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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.