an abdication of possibility—and would leave me with live unlived that I would one day, and too late, regret.
So quitting to me is often a way of waking up—of choosing to see things differently and reorienting oneself towards the things one loves. It is both the result of a fruitful disorientation and the catalyst for an even more fruitful one. And, once one has quit, one must learn, like Lot’s wife, never to look back; for if you think back on what you’ve left, you haven’t really left it at all.