Brandy Jensen, The Outline’s Power editor, has made a lot of mistakes in her life. Has she learned from them and become a wiser person as a result? Hahaha oh gosh no. But it does leave her uniquely qualified to tell you what not to do — because she’s probably done it.
About two years ago, an executive with my work offered me the opportunity to relocate from the large city that I lived into to a midsize city with better weather. I was going to help a team in the new city get on track while taking on greater responsibility and visibility within the company. While I didn’t hate the big city where I lived, I was exiting a very nasty relationship and felt the change in scenery would be helpful, along with the boost to my career. So I moved, leaving behind my family and friends and an area where I had lived in my entire life.
Fast forward almost two years and almost everything about this move has been a bust. I wasn't able to take on any greater responsibility, despite asking many times for extra work just to gain experience. I applied for several promotions over the last year and was rejected on the premise that I didn't have the experience needed. So I am essentially right where I was before I had moved except now I am in a job market that is significantly more limited.
In addition to the career issues, the move has been a disaster socially. The community in the new city is small and insular, and at 33 I'm sort of stuck with either the young-parent crowd or people that are just set in with their college/high school group. I’ve gone to meetups, political events, classes, and even tried Bumble BFF with little luck.
It hasn’t been all disappointments. I reconnected with an old friend and we started dating — it’s been wonderful, but he lives elsewhere. The move also helped me get closer with my family; it’s the first time in a long time I feel actually supported by them. To make a long story short, I decided to move back home. My boss (not the executive) was very supportive and said I could go back with no impact to my job or salary, so that's a huge weight off my shoulders (although I have to cover the cost of a move). But when I told my friends I started getting questions: “Are you really giving this a fair shot? Do you think you actually put your best foot forward in making friends? It is more expensive here still and the weather is better there.”
I feel like I should stay just to prove I’m not a failure — a failure at making friends at 33, in not being able to see the bullshit I was being sold by that executive about moving in the first place. I feel like I’m running home like a child instead of challenging myself to stick it out. So I'm sort of stuck in this internal tug-o-war to stay or go.
A few years ago there was a very popular book, based, of course, on an enormously viral TED Talk, called Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. The thesis, in broad strokes, is that what separates successful people from their mere middling or washed up counterparts was the willingness to stick to things in the face of setbacks. It was precisely the sort of flattering story those born with every possible advantage love to tell about how they came to occupy positions of leadership and power, and it is about as perfect a distillation of the diseased American mind as one can hope to find.
Based on an obvious tautology — people stick to things because they have the quality of “grittiness,” which is defined as a likelihood to stick to things — this idea serves largely to obscure the role that things like “being born into money” play in the question of “how people become wealthy.” But the more nefarious trick the elevation of a quality like “grit” plays culturally is in linking quitting with failure.
Quitting does not deserve its current reputation, and I would urge everyone to join me in a project of rehabilitating giving up on shit that sucks. One of the reasons I spent so long in the restaurant industry, besides the easy money and access to free drinks, was the wonderfully liberating knowledge that it was always pretty easy to say “fuck this job, I quit.” When I finally stopped bartending it was to go to grad school, and when I realized that being in grad school made me suicidal, I quit that too. It was the correct decision, and one I feel great about. I’ve quit bad relationships and broken leases on apartments I hated and moved out of cities I didn’t like and every single time I walked away knowing that staying would be the real way to fail myself.
Perseverance in the face of a certain bad outcome is not heroic; needless suffering does not build character. It is simply very useful for those who have made the world good for themselves to inculcate this false virtue in the rest of us.
The real version of something you might call grit — fierce devotion or commitment — is only virtuous insofar as it is oriented toward each other, but it is not good in itself or something you owe to anyone who signs your checks. You gave this new job in a new place two years of your life. Two years! The truly childish thing would be believing you have any responsibility to give it another day.
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