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When quitting isn’t giving up

There was a time – believe it or not – when I actually thought I might go into construction. For a living. Like building actual homes for people. That they would live in.

When quitting isn’t giving up

Sometimes you need to stop one thing to start another.

There was a time – believe it or not – when I actually thought I might go into construction. For a living. Like building actual homes for people. That they would live in.

It seems preposterous now. Some people make nice, flat finishes in drywall. Not me. I make topographical maps of the moon. But 30 years ago, I seriously thought about construction as a career.

That’s probably because in my first summer job I worked for one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met. His name was Bill. He was an old-school Dutch tradesman who specialized in sheet-metal horse barns and small residential additions.

Bill showed me how to measure twice and cut once. He showed me how to frame a wall. He showed me how to mix cement and put up shingles. And he showed me new cuss words in Dutch, too.

But mostly, he showed me patience.

Because there were a lot of crooked cuts, and screws that missed the stud, and days when I was way over my head, when I was only fit to clean up the job site or nail bridging in the basement. But he put up with me.

And eventually, I got halfway competent. So by the time I went away to university, I could look a tradesman in the eye and tell him I had done foundations and roofs, and everything in between. As long as he didn’t ask about the quality of my work, I was in the clear.

Renaissance man
When I was in university, I worked for another Dutch guy named Adrian. He was like no Dutch guy I had ever met. He had lived in every place on earth. He had motorcycled around the world with his wife for a few years. He built custom-made log homes for upscale clients. On weekends, he flew his ultralight aircraft over the scrub brush north of Kingston. He wintered in Mexico. He was a Buddhist, and drove a Volkswagen Westphalia, and designed homes based on Thai temples he’d worshipped in.

When I worked with Adrian, I felt like I knew what I was doing. I could calculate pitch in my head. Estimate area. Cut a 10-inch log perfectly square every time.

We also had great conversations. From him I learned all about eastern philosophy. Religious history. Music. Culture. We’d knock off at three o’clock on Fridays, roll out to the nearest small town with a Beer Store trailer, and come back to the job site and talk. Adrian was a renaissance man, and a sweet guy.

When I left grad school, I wanted to work with him.

He said “no.”

He said: “Lloyd, you’ve taught yourself to work with your hands, but you don’t love it. You love to write. So go do that.”

I didn’t want to. I liked the idea of working on remote sites, milling logs and putting houses together. Sure, I’d almost taken my finger off with a saw we called “The Mangler,” but that was the price I was willing to pay. Then, one winter, I worked with Adrian over Christmas holidays. After hitting my frozen fingers a few times with a 20 ounce Estwing framing hammer, I knew construction wasn’t for me.

The hope factor
It’s hard to give up. Our culture tells us that “winners never quit and quitters never win.” But if I think back to moments in my life when I’ve quit things, or have seen other people quit things, I’m not so sure that’s true.

After working for Adrian, I didn’t do what he told me to do right away. I didn’t write. I taught for a few years. It was only after I took a prayerful leap and quit teaching – with no job prospects in sight – that I found a job writing. I’ve seen other people quit and find happiness, too. 

I’m reminded of my first-year college roommate. He was a mature student from up north who rolled onto campus in the biggest 1970s muscle car I’d ever seen. I’ve never seen anyone work so hard at school. I remember waking up at 4 a.m. to see him drilling himself on his notes from class, bug-eyed and fully caffeinated. Eventually, he quit school. He later became a successful businessman.

Another friend of mine did the reverse. He was a successful foreman at a lumber yard and was making a good living. One day, he visited me at university and decided to quit his job and start a new life. He got bored quickly with school, and after a few stops and starts, he eventually got a computer-engineering degree and works in the health care system now.

That’s why I believe there’s a difference between “quitting” and “giving up.” Quitting something – because it’s not working out the way you had hoped, or because you weren’t as skilled or smart as you’d hoped you’d be – isn’t always a bad thing. Sometimes, you need to stop doing one thing to start doing another thing.

“Giving up,” on the other hand – that’s something else. That means you’ve stopped doing something because you’ve lost hope. Maybe you gave up on a job. Maybe on school. Maybe on relationships. Maybe you think there’s nothing good waiting for you.

We all feel that way from time to time. That’s when I like to think of Lord’s Day One out of the good old Heidelberg Catechism. This idea that “indeed, all things must work together for my salvation” is really a comforting thought in times when I’ve been tempted to give up.

When I think about that line – that all things work together to bring us to salvation – it inspires me not to give up.

Instead, I just quit.

And – you know what? – that’s okay.

About the Author
When quitting isn’t giving up

Lloyd Rang, Columnist

Lloyd Rang works in communications and is a member of Rehoboth CRC in Bowmanville.