When Is it Time to Move On?

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This is a hard question, and everyone has a different answer. I mean, it doesn’t really matter what the thing is, does it? As soon as you read the question, you knew what it was for you. Maybe this post is about your addiction to doughnuts. Maybe this post is about your marriage. Maybe this post is about whether or not you should stop being a writer. I don’t know. But what I DO know is that knowing when it’s time to move on is a delicate thing to contemplate.

I wish there were easy answers on this. For the most part in my life, I have been met with silence when it comes to the prayer, “Dear God, should I just move on or what?” It’s the ultimate cosmic joke. God’s like, “Sure, kid, I’ll help you find your keys. But tell you whether or not to quit your life’s passion up to this point? You’re on your own.*

*Full disclosure: I do always imagine God’s voice sounding a lot like Harrison Ford as Han Solo.

“You worship me? I know. Take it easy. Don’t get so emotional about it.”

The problem is that, the more you have loved the thing you’re considering moving on from, the harder it is to contemplate leaving it. And you have loved it. You have been passionate about it. You have fought for it, sacrificed for it. You have struggled through hard times because of it and learned from it. In some cases, your whole personality has become enmeshed in it. Like Brennifer (Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston, for those plebeians who don’t know) or Tonya Harding and ice skating—for a lot of people, the two things are so firmly rooted in each other, it is impossible to think of them separately.

And yet—like peanut butter has often taught me—separation is natural.

How do you know it’s time? How do we know it’s time?

I will tell you how I know it’s time.

The Ice Skating Test: Do I Feel Full Yet?

For those of you who have read my blog before, you know that about 4 years ago, I became enthralled with ice skating. I went every morning. I spent a lot of money. I was the oldest Pre-Free Skate 1 at my rink, and I was not ashamed.

Looking pretty good for 43, if I do say so myself…

I worked and worked on ice skating. I practiced crossovers round and round the ice circles, prepared to take my competition tests every day, every day. But the costs kept adding up and I still couldn’t do a one-legged spin for more than .001 seconds without falling.

After months of trying, I realized I was at the end of my budget. I passed into Free Skate 1, able to finally hold that one-legged spin for enough time to allow my indulgent teacher smudge some grade that was near enough to passing for the judges. A few weeks later, I moved into my new house and a few months after that I got a new job. I also got new ice skates. But it didn’t really matter any more.

I was done.

No one had to tell me I was done. I just knew it. I had learned what I had wanted to learn. I had grown in the ways I had needed to grow. I had gone into ice skating depressed and looking for a reason to be excited to live. I had found it. And then I had mastered some skills that had been dormant in me since I was 12. I had made some new friends and maybe even inspired a person here or there. And then, as fast as the fire had been lit in my soul, it simmered to smoke.

But, you see, the reason I knew it was time to move on was because my soul felt magnified. It felt full. It was the same feeling as you get when you sit down to Thanksgiving, but you never go back for seconds and don’t feel compelled to eat the whole piece of pie. I was full of that thing, and a bite more wasn’t going to make the experience better. It might, in fact, make the experience of the thing worse.

If I squeeze the sides a bit more and bend my spine like a pretzel, I think I can fit one more turkey leg in…mmm. Pretzels…

The Looming Hand of Fate

Now, I don’t know if this is helpful for you. But it helps me a lot. Here’s why:

Ever since I lost the twins, I have been unable to write. The last thing I did, actually, was finish the current draft of the book that will be published in December through Weird Little Worlds Press, Leto’s Children. I finished that a month after they passed. I have not been able to write anything since.

It has been a year and half. Almost two, in fact. Every time I sit down to my computer, I feel a sense of loss and nihilism that is so outside of who I am. I just don’t know how to justify sitting alone at my keyboard for any amount of time knowing that I have two daughters and a husband that are right outside, being alive, needing their mom to be alive, too.

So, I think: Maybe I should move on. Maybe my time for writing is over.

But I don’t have that feeling of being full. I don’t have that knowledge that I learned what I needed to learn and it’s time to move forward. In fact, I feel the opposite, as if there is much more for me to learn and do with my words, and if I’m not careful and put them down on paper (or screen), the words will be taken away and I’ll be forced to move on despite the good I might have been able to do. In this second scenario, there is a pervasive sense of potential loss. The feeling you get when your mom says, “Okay. You can choose to stop practicing piano, but I really wish you would keep trying. You will be grateful one day that you did.”

The pianist plays chopsticks. The happy pianist plays everything but chopsticks. – Confucious, probably

You know what? Most people whose mothers gave them that line ARE grateful they kept practicing. And people who quit? From my experience, most of them are really sad that they moved on.

Only You Know When You’ve Learned Your Lesson

I guess what I’m saying is this: you can choose to quit anything. People do it all the time and no one can really hold it against you if you do. There are lots of good reasons why your siblings and best friends will tell you it was the right thing to do. But inside, you have a deeper version of you that is here on this earth to learn and experience. And that person knows whether or not you have learned the lessons you were supposed to learn and changed in the ways that you have been designed to.

Ask yourself: Have I learned what I came here to learn? Do I feel there is still more growth for me here?

If you listen closely to the wind, or the people talking in the checkout line, or sometimes just to the sound of your own heartbeat, you’ll find that you’ve known the answer to the question all along. And whether you decide to stay or go, know that you are still learning exactly what you’ve been sent here to learn.

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Sierra slaugh
Sierra slaugh
12 days ago

I always love reading your blog posts. They are so insightful to me. I know what it feels like to lose the ability to write. I wasn’t able to get a single word done in my novel from the week I graduated high school till I moved home from college in May eight months later. It was such a weird time period because I knew that writing was what made me happy but every time I sat down at the keyboard, I was just overwhelmed and my brain was empty.It honestly felt like I had lost part of myself and I was so hard on myself the entire time. I’m back at it now and I feel much better. I’m really glad that I didn’t quit. I don’t think I’ve learned what I needed to learn yet. <3

Nancy Maclaren
Nancy Maclaren
17 days ago

Wonderful writing as always. Can’t wait to read the book since you never let me read it before. About knowing when to let go, sometimes it’s in grief and you can’t live your life in grief anymore. I think when I let go of my marriage and the fantasy I had that I was going to have a happy marriage with this particular man that’s what I was learning I was learning what it felt like to give up on a dream I guess. And it felt awful. For a long time. I learned what it feels like to go through grief and get out on the other side. That may have been the hardest thing I’ve ever had to decide to leave. But I’m grateful now. I think that if you’re still questioning whether you should leave then it probably isn’t time. I guess the question now to ask is why am I thinking about this? Did it become too hard? Am I not as good as I thought I would be? I think there’s lots of reasons we decide to stop doing something and no one is more valid than another. But you are a deep thinker and you really look at things before you jump and I know you’ll make the right decision. Also remember as a woman you have the right to change your mind. You may decide that now you want to spend as much time as you can with your kids and your husband and then someday those kids are going to go off and you’re gonna have plenty of time and then the writing may come at that point. Depends on whether you can get through the day without writing. I can.. But I can’t get through the day without creating. So maybe it’s time to create something else. I love you.