Sometimes the Best New Year’s Resolution Is to Stop, Not Start

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girl grimacing

I get excited about making New Year’s resolutions — I love the newness of a fresh start, and I get really into buying new calendars and making checklists in service of reaching my new goals. But even I have to admit that starting something new isn’t always the answer; sometimes the answer is getting out of something that isn’t working out.

This fall, I took on a new client that I was incredibly excited about. I was so qualified for what they were looking for that it was kind of shocking, both for me and for them. They really needed help, and I was inspired, excited and grateful to be able to give it to them. I’d be getting to do something I liked for a client doing important things, and I’d get to travel and meet some people I admired, too. It seemed like fate.

From the beginning, though, it was clear (although I wasn’t ready to admit it), that the job wasn’t the right fit. I was frustrated and irritated almost all the time. I kept telling myself that things would get better once we got past the “get to know you” phase, but it became increasingly more clear that it just wasn’t right. I still think the client does amazing work, and it makes me really sad that I can’t be a part of it. But it wasn’t working out, and I needed to admit it and let us both move on.

Leaving was easier said than done, of course. I didn’t want to be a quitter. I didn’t want to give up the dream of what the job could have been. I had a ton of guilt about leaving them in a lurch. Life was throwing me a lot of curveballs (moving to another apartment, stress with other clients, family issues, car issues, etc.), and I kept telling myself that I’d be fine once everything settled down. But I finally realized that life might not settle down — and even if it did, I would probably still be unhappy with this job.

I won’t say quitting was the hardest thing I ever had to do, because it wasn’t, but it definitely sucked. It wasn’t easy to send the resignation letter; it wasn’t easy to deal with knowing the client was angry with me, and it wasn’t easy to work through my two weeks’ notice. It’s not even easy now that it’s over — I don’t feel elated and free; I feel disappointed that it didn’t work out and annoyed about how much time I spent feeling frustrated.

On the other hand, I know I did what was best for my career and for my life. (I also believe it’s what’s best for the client.) I can look forward to sitting down at my desk in the morning instead of dreading it. And I have time and space to find a project that does work for me.

I was planning on jumping into a new project at the very beginning on 2018, but now I’m thinking it might be best to table that for a couple of months and use the time to recharge and get some new ideas. I’m reading new books, watching documentaries on Netflix, and exploring ideas just because they’re interesting, not because they fit in with the narrow topics that concern me and my clients. Hopefully, that will make all my work better. It feels weird to start the new year without a focused plan like I usually do — but I’m starting it with a fresh start, and hopefully that will turn out pretty great as well.

When I was trying to decide whether or not to stay in a bad fit, I kept seeing this quote from Mo Willems pop up on my Instagram feed:

“If you ever find yourself in the wrong story, leave.”

I probably only really saw the quote a couple of times, but I couldn’t get it out of my head. I love it because it doesn’t say you should always leave if you’re unhappy, because sometimes unhappiness is a temporary symptom of doing the right thing. It doesn’t say to leave if you can’t see a clear goal, because sometimes the finish line is covered in fog even when you’re going in the right direction. It says to leave if you’re in the wrong story — if you’re being pulled body and soul away from what you know is the life you should be living. And I knew that I didn’t want my story to be working 60 hours a week in frustration, trying so hard to further someone else’s goals that I lost sight of my own. I don’t know if I exited perfectly, but I do know that I feel like I’m back in my own story again. It doesn’t feel as good as a shiny new goal, but for this year, I think I made the right choice.

Carrie Rollwagen is author of The Localist, a book about buying from locally owned stores. She’s Communications Director at Infomedia, a web development company in Birmingham, Alabama. Find her as @crollwagen on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and most other social media channels.

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