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Discipline Is Overrated

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Are you sure you want more discipline? Because maybe instead, you should quit.

By Karen X. Cheng (Designer, Exec)

Wait — I’m telling you to give up?

Yeah. It’s okay to quit.

Yo-Yo Ma’s first instrument wasn’t cello. He actually started with violin — and he wasn’t good at it. So he quit violin and picked up cello instead.

Maybe you’re like Yo-Yo Ma, and you just haven’t found your cello yet.

People think I have a lot of discipline because I danced every day for 365 days in a row. But the truth is, I have no discipline. I never did anything else for 365 days before. Dance was different because I loved it the most.

When you find something you’re truly passionate about, it will prioritize itself. You’ve heard the advice before: do what you love.

But what if you don’t know what you love? What if you’re not one of those people who has always known what they’re meant to do? How can you find your cello?

The good news is it’s not magic, and it’s not luck either. And just because you’re an adult, it’s not too late to start.

How to Find Your Cello

Try everything. Be curious, ask questions. Let yourself be pulled in weird and interesting directions. Let your friends drag you to that thing you’re not so sure about. Go to a real bookstore. Sign up for an art class, a cycling class, an improv class. Bring a friend. When your friend bails, show up to class anyway.

I’ve tried a lot of things — and quit just about as many. Piano. GuitarSinging. Cello. My band. My job at Microsoft. Juggling. Card tricks. Unicycling. Programming. Tae Kwon Do. Judo. Swimming. Origami.

Dancing was just another thing I tried. It stuck because I loved it the most.

Think about your job or hobby. Are you doing it because you really, truly love it? Or because it’s what you’ve always known?

I can’t afford to quit

Okay, so you can quit your hobby. But what if you can’t afford to quit your job?

I felt that way at my old job. Two years into working at Microsoft Excel, I realized I was in the wrong career. I didn’t want to project manage anymore  —  I wanted to be a designer. But I had no design skills, and I didn’t want to go back to school. Going $100k in debt was not feasible, and three years is too long to wait for your dream.

So I taught myself — everyday I would do my day job in record time and rush home to learn design. I hacked together my piecemeal design education in 6 months. I did not feel ready but I started the job search anyway. I was a lot less experienced than others, so I had to get creative to set myself apart. After getting rejected a few times, I got the job as Exec’s designer.

It’s scary to quit. You can’t always do it immediately. If you can’t quit yet, start investing in yourself right now. Don’t wait to go find your cello. Start playing. Keep going until you can afford to quit.

It’s okay to quit.

This article was originally published in Fast Company. Image credit: Christopher Cotrell via Flick.  

Do you agree that we’re often too afraid of quitting?

0ebe000About the blogger: Karen X. Cheng is a self-taught designer at Exec in San Francisco. She learned to dance in a year. If you have a dream and don’t know how to start — start anyway. Learn more about Karen by visiting her website, or follow her on Twitter at @karenxcheng.