Good Girl, You Finished This!

Not quitting has taught me that persistence doesn't have to look like perfection and that small changes over time can add up to a life

When I was in elementary school, as soon as something was boring, I'd stop. Just like that. Despite my teachers and my parents insisting that I was bright, I didn't believe them, because I always grew bored. I thought being bored meant being stupid, and because of that belief, I just stopped trying. I became a quitter.

Nothing was too mundane or too important for me to quit. I quit books in mid-page. I quit races a heartbeat before the finish line. I quit relationships—I once broke up with a boyfriend on Valentine's Day. I quit turning in my homework. I finally quit school at 15 and ran away.

And then I found myself knocked up at age 18, with no high school diploma, no job, not even a boyfriend—I had broken up with him just weeks before my mom eyeballed me naked one morning and asked if I might be pregnant.

At first I was terrified, but then an interesting thing happened. I became emboldened with a sense of fierce, primal protectiveness over this baby. I realized I was going to have to figure out how the rest of the world made it through each day. I began to recognize that all my inclinations were toward self-sabotage, and I was determined not to let that be the life I'd pass on to my child. I wasn't exactly sure how to go about it, but I was sure something had to change: I had to stop being such a quitter.

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I started with one thing—I decided to go back to school and get my diploma. I remember waddling around with my enormous belly over the steps of the "special school" for fuckups like myself, and taking history, math and science classes. The other kids gave me the stink-eye, but I tried to ignore them and just power through it. With every paper I completed, no matter how badly I thought I did, I gave myself props. Good girl, I said to myself, you finished this! And eventually, I did—I finished high school. One down and plenty more to go.

After I had my baby boy, I decided on my next goal. No matter how overwhelmed or tired or miserable I felt, I would work out four times a week. This was reasonable, I thought, because I'm vain, and because it was something I could do from home. I bought my Kathy Ireland DVDs and butt-lifting workouts and went about huffing and puffing in my mom's living room—four times a week. Every time I finished a workout, I'd say to myself, Good girl, you finished this!

I began to see myself differently—as a person who sets goals and completes them. The workouts were harder than school, but little by little, squat by squat, I was able to reprogram my thinking, focus and power through uncomfortable feelings toward an ultimate reward—newfound pride, better moods and clearer thinking, to say nothing of a new rocking body.

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I am now a mother of four, working part-time for a corporation and writing as a freelancer. I'd never be able to juggle these wonderful elements of my life if I hadn't figured out the quitting thing. Adult life, a family and following my dreams all require a persistence that I built like a muscle.

When I started writing my novel, I felt overwhelmed. I was tempted to give up, because who in their right mind thinks they can raise toddlers, work, maintain a home and complete a novel? I simply dug back to the lessons of my twenties and remembered to take it a step at a time. A novel finished in 15 years is better than no novel at all, right? So what if I wrote a paragraph a week? It was still chipping away at my goal.

And this is what not quitting has taught me: that small changes over time can add up to a life. That persistence doesn't have to look like perfection.

Tags: memoirs

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