Quitting the Label “Quitter”

I try to take great care in using labels to describe people, even in my own mind. Whether positive or negative, self or externally imposed, they constrain, bind and inhibit human behavior. If you doubt that statement, watch the Youtube video embedded below for a heartfelt indictment of “pretty.” 

Yet somehow, despite intellectual knowledge and a defiant post I wrote some time ago, the Imposter Syndrome has continued to whisper the word “quitter” in my ear.

It’s a toxic message when the words aren’t flowing, and it poisons what might otherwise be refreshing, necessary breaks from writing with self-doubt.  As you can imagine, in this context, “quitter” could easily become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

But this last week, in the spirit of sitting down with my beasticle, I took a real look at that label. Where did it come from? Did it even apply?

This is what I discovered:

Despite a body of evidence to the contrary, there’s one central image at the heart of this voice: me, broken down and exhausted from medical practice.

In the tape I play in my head, it doesn’t matter that I recovered, went on to do valuable hope work as a physician, then left as an act of self-care. It doesn’t matter that I needed to go to that place before I could find courage and integrity; or that I’ve come to think of that time as a crucible. Like a horror writer’s photo album, my mind has chosen to enshrine only the Before I Got Hope image and my decision to leave medicine over a year later. 

And yet, did I really leave?

That question arose out of the blue yesterday and its answers caused me to laugh and laugh. Unfortunately, I was in the public library at the time. Heads popped out of the carrels and might have made for a fun game of Literary Whack-a-Mole. 🙂

See, despite my inner dialogue, I haven’t quit medicine. Not even close. I may not longer hold an official position in my province’s roster, or receive financial compensation, but I:

  • Continue to receive and read journals, glorying when I can skip the boring bits.
  • Serve as an informal consultant to family members and friends about their own medical dilemmas.
  • Brainstorm with other writers to create the perfect health problem in their characters to facilitate their plots.
  • Write posts like this one, with an orientation towards health and hope. 
  • Run into former patients. Only last month I got to introduce Frank to a former patient and her daughters, both of whom I delivered. 

Heck, even yesterday, when Molly had an anatomy test and was anxious about her performance, I could seize her by the shoulders, look her in the eye, and with a certainty born of actual knowledge, say, “If there’s anyone on this planet who can do this, it’s you, if you want it.”

So, if you have a label that’s spinning around in your cranium and giving you grief, sit down with it. Is what you’re believing true? Or have you bought the indictment without weighing all the evidence? And if you found this post helpful and want tutoring on how to question your thoughts, please check out the best resource I know: Byron Katie’s The Work.

Now how about you? If you’ve wrestled with a label, what skills/tools/mindset have you employed to overcome it? And will you forgive me these recently-earnest posts, and trust that Goofy Jan is quiescent, not vanquished?

12 thoughts on “Quitting the Label “Quitter”

  1. What a wonderful post. I like the notion of not labeling ourselves. I am so concious of how I think of others (or DON’T think of others), but rarely do I take the same gentle approach with myself. Good post. Also, I think I might love literary whack a mole. I think you need to call Milton Bradley and market that as a real game.:)

  2. Great, thought-provoking post. Labels can both hinder and help. Sitting down and thinking about them is a wonderful thing to do. In fact, I wrote a blog post a while ago defending “quitters” because sometimes quitting is the smart thing to do (need I mention certain foreign “conflicts”?). It’s all in the way we think about ourselves and others.

  3. Jenn, I say things internally that I’d never voice to another. And sheesh, what a fun idea! I was jesting about the game, but maybe there’s another blog post in there… 🙂

    Tracey, so true! There should be another word with equal resonance for “quitter” that means choosing a better or alternate way. I’ll have to think on that.

  4. Yup, the past is so hard to let go of. It haunts us like some ghoul leftover from last Halloween. And like the season itself, here it comes again. We trick ourselves into saying it’s gone, it’s irrelevant, etc, but then we’re ‘treated’ to another version of it. Here’s the thing: it’s a grieving process when bad things have to be put behind us. Often we tend to cling to the old recording because it’s familiar instead of the scarier process of creating a new one.

    BTW, thanks for the compliment on the new profile pic. I’m in the process of trying to track down all the ‘old’ profiles and updating them with the new look. It’s time consuming and a bit scary when you find the image is too large for the site. It’s a bit shocking as well because I’m certain I don’t look that good in real life. Those photographers work the magic and presto–a person suddenly looks like a celebrity. Scary. 😉

  5. Once again, you post exactly what I need to read. Thank you! I need to have a chat with my subconscious. Actually, I decided today I should learn to meditate.

    As for Whack-a-Mole – a few years back, I ran the eighth-grade Halloween carnival and the kids created a human version of the game. Giant board filled with holes, kids in hard hats popping up and down, contestants whacking with foam noodles. It was a huge hit, though I was a little concerned at the enthusiastic pounding delivered by the school guidance counselor.

  6. This is brilliant – but then, you are, aren’t you? *smiling*

    Hmmm, and to think I could have consulted you when I wrote the scene about Vk’s miscarriage – I wanted to get it right and had no idea -and doing google searches broke my heart…. and I could have asked some things about Sweetie’s “thing” even if I don’t really say that is what it is, it’s what started the whole thought of what she is … well dang! *laughing* 😀

  7. Kat, thank you! As for consulting, I left medicine almost eight years ago, so I’m not up to date on the newest developments, but if you want to run common things past me for an opinion, I’d be pleased to do that for you. I thought you handled VK’s miscarriage well. I know you’ve nailed the intergenerational and substance abuse issues.

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