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“It would sure be nice to have tomorrow off!”
It’s October 1991 — early in my third year of teaching — and I’ve only been at this new school for a few months.
At my old school, where I taught junior high for two years, my seventh grade boys cried when I announced that I was leaving.
Here, my goal is to get to the 3:30 bell before I dissolve into tears. (Most days, I barely make it to lunch before breaking.)
At my old school, I had fourteen room mothers who supported me and twenty-eight students who adored me.
Here, regardless of the route I take, I run into misunderstanding, resentment, and disdain at every turn.
The school’s Fall Festival has just ended.
While a volunteer from the local church joins me in wiping down tables, I calculate how many days I’ll have worked by my next break:
Fourteen straight days of going from dawn ’til midnight — plus wee morning hour feedings, as my first child is just six months old — without a breather.
In a rare bid for empathy, I confide to my clean-up buddy, “It would sure be nice to have tomorrow off!”
I’m not asking for accolades, nor am I crying for compliments. I’m an overwhelmed novice teacher and new mom, begging for a crumb of encouragement.
Instead, a short phrase, spoken in terse tones, flies at my face.
“You signed up for this.”
The Power of Words
If I could go back to that Sunday night thirty-two years ago, I’d stand protectively over my 24-year-old self, and reply:
“No, she did not. Go give your gift of discouragement to someone else.”
I’d sit down next to sleep-deprived me and say, “Don’t listen to her. She’s wrong. You did not sign up for this.”
But at the time, I had no clue how to self-advocate.
(Heck, I didn’t even know self-advocacy was a thing!)
I only knew how to absorb and fulfill others’ expectations of me.
So the “truth” I internalized that night was:
I signed up for this.
All of this.
Yes, I Did
Of course, there was some truth to I signed up for this.
- When I signed my teaching contract, I signed up to teach twenty-eight junior high kids how to read literature, write essays, and diagram sentences.
- When I said, “I do!” I signed up to share all my betters and worses with someone else … and for him to share all of his with me.
- When I became a mother, I signed up for a lifetime of watching my heart walk around outside my body.
Even now, I frequently have to remind myself I signed up for this.
- Each time I toss too many Hostess or Nabisco boxes into my shopping cart, I sign up for another round in the ring with Ed.
- Each time I say, “Yes!” when I need to say “No” I sign up for days, weeks, even months of resentment, judgment, and self-righteousness.
- Each time I speak the words, “I don’t mean to tell you what to do, but…” I sign up for a self-made mess, courtesy of Meddlesome Me.
No, I Did NOT
But when you sign a contract at age twenty-one, a lifetime of experience lies ahead that you can’t possibly predict.
- I did not sign up for the required unscheduled meetings that kept me from my nursing babies.
- I did not sign up for the caustic phone calls, the cruel Emails.
- I did not sign up for feeling more and more helpless with each passing year.
- I did not sign up for trying harder and harder and harder to improve with such dismal results.
- I did not sign up for pervasive isolation. For insomnia. Or the ER trip for crippling chest pain that turned out to be “nothing” but a panic attack.
- I did not sign up for the insidious, cancerous negativity that ate through my heart, infecting my marriage, crippling my parenting, destroying my friendships.
You and I would never consciously sign up for any of these.
Yet when we find ourselves in the middle of circumstances we couldn’t possibly have predicted, it’s so easy to think I signed up for this.
Even when it’s not true.
The Courage to Quit
What I needed three decades ago was the courage to quit.
I know … this concept flies completely in the face of Winston Churchill’s famous quote:
“Never, ever ever ever ever give up.“
But surely not every famous quote applies to every aspect of our lives.
We must give up some things, some times.
Ecclesiastes 3 reminds us: “There is a time for everything…”
- Time to plant…and time to uproot.
- Time to build…and time to tear down.
- Time to keep…and time to throw away.
We all sign up for many “this”es.
We may think we know what we’re getting ourselves into.
But we can’t possibly know.
Life is too complex. People are too unpredictable. We, ourselves, are constantly learning and growing. What’s a great match right now may not fit at all in a few years.
I didn’t know this in my twenties or even my thirties.
So I internalized “You signed up for this” as
Once you commit, you dare not quit.
I spent decades trying harder and harder and harder.
My unquestioning “commitment” — which I recognize, in hindsight, as compulsion — hurt me and those I love.
Why did I allow so much damage for so long?
I was too afraid of failure to question, let alone quit.
The Courage to Question
When we find ourselves trying harder and harder and harder, wondering When will I ever get this right? it’s high time to ask a different question:
Am I even trying the right thing?
We need to prayerfully discern between
What is helping me grow? vs. What do I need to let go?
What to Quit
I am not suggesting we simply walk out on our careers or marriages or kids.
But we must learn to recognize and quit habits that cause us to comply with the destructive demands of “You signed up for this.”
Not sure what to quit first?
You’re welcome to join my Bravery Buddies and me. We’re praying for the courage to:
- …quit saying that knee-jerk “Yes” and start saying, “No; thank you for thinking of me.”
- …quit doubting/worrying and start trusting God and believing Him 100%.
- …quit a life-draining responsibility and try one that might be a better fit. And if it doesn’t work, to quit it and try something else.
- …quit people-pleasing (aka “being nice”) and learn to be candid and compassionate.
- …quit the downward spiral of comparison, inadequacy, and fear of failure.
- …quit sugar, soda, junk food, dairy, gluten, and/or _____ [fill in the blank with your particular need] and start giving better care to our bodies.
Finding the courage to quit is a journey of self-advocacy and self-compassion.
Don’t wait for others to give you permission.
You, and only you, can grant yourself permission to quit.
It’s a perfect day to quit trying harder … and start trying different.