A week ago, I stood up in front of a room of highly motivated people and tried to convince them to quit.
I had been invited to speak at the Ignite Memphis event at Crosstown Arts. If you've never been to one of these before, they're surprisingly fun for an evening centered around PowerPoint presentations. Speakers create 20-slide presentations that auto-advance every 15 seconds on the topics of their choice. It's not just a local phenomenon; Ignite events happen in cities all over the world.
At this particular Ignite, the slate of presentations ranged from storytelling, to drinking, opera, more livable cities, Jesus, and the end of the world. And I talked about quitting, because, lately, quitting has become an activity very near and dear to my heart.
Before you think about quitting, though, it helps to rethink the concept of "busy." You're busy. I'm busy. Being busy is important, but it's not an excuse. Americans value being busy to the point that there are children's books glorifying the concept (Little Miss Busy, for example). We're constantly telling others that we're too busy, that we have so much going on.
Why do we do this? A handful of people really are that busy. I suspect that for most of us, it's done out of fear — a fear that we're not doing enough or producing enough to seem important. We stay at work late when we don't need to, and we blow off the things and people we care about unnecessarily, mostly because we're afraid to say no. We're afraid of free time. We're afraid to not be busy.
For a long time, I was that person. I always pushed hard, tackled everything at once, and never, ever stopped working. I thrived on being so busy. In my case, it was more than just feeling valuable — it was a method of running from the parts of my life that weren't so great at the time.
I loved my old job (writing the "I Love Memphis" blog). It was fun, and I got to meet a lot of very cool people and check a bunch of things off of my bucket list. But it was also a lot of nights and weekends and stress and being "on" all the time. Those things were part of the job, so I didn't mind them. After a while, though, it just stopped being fun. I started changing from someone who was super happy to someone who was a cranky mess.
I didn't realize how bad things had gotten until I read an article by Adam Dachis called "Burnout Is Real: How To Identify and Address Your Burnout Problem." The article details how to identify burnout (among the many warning signs: irritability, exhaustion, feeling like you're never doing enough, inefficacy, and the denial of said warning signs) and then how to take action to counter it.
That's the thing about burnout: It's nearly impossible to recognize it when it's happening to you, even if you fit all of the warning signs. I told myself I was just having a bad day, that I would be totally fine if I could just get all of these things done, that sleeping and eating weren't as important as whatever was next on my to-do list. As you can imagine, I was a joy to be around.
And one day, I woke up and knew what I had to do: I had to quit.
Once I got the idea in my head that I could make my life better and improve my mental health by walking away from something, I couldn't think about anything else. It wasn't easy, but few things that are worth it are.
So, that's what I'd like you to do. Find that thing in your life that you're just doing out of obligation, and stop it. Give up an activity that you feel "meh" about. Stop feeling "meh" about things in general.
Stop complaining about how busy you are and how many obligations you have. If you're busy, own it. Let others know that you've made that choice. More importantly, start quitting. Start quitting the things that you aren't completely invested in; the ones that aren't that important; the ones that don't make you happy. Just quit.