How to Quit Wanting to Quit

Categorised as Coaching, Development, Education, Essay, Writing

by: Lara Darwish

There is something empowering about hitting rock bottom so many times that you become immune to the fear of failure and more determined to push through the pain hustling towards the finish line.

It was on a stormy September night, long after midnight, I had been sitting at my desk for hours, overwhelmed by the glow of my screen and its 30 open tabs, when the world caved in on me and I started sobbing like a lost child in a sea of strangers. I’ve been working on this project for hours and hours that felt interminable. Back in 2021, emerging  from the pandemic, I had started my PhD and embraced this journey with renewed hope, believing it would catapult my growth and expand my horizons. Fast forward a couple of years, and I was utterly drained, and the illusion of ever finishing felt like a far-fetched dream. 

I had quit so many times in my head throughout the years, but there is something about that night that felt different. I felt like a wreck pushing through all this time with courage, and that I had exhausted the very last drop of patience and energy available, I was determined to quit. I gave myself 101 reasons why I should.  Why must I endure this? Who am I trying to impress? Why do I need this? My mind went down a spiral of convincing arguments, painting the pursuit as a masochistic endeavor, a relentless self-punishment. All these excuses sounded like a plausible reason to throw everything out of the window and never look back. Nevertheless, the next morning I was as determined as ever to continue throughout this journey I had undertaken back with great enthusiasm.

There is something empowering about hitting rock bottom so many times that you become immune to the fear of failure and more determined to push through the pain hustling towards the finish line.

Know why. Over time, it became clear to me that quitting was not an option. The desire to succeed was so ingrained in my subconscious that every time I thought of quitting, I was plagued with an overwhelming feeling of failure. I felt I had let myself and others down, because the reason I embarked on this journey in the first place was my desire to remain faithful to my most intrinsic values and a belief that I could contribute to the greater good, and it was that unwavering belief that never let me succumb to my doubts. As Simon Sinek says, when you know your “why,” it will fuel your “how.” I knew my “why,” and that sense of purpose has guided me throughout this journey. Even on challenging nights, like that September one when imposter syndrome crept up on me and shook my confidence; by the break of dawn,  my conviction remained unscathed and I emerged stronger and more determined than ever to continue the path I had set for myself with purpose.

Is the pleasure greater than the guilt? I know… it’s not that simple. Over time, my relationship with food has improved significantly. As someone with chronic inflammation, I was advised by my physician to cut sugar, processed foods, and gluten from my diet to stave off more drastic measures, after he perceived  my reluctance to them. Initially skeptical but driven by a desire to feel better and more energetic, I decided to give it a try. Gradually, I noticed the profound positive impact a healthier diet had on my body. Yet, every now and then, I found myself irresistibly drawn to indulge in a messy hot chocolate fudge or fluffy cheese-stuffed bread and forget about the consequences all together, even if for a moment. In spouts of temptation and impulse like those, a nagging question lingered in my head: Is the pleasure greater than the guilt? Succumbing to the temptation would mean undoing my progress and giving in to old habits, ones I could no longer relate to in my daily life. Although there were rare occasions when the pleasure was indeed worth it, more often than not, it wasn’t. 

In an insightful article by UK-based researchers Gschwandtner, Jewell, and Kambhampati from the University of Kent and the University of Reading, recently featured in the Journal of Happiness Studies (2021), the study explores lifestyle choices through the lens of the delayed gratification index. Their findings reveal that the ability to delay gratification plays a significant role in shaping lifestyle decisions, which, in turn, enhance well-being. The analysis indicates that, despite variations in impact across gender, income, education, age, and living environments, the positive effect remains robust. 

Freedom is a decision. Precious freedom, with all its nuances, seems to be embedded in our modern culture. Terms like financial freedom, the freedom to be unapologetically oneself, freedom from social or cultural constraints, and freedom from toxic relationships frequently appear in conversations about success. It is something we all seem to aim for automatically. But what is it, really?

In an excerpt from a previously unpublished essay I wrote about freedom in 2015, I described it as, “neither this utopia we fantasize about nor the dystopia of our daily struggles. There is no such thing as absolute freedom. Freedom from what? You cannot free yourself from life, its hurdles, its responsibilities, its functional modus operandi. The truth is, what incarcerates us are the very same things that give life and meaning to our existence: our routines, our relationships, our jobs, our finances, our societies, our culture, our fears. Our twisted ways of thinking about all the wrong ways of thinking. You can flee one thing or another, but you remain trapped in the only perpetual truth: our chains follow us wherever we go. Freedom is fleeting and short-lived because, sooner or later, you will be sucked out of your own matrix into the world you exist in, no matter where you are or what you flee from. The problem is not freedom, but rather our deluded perceptions of what it consists of. The challenge is not obtaining what we seek, but containing it. Freedom lies in exercising our own individuality within the constraints of a banal life.”

Thus, precious freedom does not entail acting on our whims or emotions whenever we feel like it, but having the power to choose our actions and coming to terms with whatever consequences these choices lead to. I, for instance, could not bear the consequences of quitting. 

Ultimately, quitting is a choice and success is a bittersweet journey, a constant tug of war between your ambitions and your doubts. At one moment, you’re ready to give it everything you’ve got, and the next, you feel like there’s nothing left to give. And it is that relentless struggle back and forth that shapes and defines a winner’s character, one that leads to the path of success.

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