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When you feel like quitting….
Pulling my sweatshirt-sleeve over my palm, I begin to buff it away. I glance up, searching for a witty response to send back when I see a quote written on the gym wall in bright pink:
When you feel like quitting, that’s when you’re getting started.
I look back at the phone and try to type some dumb, obvious joke, but the words on wall won’t leave my head.
I should put that on my Insta-story, I think.
I stand, legs still wobbly from the workout, and pull up my camera. As the lens focuses in on the hand-written lettering, I realize I was mistaken.
In my post-workout, mid-text haze, I had completely misread the line.
What it actually says is:
When you feel like quitting, remember why you started.
I frown. It’s not bad advice. Just a little…cliché. I preferred what I thought it said. And as I step into the skin-shaking October night air, I can’t get that initial thought out of my head.
I’m pretty good at starting things. There’s an excitement with exploring something new, learning something I know nothing about, or attempting something I’ve never done before. It’s pure, unadulterated progress where failure and disappointment don’t exist because there’s no measurement for it.
It doesn’t really matter what it is. It could be a new game, a new book, a new show, a new instrument, a new job.
Whatever anxiety or uncertainty I may have, it’s overshadowed by the excitement of experiencing something for the first time. But it doesn’t take long for things to change.
The rush starts to slow down. The feeling of progression disappears. The fun fades to frustration.
And suddenly, I want to stop.
Or at the very least, remain static. Stagnant. And I realize that so often, this is the real beginning. This is where the journey starts. At that first moment where you want to quit.
Everything leading up to that point is fun. It’s practice. It’s pretend.
In order to move forward, to really begin, you have to ask yourself…
I don’t want to speak for everyone here, but too often, I wait for that initial spark to get going. I expect to wake up and have this immense drive to do all the things I say I want to do.
But most of the time, it doesn’t work like that. Sure, you’ll catch inspiration occasionally. You might have a life event that suddenly motivates you. That can work…for a while.
I once wrote a rough draft of a book in two weeks. It was the most inspired I think I’ve ever felt. I had reached the bottom of the barrel in my current stage of life, and that gave me something to push off of.
Every day, I’d sit down and the words just flowed from my brain to my fingers to the computer screen before me. I reached an ending point. A complete (though very rough) draft from start to finish.
And then, it mostly sat untouched for two years.
I lost the motivation to work on it. I started to think it wasn’t worth the effort. I was ready to quit it altogether.
Then one day, I decided I was going to finish it. I had to. No matter what came of it, I was going to see this thing through to the end. I went to work. Day by day, month by month, I added, deleted, edited, and polished this project for about three years. Some days were easy. A lot of them were mind-numbing and exhausting.
There were times where I considered quitting again. But I didn’t. Finally, I finished it. Even released it to the public. I can’t say it was a massive success, but it’s something I’m very proud of.
And in hindsight, I realize the two-week span where I wrote the rough draft wasn’t the beginning of the project. Not really. It was that day I decided to open-up the Word doc that had been sitting on my computer for two years, and started rewriting the entire thing.
Inspiration is fleeting.
When all the emotions and excuses fade away, all that’s left is choice. The choice to act. Or to not. That’s where the journey begins.
I’m going to be honest, since releasing that book, I’ve sat at the edge of difficulty on a few things. Too many things. And now, I have a choice to make. You have that same choice in any goal, dream, or passion you’re considering going after. Eventually, part of you will feel like quitting.
And when that happens, it just might mean you’re finally getting started.
by Timothy Snyder