Baltimore Be Bullish

The Best of Baltimore from the people who live here.

Bullish: "Being confident or optimistic about something." We're Bullish on Baltimore. 

Guest Author! Joan Kanner of Karmic Messenger on the Bullishness of Saying "No"

A few weeks ago, our friends Joan and Michelle, of Bottoms Up Bagels, let us spend a morning with them in their new kitchen space. We're big fans of the couple thanks to the passion, enthusiasm and authenticity they bring to Bottoms Up - and everything they do. We asked (pressured) Joan, into writing something for Be Bullish to offer more insight into this journey. Here, Joan, who is also the President and Messenger in Chief of Karmic Messenger, explains the benefit of learning to say 'no' and betting on herself...

Fail Fast! Learning the Art of Quitting

A tutorial for the stuck, by Joan Kanner

“A quitter never wins and a winner never quits.” Are you sure about that?

Picture it. Irvington, NJ. It’s 1988. In a basement lunchroom of a Catholic elementary school, a couple dozen 10-year-olds restlessly await the start of a D.A.R.Eclass; each distracted by the thunder snow outside. (Could you blame us? That shit’s rare.)

The teachers settle the kids down and the D.A.R.E. instructor begins.

"There’s some people out there. They have a problem with their…" [points to his nose]

Ten-year-old me had the age-appropriate version of a what-the-fuck moment.

Problem with their nose? Wasn’t this supposed to be a class about DRUGS? My mind quickly switched to word association mode to make sense of it all. “Nose. Noses get hurt through sports. Wait, our school teams suck. What else happens to noses? They run. But that’s usually a drip, not an actual run like on two legs run. And a runny nose isn’t really a “problem,” unless it gets chapped. Wait, could he mean ugly noses? [gasp] Like go get a nose job?!”

Then there it was.

NO, I can’t stay and do drugs. I have homework to do. NO, I can’t meet you behind the gym to get high. My mom will ground me if I come home late.”

What?! This guy was willing to lose my attention because he wanted to have fun with homonyms?! Pfft…

But he did have a point. People do have a problem with their “noes.” This isn’t surprising. After all, persistence is seen as a virtue in our culture. How often does our advice giving include one of the following gems? “You don’t fail until you stop trying.” “Keep on truckin’!” “You can do iiiit!” I challenge you to ask – is this always the best advice?

And, we’re also told that you shouldn’t be wasteful, and isn’t that what quitting is? You already put so many resources into this one thing! on’t waste what you’ve already said/done/ begun to ingest (or imbibe)/ spent/thought.

There are A LOT of reasons why people don’t give up sooner than they should. We’ll focus on two – cognitive dissonance and the sunk-cost fallacy.

Cognitive dissonance. Cognition = thought. Dissonance = conflict. Thoughts that don’t follow one another: I enjoy eating ballpark food. I am trying to lose weight. What’s the problem with these two thoughts? Well, if I’m trying to lose weight, eating ballpark food isn’t the best idea. If I eat ballpark food, I may, in fact, gain weight. So if I really want to lose weight, I shouldn’t eat ballpark food. Now we’re got ourselves a conflict, or dissonance.

You’re presented with conflicting thoughts, and want to make that conflict go bye-bye. This means you’ll keep at something even when it doesn’t make sense to keep at it anymore. Ballpark food isn’t as bad as it once was + losing weight isn’t that important + I work out four times a week. Ta-dah! You can – no, should – have that Triple Crown Sandwich.

Now what about sunk costs? Per Stephen Dubner (Freakonomics):

'Sunk cost’ is about the past — it’s the time, or money, or sweat equity that you’ve put into something, which makes it hard to abandon.

So it’s what you already put into something, whether it’s time, muscle, treasure, social capital or a combo of those things.

In case you were wondering, quitting wasn’t always my thing. I kept showing up for meetings and committees that clearly were going nowhere. Sunk costs.

I worked in a field where day after day my talents and drive were wasted; even mistaken for treason. Raises and promotions gave the illusion of forward progress and safety. Cognitive dissonance.

A fatter paycheck didn’t equate with greater freedom. Instead it was more like hush money. Reality.

But after 15 years in grants and contracts administration, after pouring countless resources into the climb to an Assistant Director position (in title, mind you; not role), I decided to leave it all.

Let’s add that quitting will give you more time, space, energy and OPPORTUNITY. Yes, opportunity. For every hour or dollar you spend on one thing, you’re giving up the opportunity to spend that hour or dollar on something else — something that might make your life better.

For me, the opportunities kept calling. And I knew that they were calling me away from – not toward – the rocks. I needed to answer them before they were gone: a mobile app set to FINALLY hit the App Store, a business changing the bagel game in Baltimore, other projects carefully sketched out waiting for their moment. A tank full of propane. Eggs. Bacon. Can’t start a fire… I was the spark.

And you? Ever daydream during a meeting or while waiting in line, thinking about what you COULD be doing? What opportunities you were missing out on?

Plus, while it may cause anxiety now, quitting has A TON of health benefits!

People who are better able to let go when they experience unattainable goals, they… experience, for example, less depressive symptoms, less negative affect over time. They also have lower Cortisol levels, and they have lower levels of systemic inflammation which is a marker of immune functioning. And they develop fewer physical health problems over time. - Dr. Carsten Wrosch, Psychology professor, Concordia University in Montreal

Simply put, a few years ago I finally understood that I was asking myself the wrong question:

“Why am I doing this?” Better: “Why am I still doing this?”

My answer? I chose to leave a career during my “prime earning years.” I chose to turn my attention and energy to growing Karmic Messenger and its products, especially Fugue. In sum, I chose to bet on myself.

If I should stay
I would only be in your way
So I’ll go but I know
I’ll think of you every step of the way…

As inspiration – and for your amusement – check out my “Conscious Uncoupling” speech that I read at my JHU going away gathering. (Then the lyrics below will make so much more sense...)

Your pal,


P.S. Challah at ya’ girl. E-mail me at