Knowing when to let something go allows us to focus on what we truly do care about.Illustration/Ellie Wilson - @elliecat_art

I have quit a lot of different things in my time; from jobs I hated, to sports I was no good at, to calligraphy email subscriptions I signed up to on a whim. I have been giving up on things since the day I was born and by the grand old age of twenty you could say that I am something of an expert in the field, even if I do say so myself.

“But despite my years of experience ... I can’t help but be filled with a sense of dread”

Particularly when I was younger, I would give things up without a second thought. For example, at around the age of seven I joined a musical theatre club. Having always loved to sing, it seemed like a fun way to spend a Saturday morning. Unfortunately, within six weeks I was forced to leave due to the plainly outrageous fact that I had been cast as a tadpole in the end of year play. A tadpole. When has a tadpole ever done anything worth acting out? It was preposterous. I knew my skills were worthy, at the very least, of being a fish. Plus, quite frankly, nothing was going to convince me to wear the ugly brown leotard – which was presented as a costume – on stage. So, I simply never went back. Perhaps I can chalk that one up to ‘creative differences’.

But despite my years of experience, when the time comes to hand in my notice or click that ever-so-scary unsubscribe button I can’t help but be filled with a sense of dread. What if this was what I was meant to do? What if, by giving up now, I am preventing myself from excelling at something I could truly have been great at? Yes, I think to myself, it’s true that I can’t remember three steps together or spin around once without getting dizzy, but what if dancing is my calling? Should I really give up now? And maybe if I actually read those emails, I would become marginally interested in calligraphy! I should stick with it.

Three months of unread emails later, I finally hit unsubscribe.

Often, when I have given something up, months – years even – down the line I will think back with regret. It is as if all the uncertainty I didn’t feel at the time is exploding out of me at random inopportune moments. Back in 2006, I gave up gymnastics with the same carefree abandon with which musical theatre was given the chop. Was I even slightly good at it? No. But ‘what if’s’ still sometimes haunt me. Occasionally, I even regret not being a tadpole in that play… but then I remember that horrific leotard and the feeling promptly fades.

“My history of quitting began to feel like a timeline of failure.”

Coming to Cambridge, if anything, has made matters worse. Suddenly, I am surrounded by people who seem to be able to keep up an inhuman number of hobbies and activities at any one time. It is inspiring – and terrifying. I look around and begin to wonder whether anyone has in fact ever given something up. Do they know the word ‘no’ exists? It made my history of quitting begin to feel like a timeline of failure. Maybe if I couldn’t measure up, it meant I didn’t really belong. Imposter syndrome loomed large.

Now, there are always various ways to tackle imposter syndrome, although most will never actually solve the problem. One tried and tested option is that you can run at the issue, try and prove your worth. In this case perhaps I could have tried to catch up, making a solemn vow never to quit anything ever again. Quitting seems to be the enemy in Cambridge, so why not just cut it out? How hard could that be? University is a great time to take up new activities after all, so, pushing this to the extreme, I could have attempted to become an aficionado in sports, arts and all things political – while leaving my degree on the backburner. Attempt being the key word.

“One other thing that also must be acknowledged is just how satisfying quitting can be.”

In the end, though, I realised that it didn’t matter how many societies I joined or sports I tried – continuing my efforts would just have left me exhausted and with a long list of commitments I truly had no interest in. I have never been able to pretend to be interested in something that I am not, so what would be the point? It would have been a lot of effort for very little reward.

One other thing that also must be acknowledged is just how satisfying quitting can be. Sometimes it can be a great relief- at others, a very welcome middle finger at the manager who told you to smile far too many times for it to be comfortable. It is a definite end- a dramatic exit- and honestly, we don’t get enough of those in life.


Mountain View

The noble art of being rejected

It is not quitting that is the enemy. Giving things up is incredibly important. Knowing when to let something go allows us to focus on what we truly do care about. For this reason, I will staunchly defend the art of quitting, no matter how inadequate it has made me feel at times. It is important to know when something isn’t right, when it doesn’t fit, so that you can move on. There are a million more opportunities out there, things that may be better for you than what you are clinging on to. So don’t think too much about it – just practise these words: I quit.