Sometimes Quitting Equals Winning

breaking free

People like to refer to life as a game or a competition. The winners are the ones who accumulate the most or best things, achieve the most success, or get the most power. That’s the conventional wisdom, anyway, which means that a large number of us are playing a game we’ll never win.

We’ll never have a lot of power, or enough money to buy anything we want. That’s not to say that we’re failures as human beings, but it’s realistic to assume that most of us will never be Trumps or Buffets. Yet we’re out there running and chasing the other people on the playing field with no hope of catching them and it’s killing a lot of us, both financially and emotionally. But what if this conventional wisdom is wrong? What if the real winners are the ones who have enough sense to break free by packing up their ball and bat to go home, kick back in front of the fire, and relax?

I’m not advocating giving up and becoming a couch potato for the rest of your life. Or moving to a hippie commune and opting out of mainstream existence. There’s a difference between throwing up your hands and saying, “I give up. I’ll never be successful or rich, so why bother trying,” and “You know what? Trying to beat everyone else is hurting me. I’m going to find another game that I can win,” and then going out and creating your own game with your own set of rules.

How does this work? Let’s say you’re chasing a promotion in a job you don’t like very much. But you’re chasing that promotion because it’s what’s expected of you, or you know you need the extra money to afford your inflated lifestyle. Conventional wisdom says you aggressively chase that promotion until you get it, and then you start chasing the next one. There are therapists and heartburn medication that can help you deal with the stress and the toll this is taking on your body and mind. You stay on this treadmill until you reach sixty-five and then you retire, spent and ill, to spend the rest of your life trying to work the knots out of your neck and gut. But you will have won the game! Question: Who wants to win this game? Not me, and not too many people who realistically look at their life and the consequences of playing this game.

The smart person, the real winner, is the one who says, “I don’t like this job and I don’t like what it’s doing to me. I’m going to find another job and I’m willing to do what I have to do to carve out a different life for myself.” Maybe they go back to school or go freelance. Maybe they drastically drop their standard of living so that they can live on a much lower paying, but more enjoyable, job. Maybe they retire early if they’ve got enough saved to make that work. Maybe they move in with family for a while, or take in some roommates to defray expenses while they figure things out. They take action to get where they want to go.

Or think of the person who keeps trying to keep up with the neighbors. The neighbors get a new kitchen, so does the game player. The neighbors get an Audi, the game player gets a Jaguar. The neighbors get a pool, the game player adds on a sunroom. The neighbors send the kids to private school and so does the game player. This is all well and good if you can afford all of this stuff and it’s what you want, but if you can’t, it’s a destructive game.

The winner says, “I don’t even like granite and stainless steel, and I like my older car. My kids are doing great in public school so why would I move them? I don’t care what my neighbors have. That’s their life, but I’m happy with mine the way it is.” The winner opts out of the possessions arms race and lives below their means with the amount and type of stuff that makes them content.

Winners don’t just keep racing to the same crappy finish line that gets further and further away no matter how hard they run. They find another finish line. And it doesn’t matter to them if they are the only ones running their race. They aren’t competing against anyone but themselves. They determine what constitutes success in their world. They don’t follow what society says. Society says you’re successful if you make $100,000 a year. The winner says, “I’m successful at $40,000 if I’m happy, have good family relationships, give something back to others, and have some fun in the bargain.” Society says you’re successful when you have the trappings of wealth or what celebrities have. Winners say, “I know what I can afford, what I need, and what I like and I stay within those three things. I don’t buy what others have just because they have it.”

Sometimes the winners in life aren’t the ones that you would expect. The winners are the ones who might seem unsuccessful in society’s eyes, but who know exactly who they are, what they need, what they enjoy, and what they can afford. They’re the ones who had enough sense to walk out on society’s game and go find or create a game they could win. It’s not a cop out to quit playing the game. Sometimes it’s the smartest, sanest thing you can do.

(Photo courtesy of kreg.steppe)

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3 Responses to Sometimes Quitting Equals Winning

  1. Katie says:

    This article comes at the perfect time in my life. I am a working mom, working at a job I think is going to bore me to death eventually that has no opportunity for promotion or change within it. Meanwhile my children are being raised by daycare (and 2/3 of my paycheck is going with them!) and our whole lives have become “hurry hurry” onto the next day.

    My husband and I talked and decided that no amount of money is worth us missing our children growing up or being unhappy and always in a hurry. I officially gave my notice last week and in 3 weeks time we are changing our lives. I am going to start a part-time home cleaning company to help make ends meet and the rest of the time I will be at home with the kids. In 2-3 years when they are both going to school full time I will go back to work somewhere, either doing what I do now or something else that I decide when the time comes.

    We decided to opt out of the rat race for a while and concentrate on making US happy. The rat race will be there when/if I choose to return to it. The kids will remember the time I had to be with them – not how fancy their clothes were in Kindergarten. :)

  2. Jason B says:

    I love this article. It is something that I will be doing in the next month. i refuse to live life being stuck somewhere that I don’t like.

  3. Gailete says:

    Katie, wish you were in my area of the country, I need someone to clean! There are so many things that this applies to. I have been very comfortable most of my life NOT doing many things. I don’t think the fact I abstain needs an explanation to anyone, especially someone I don’t know, yet I have run into others along the way that seem embarrassed by the fact that I’m not part of that lifestyle. Years ago I choose not to drink alcoholic based drinks, yet I have been with people that are embarrassed that I’m not drinking with the group, or they try to make demeaning jokes about me because of it, or they make excuses for me. I’m not sure why others feel this way as I’m not embarrassed to say no thank you and I can certainly speak for myself on the issue but they are embarrassed so feel that they need to speak out and make excuses for me–Why??? But I think it is people like this that get others running on the rat race like everyone else. Nothing like the neighbor putting in $1000 worth of plantings in their yard each year and then chiding their neighbors that don’t, not caring if the neighbor has time or the money to do this. If one house does it on a block soon they all will. This pack and herd mentality is crazy, but way too few people have the strength and fortitude to stand up to say that they will live their life their own way. Those that do stand out big time. Why live your life chasing things that don’t satisfy?

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