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The A to Z's of Teenagers: Q Is for Quitting

My father used to call me a quitter. Which is why—or at least one big reason why—I am not, today, a quitter. I knew he meant it as a criticism, and a harsh one at that. He was a nose-to-the-grindstone kind of guy who believed in finishing what he started. That attitude was part pride, part stubbornness and part (I think he would forgive me for saying this) lack of imagination. He was conservative in thought, word and deed (although not necessarily in politics) and once he starting walking down a path, he stayed on the path. Period.

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Not me. Not as a kid. I quit Girl Scouts. (It was just too dorky to wear that asparagus green uniform after 7th grade.) I quit piano lessons. (I was terrible: truly, profoundly untalented, and no one knew this better than I did. Except for Mr. Thompson, my silently suffering teacher.) I quit drama club. (After my turn as an Irish housemaid—yes, with brogue—in my high school’s production of The Night of January the 16th, I was done, done, done.) I quit ballet. (Actually, I didn’t. My father thought I did, but really the ballet teacher kicked me out because I had the wrong body type and would never be a ballerina, and he was in the business of training ballerinas.) And, shame on me, I “quit” a boyfriend my father particularly liked—a guy named Greg who ended up being a wildly successful, globe-trotting wine importer. (Damn.)

I grew up sensitive to and formed by my father’s opinion of me. I grew up thinking of myself as a quitter. And so, when I left home to go to college and later to make my own way in the world, I vowed that I would never, under any circumstances, be a quitter. I would show him. Could he have helped me learn the fine art of perseverance with a kinder touch? You bet. But, after my skin grew a little thicker, especially after I was not under his roof, I was able to take his criticism as a challenge. It motivated me. I became, as I grew into the adult I have become, the one you could depend on, the one who was in it for the long haul, the one who finished the job. And I have my name-calling father to thank for that.

No one wants to be called a “quitter.”

I didn’t figure out until much later that, really, I was never a quitter. I was a kid who got interested and excited about things, who was given opportunities and tried things on the road to discovering what I liked, what I was good at and what I wanted to stay with. The rest, the stuff that ended up not being of interest for whatever reason (from dorky uniforms to lack of talent), I moved on from—and in moving on (or “quitting”), I asserted a bit of independence. I slowly became myself. Quitting, then, was for me an important, necessary part of growing up.

And for the record: I just started taking ballet classes again. So there, dad.

And now, a word from the teenage daughter:

There should be another word for “quitter.” It’s so harsh. No one wants to be called a “quitter.” It means you’ve given up. It means you’re a disappointment. It’s like being called a loser. If people call you a quitter or you think of yourself as a quitter, this could easily dampen your self-confidence and possibly even cause you to quit more things because you no longer believe you are the kind of person who is capable of following through.

But I think there are plenty of good reasons to “quit.” For example, sometimes it’s good to quit an activity that no longer appeals to you or has the same meaning it had when you started it. I quit track. I was super active all through middle school and into high school. But I stopped. I stopped because I’d proven to myself I could excel and stopped because competition was not fun. Practice was fun. Competition was stressful. I didn’t enjoy this activity any longer.

I quit band in 10th grade, and I had a good reason. It conflicted with a class I really wanted to take. So sometimes quitting is not all emotional. It’s just practical. And then there’s relationships. People don’t think of “quitting” a relationship, but we do all have the experience of ending friendships or discarding boyfriends. And sometimes that’s good, like when a person is having a negative impact on our lives and we just need to get out of the situation. That’s a good quit.

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Or, here’s another reason why a teen might quit something: That something wasn’t her choice in the first place! That something, like gymnastics or Girl Scouts or soccer, was chosen by her mother. That’s fine when she’s 6 or 7 years old. But now she’s 14 or 15 or 16, and quitting might mean that she’s figuring out on her own what she likes and doesn’t like, and it might mean a big step in the direction of independence. Also, I remember that there’s a saying that goes “when one door closes, another one opens.” It could be that you need to close the door (that is, quit) in order even to see the other doors that might be open.

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