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The Wisdom of Being a Quitter

Never give up. If, at first, you don’t succeed, try, try again. There is no failure except in no longer trying. We live in a culture that celebrates grit through the toughest of circumstances. Well, 2023 has me embracing a different motto: Know when to quit. 

This month, after 27 years of business, my family’s restaurant and bakery will be closing its doors for the last time. For many in our community, our restaurant was more than a place to grab a meal: it was a weird and wonderful gathering space to enjoy live music, great food, and deep conversation. To us, our restaurant was like another member of the family. We watched our kids grow up there, and we made friendships with staff and regulars that will last a lifetime.

We worked tirelessly through the pandemic and its aftermath to keep our doors open. We worked and worked and worked. For much of the last year, my husband wouldn’t get home until after the kids were in bed, and he worked through the weekends. I tried to balance my work as an ADHD coach with taking on more childcare and household responsibilities. When our schedules overlapped, my husband and I often only had the energy to watch some TV or sprawl on the couch together, scrolling through our phones. Looking back now, it seems pretty bleak. In the midst of it, we were simply doing what we thought we had to do.

When you’re swept up in exhausting work, it can be easier to just keep going than to stop, reflect, and decide to make a change. If the financial circumstances of the restaurant hadn’t essentially forced this decision on us, who knows how long we would have kept up the grind? Through the tears and heartbreak of this difficult time, there are also feelings I didn’t expect or didn’t realize I was missing: Relief. Reconnection with my spouse. A sense of new possibilities. A chance to re-evaluate our priorities.

I believe that escaping grind culture is difficult for everyone, but I hope my ADHD friends especially take this message to heart. Our executive functioning challenges make it much easier for us to avoid problem-solving and decision-making. It’s not a character judgment; it’s simply how our brains are wired. For this reason, I suspect we’re more susceptible to continuing unhealthy work habits that no longer serve us because it is automatic and doesn’t involve the effortful act of problem-solving.

If you find yourself feeling depleted and drained, I hope you do what my husband and I should have done months ago: choose to listen to your body. Pause to reflect. Talk to someone about your challenges and options, or write about them in a notebook or on a whiteboard (“externalize your thinking,” as Russel Barkley says). Is your body getting what it physically needs (sleep, some physical activity, even [gasp] fun)? Are you being kind to yourself, or is negative self-talk getting in the way of your ability to explore different options and possibilities?

If you’re brave enough to try out some approaches that are different from your neurotypical peers, you’ll probably find that work can be a whole lot easier (we do this in coaching all the time). Or you may even find that, like me, what made sense to you before no longer makes sense now, and quitting is the wisest option. If any of this resonates with you, it may be time to meet up with a good friend at your favorite local coffee shop, bakery, or restaurant, where some of the best conversations and new ideas are born.

Abby Riley

Abby Riley

ADHD Coach and Life Coach, Executive Skills Coach