I wanted to include a bit of an announcement with this blog post. I’ve told a lot of you guys that I’m going to be studying this year. I’ve been enrolled in a nutrition science degree for a couple weeks, but I’ve found the course too difficult, too stressful, and too draining on my health, so I’ve decided to quit.
While this may seem like bad news, it is actually tremendously good news. Rejoice, because it tells you that I now have the courage and self-respect to do what needs to be done, to respect and listen to my physical and mental health needs. The old me would keep trudging on through this course, getting sicker and sicker, yet thinking, “Well, I’ve enrolled, I need to finish what I started.” But you really don’t. Sometimes you need to know when to quit. You don’t need to persist with doing the wrong things. It is so simple, but so easy to forget. Sometimes resilience is actually complacency in disguise. Sometimes there is more joy in letting go than in holding on. – Carlin (16 March 2017)
Knowing When to Quit
A few weeks ago, my Dad and I were trying to set up some fencing in the back yard. We needed to hold up a heavy length of it off the ground and drill it into the top of the fence, so that our backyard fence was even higher. After 20 minutes or so, we were struggling to find the correct position for the nails, the fence itself was not stable, and our tools were inadequate. Still, Dad persisted. As my arms grew tired, and I saw our fence equipment was insufficient, I said to Dad, “Maybe we don’t need to do this. We can just leave it.” Dad refused. 10 minutes later, I said the same thing. “We don’t have to do this, Dad. Let’s just leave it.” Dad retorted something to the effect of, “Do you quit this easily on everything? How would you ever get anything important done if you quit this quickly?”
At first I must admit, I was a little hurt. I quickly let it go, but it made me think. And I have come to realise, no, I don’t quit easily. And for much of my life, that has been my biggest flaw.
Shut up and keep moving
For a long time, I thought stubborn resilience was just about the only solution to all of the problems that I faced. Am I depressed? Push through it. Am I angry? Push through it. Am I discontent? Push through it. Am I lonely? Push through it. Am I exhausted? Push through it. Do I have doubts about the direction of my life? Push through it.
Here lies a wonderful half truth. This “pushing through” in the hard times is really only half the picture – we also need to respond to our adversity, and be prepared to change our approach.
Looking back over the last 6 years of my early adult life, from 18 until now, my biggest mistakes were, without a doubt, not knowing when to quit. Not knowing when to change direction.
I thought that the answer was to pick myself up by my boot straps, take a swig of apple cider vinegar, and harden up. I just needed to be tough enough to handle the hard stuff, right?
I finished high school with a brave, naive optimism about the world. I enrolled in a university degree that I hated with a passion from day one. Still, I refused to quit. I pressed on, putting on my brave face through the drudgery. I grew depressed, but I ignored the warning signs. I told myself, just press on.
I started a job after school and very quickly started overworking. I felt myself slowly becoming emotionally and physically burned out, yet I didn’t stop the hectic pace. I kept going until I was an absolute wreck. Surely this is resilience though, right?
Two years later, I basically failed the degree. This forced me to do what I really didn’t have the courage to do before – start asking the hard questions, like:
– Why am I living this kind of life? Why did I choose this?
– What is holding me back from letting this degree/career/relationship go?
– What is really important, especially right now, and why don’t I just focus on that?
And then the underlying forces started to become exposed.
Well, truth be told, I was trying to be a people-pleaser. I wanted my parents, my boss, my friends, and just about everyone to like me, because I was insecure and didn’t like myself. I didn’t have the courage to let go of the things that were poisoning me.
So, my resilience was really just a disguise for my complacency. It is so much easier to do nothing and keep suffering, than it is to make tough decisions to change the painful circumstances in our lives.
Hip hop artist Andy Mineo said it as, “I’ve got two choices, both require pain. The pain of change, or the pain of staying the same.”
Life is not always about crossroads. God also provides U-turn bays, saying, “You can turn around here. We can make this happen. No harm no foul.”
But instead of uncomfortably turning ourselves around, we press forward in misery, discontent, and resentment, and we call this “resilience.”
Resilience is the ability to “bounce back” and recover quickly from disruptive and painful circumstances; the ability to endure when the going gets tough. It is a beautiful and essential character trait to living in our chaotic world, yet it is one side of the coin. What we also need is wisdom.
Whether it is a relationship, a friendship, a job, a business, a degree, a career, whatever we have committed ourselves to – we are not slaves of these things, because ultimately, they don’t define us. The people that are slaves of these things are seeking their identity, their hope and ultimate fulfilment in these things. But our hope can’t be in anything that we are able to lose.
I started to develop true resilience when I realised this simple truth – Everything can be taken away from me, except the love of God.
I’ve experienced tremendous loss over the last few years, yet it pushed me deeper into realising that God’s love through Jesus Christ is truly the only thing that defines me.
I can lose just about anything in this life; relationships, friends, family, possessions, my health, my social status – yet, if we find our security in God, then ultimately we can’t be shaken. Everything can go, but we will remain strong and firm in our identity in Jesus.
This life really matters. If you are going the wrong way, it is never too late to turn back.
Grace for Failures is the blog of Carlin Doyle, to encourage and inspire those who have gotten life wrong for a long time, and want to try and do things a little differently. Click here for more info, and here for more posts.