Many years ago, I was a nationally ranked bike racer. Nowhere near the top of those rankings… but on the list. I traveled, mostly on my own dime, to bike races around the country while working full-time as an engineer in corporate America.
What was a bit of an inside joke for coping with the stress has come to serve me well. And it might help you, especially during the COVID-19 chaos that never seems to end, so I thought I’d share.
My secret? I quit. More than once. But just for a day.
I remember one race with cobblestones. And rain. We don’t have much of either of those here in California and I was out of my element. I had stayed with a lovely host family, who all turned out to see me race.
I crashed. I crashed again.
And in between crashing I somehow managed to get stung by a bee (to which I’m allergic) in the hot humid weather. It was a plane ticket wasted and I was a bit embarrassed. My host family told me they had hosted other Californians who also didn’t do well in the rainy and humid southern U.S. races….but they were excited to have us, having traveled so far.
Nevertheless, I was gloomy on that flight home, and decided I was done racing.
By the following weekend I had recovered, and scored a podium finish at a race here in Southern California. It felt easy. I was again in my groove.
Just yesterday, as a working mom to a super kid in both band and competitive swimming, I quit again. With a past-due work project, I cancelled several Zooms and announced I was, at least, not doing the early-hour long pickup and drop-off cycle. I amazingly got out of the late pickup as well.
The result…progress on the long-stalled work project and a civilized, well-balanced dinner on the patio (rather than a sandwich gobbled down in the car while driving.)
And this, paraphrasing Robert Frost, has made all the difference.
We read constantly about the “gig” economy, how people should have side jobs, how the “great resignation” is a thing, how people are living the “van life” on the road, how kids are failing school and colleges are impossible to get into, and more. Clearly it seems that we need to hustle or we are doomed.
This is making many of us insane. Especially in the COVID-19 era when you can’t get a dishwasher, a plumber, or a vet appointment on any schedule that we were used to in the “before times.”
No dog food. No cars. And that used car will cost you plenty. Sigh.
There is tremendous power in quitting. And then starting again. First, you realize you do have a choice. Sometimes it seems that we don’t. You can just stop. No one really tells you that the world doesn’t end if you skip a race, if your report is late or if your child misses one day of band practice. It’s one day, not forever.
Second, and more importantly, there is power in being able to keep going, which a day-long quit is wonderful for.
The industries I work with are really struggling with employee retention. Skilled people are hard to find, and new hires stick around for six months, possibly causing several messes, and then they leave.
It is comforting to know how to fix things, how to manage things, and how to help, and that somebody, somewhere, will want your help. There’s comfort in knowing that, after a few days’ protest, you will somehow manage to get your kid to extracurriculars.
The bills will be paid just fine if it’s done tomorrow. The dogs will live with the alternate dog food that took you half an hour to find or, even better, that was procured by someone you crankily delegated the task to.
We have no problem celebrating the fancy, the splashy and the smooth. These last few years have reminded many of us that there is power in keeping going, even if we quit for a day now and then.
We should spend a little more time celebrating those who get stuff done and keep on keeping on. Sure, success is the end goal, but it’s important to recognize the path often isn’t straight.
As we used to say in racing “dead last beats did not finish, which trumps did not start.”
Take care of yourselves.
Maria Gutzeit is a chemical engineer, business owner and mom living in Santa Clarita.