Quitting is the new gritting

March 1, 2019, 1:00 a.m.

“Quitters never win and winners never quit, right?” I thought to myself as the mouse hovered over the drop down menu for editing class status. If I dropped this class, that would be my first “Withdraw” grade, and if I start now, in only my second quarter, would that be a sign of an impending slew of abandoned classes? And what would that mean for my self-esteem? Was I not resilient enough to spend a few extra sleepless nights making PowerPoints and writing papers? With the prospect of having to “quit” the class looming in my mind, my thoughts drifted (once again) to training.

From a distance, the procession of boats being carried by trainees looked like a long black centipede, if each of the centipede’s legs had two legs of its own and was making grimaces like a teething baby. We were running on the beach leading back to Naval Base Coronado, our point of origin, with boats on our heads — a great team building exercise, since even one person slacking meant the whole crew would have to slow down or risk getting crushed. As I stumbled forward — every step feeling like it was barely catching me from falling face first into the sand — I comforted myself by keeping track of the landmarks we ran past.

Lifeguard tower, rock pile, hotel on the way out, hotel, tower, rocks on the way back — each one like a cheering fan telling me we were getting closer to where we’d started. Returning to our point of origin — the main gate — meant we’d be off the beach, the boats would be off our heads and we’d get to sit down for a few minutes for lunch. Meal breaks, besides providing nourishment through some assortment of stringy pork chops, powdery mashed potatoes and watery green beans, meant a safe haven of time away from the watchful eye of the cadre. It was the only time we were allowed to sit down and, if we were lucky, sneak a nap with our heads leaning against our helmets, as the most altruistic of us watched for an approaching Machiavellian instructor.

I think I cried a little bit that day when I heard the lead instructor himself, in shorts and a T-shirt and no boat on his head, yelling, “Follow me, follow me,” to the confused boat crew closest to reaching the gate. “Everybody follow me,” he kept saying as he blew past the gate, showing no signs of fatigue or slowing down. By then, my knees had started to buckle, my neck was cramping and the rubber boat bouncing on my head felt like my scalp was being pounded by a cheese grater. As we ran past the gate and I started losing sight of it, I began hoping I would trip on a piece of driftwood or fall in a hole or slip and have the boat crush me, anything to give me a good excuse to stop without actually having to ring the bell, the sign of quitting. But no matter how much I wished for it, the boat never slipped and neither did I — not badly enough, anyway — so I had no choice but to stay. Sure enough, as soon as the first person, a redheaded guy from South Carolina, quit, the instructors turned us around and pointed us off the beach. It was all a trick — we hadn’t even gone 100 yards past the gate.

Why, then, if I’d once been the kind of person who would rather get mangled by an inflatable watercraft than ring the bell, was I now willing to accept a fat “W” on my transcript just to avoid writing a few more papers? The answer came to me as I was writing this article, when I reflected on everything else I’ve given up on throughout my life. I quit working construction, stocking shelves at IKEA and cleaning toilets in office buildings in order to move to the United States after high school. I quit soccer, basketball and taekwondo when I started training to join the Navy. I’ve since quit running, swimming and Oly lifting to focus on jiu-jitsu. Even back in training, when I was supposedly at my grittiest, the only way I was able to make it was by essentially quitting every other thing I could have conceivably been doing — besides eating and sleeping, of course.

Before I could even apply to Stanford, I had to quit the Navy. Here at Stanford, I tried and quit archery, guitar and swing dancing before I started writing for The Daily. I quit these things not because they were too much or because I didn’t like them, but because there was something else I would rather focus my energy on. I’ve since realized something else too (though this may be a terribly morbid thought to be having while writing a Grind post): Pretty soon, I’ll be dead, and if that’s going to happen whether I do the things I love or the things I just like, then I think I know what I’d rather be doing.

Then I felt something I hadn’t expected. After swallowing the bitter medicine of clicking “continue” on the popup warning, there was — like the smoky finish of a good scotch — a subtle aftertaste of relief. I inhaled deeply and exhaled slowly and found that I was ever so slightly happier with one less class in my schedule and more time to spend on math, writing and jiu-jitsu — along with eating and sleeping, of course.

Now, what I choose to spend my time doing is not so much a question of what keeps me up at night, but a question of what I wake up from dreaming about. For everything else, I’m willing to ring the bell.


Contact Nestor Walters at waltersx ‘at’ stanford.edu.

Nestor was born in Bangladesh, raised in Greece, and served 10 years in the U.S. Navy. He studied math as an undergraduate, and now studies applied mathematics and oceans as a master's student at Stanford.

Login or create an account

Apply to The Daily’s High School Winter Program

Deadline Extended!