Winners Sometimes Quit and Quitters Sometimes Win

I sat on a bench in Savannah’s Ellis Square, rubbing my forehead with my hand (as I often do when I’m nervous or stressed), as I held the phone up to my ear with my other hand while my mom gave me one of her staple pep talks. “Well son, I don’t think you need to jump right into dating.”

I chuckled, quickly snapping back to my mom, “Mom, I’m getting a divorce, and as far as I’m concerned, girls have cooties.”

Here I was, a 27-year old southern man, looking at a pile of debt, facing a divorce in the same year that I had worked as a clerk for a family-owned video store and telling my mom that girls had cooties. At that point, it couldn’t have gotten much worse. And so it was, on the first trip that I had taken in well over a year,  I had the first of a series of epiphanies. I hung up with my mom, set the phone on the bench and like the Ben Harper song, headed for the door and walked away…From all of it.

Quitting seems to have become so taboo in our culture when it comes to lifestyles, careers, relationships, and so on. These things feel like being a part of a fraternity, or even a gang, that once you’re in, there’s no leaving. Immediately following my separation and subsequent divorce, I remember feeling like I was walking around with a scarlet letter around my neck anytime I mentioned the “D” word. Those feelings seemed to be a product of the expectations and pressures thrust on me.

And this isn’t meant to discredit the longevity of one’s friendships, marriage, career and the like. Both of my parents, for example, worked the same careers for their entire life and were married for decades. There’s something to be said for that. But I believe to objectively say that “winners never quit” or that “quitting lasts forever” is a sham. Because I believe there is something innate within us that asks the question, what if?

Vietnam Veteran's Memorial
Vietnam Veteran's Memorial

While I was at the gym this week, I caught most of The Marinovich Project, which is a documentary that originally aired a couple years ago about Todd Marinovich, who I would describe as the best quarterback in history that you’ve never heard of. Marinovich was groomed by his father, a former football player and strength and conditioning coach, to be something of a robo quarterback, trained from a young age to be a star quarterback, which he was, getting drafted by the Oakland Raiders in the first round ahead of a guy you may have heard of, Brett Favre.

But it was short-lived, as his two-year stint in the NFL ended after failing his third drug test. However, the documentary ends with Marinovich reconciling with his dad, becoming a father himself and launching a career as a professional artist. What stood out to me, however, was something that Marinovich said about our talents and purpose: “If you're good at something, does that mean you're meant to do it? Because I knew I had football talent, but I also knew that I had talent in other areas.” I believe that mentality strikes a cord on something that we’ve all thought about: What is our purpose?

“I wish I could own my own business.”

“I wish I could travel the world.”

“I wish I could just be out of this relationship.”

“I wish I could live somewhere like Hawaii or Southern California.”

These statements seem to be tied to a cause and effect relationship. If I could only _________________, then I wouldn’t have to feel ____________________, and could instead feel _______________________. But I believe for the majority of people in the world these are more like fantasies, with action never being taken on these thoughts for one reason or another. For some, it’s probably because of guilt. For others, it’s because they are so comfortable in their current situations. Still for others, such a leap is too risky.

But should we not feel more guilty, selfish, fearful, and uncomfortable for NOT taking such risks and following our hearts? Because if we aren’t following our hearts, then we’re doing something that doesn’t wholly complete us, which is thus a disservice to ourselves, those around us and the world.

Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.-Howard Thurman

It was four years ago this week that I walked away from everything. And when I say everything, I mean it. I left my home, my marriage, my friends, my state, my career, and everything that I owned that couldn’t fit into a backpack. I’ve since created a sustainable nomadic career/lifestyle, traveled long-term for nine months and lived in three of the top U.S. cities I’ve always wanted to live in, the most recent, Los Angeles, giving me a sense of home that I’ve never felt before. And I think how far I’ve come can be summed up in something that one of my best friends told me about a conversation between her and her husband last week. She told me that after having lunch together, her husband told her, “Spence really likes living. Like he really likes life.”

Sunset Santa Monica Pier in Los Angeles
Sunset Santa Monica Pier in Los Angeles

And I do. With a little chance, sacrifice and hard work, I got a new lease on life and I haven’t looked back since. And it all happened because I quit. But not before having a plan and quitting a life that impeded me for a life that empowered me. It hurt some people. It caused others to question me. But at the end of the day, it’s me, and only me, who has to get out of bed every morning and look at myself in the mirror.

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary. – Steve Jobs

This isn’t a blog post about winning or losing. It’s not even a blog post about quitting. It's about time, and how we spend it. Will I get married? Will I have kids? Will I retire by 60? I can’t answer for the future. As Randy Pausch wrote, 'Time is all you have and you may find one day that you have less than you think.” But what I can do is live life 24 hours at a time, on my terms and within the confines of what I believe is happiness for me. Those confines, should, and will be something different for you. And if life isn’t measuring up, then maybe it’s time to walk away from something.