Quitting could be the worst thing you ever did. It may also be the best.
Whether it’s a job, a marriage, or a career, deciding whether or not to quit something you once loved (maybe still do) or was important to you is one of the toughest decisions you have to make - especially if you feel it is a part of your personal identity.
As a parent I had to choose when to tell a child she needs to stick with something she hates or that it’s okay to quit. It can be a tricky line to draw and those are some of the most challenging decisions of parenting.
Quitting seems to be in vogue right now, with more than 24 million people in the U.S. leaving their jobs from April to Dec. 2021. The Great Resignation. But quitting still carries a stigma. We often hear the Vince Lombardi quote, “Winners never quit and quitters never win!” That is categorically false. Successful people quit all the time. How about “Never give up!” Giving up can be the best option.
I have often heard it said that most people give up just before they would have achieved success. That’s ludicrous. No one can know what would have happened. It is just as likely they gave up just before they were about to spend 10 more years continuing to fail.
To help make the best decision when the notion to quit strikes you, let’s look at some useful strategies.
When to quit
Optimal quitting involves identifying the tipping point where costs outweigh (potential) benefits. Over time, both the costs and benefits of any endeavor or relationship change. When the negatives grow to where you want to get out, it’s time to re-evaluate the costs and benefits.
Ask yourself these questions about both options - quitting and not quitting:
- How would this decision affect me immediately? What about next week? In 5 or 10 years? Envision as many potential short-term and long-term consequences as you can.
- Do you have the skills, talent, desire, and gumption to make it happen? If you are working toward a goal, honestly assess yourself along the way.
For example, you may need to quit your dream of becoming a pro baseball player when it becomes obvious you don’t have elite skills. Enlist the opinions of experienced people in the field on what your chances of success are. If the odds are slim and the opportunity cost is high, it is probably time to let it go.
- Am I sticking with something because of how much time and energy I have already put into it? This is the sunk cost fallacy and keeps many people and businesses spending resources on projects that will clearly not pay off. “But we’ve already spent so much!”
This approach may sound overly analytic for what are often very emotional decisions, but remember - the more thought you put into the decision, the more confidence you will have in it.
When not to quit
Actually, “Don’t give up!” is great advice in some circumstances. We may need to find the will and resilience to power through in these situations:
- when the potential reward is worth the effort to keep plugging. When the going gets tough keep the end goal in your sights to motivate you to keep at it.
- when you are quitting to upgrade. Beware the “grass is always greener” syndrome and get as much information about what you will be jumping into before you jump out of your current situation.
- when the situation can be made better without quitting. Can you fix some of the problems that have made you want to quit without taking the nuclear option of just up and leaving? It may not have to be a binary choice.
- if you made a commitment and breaking it would have a huge negative impact on your trust and credibility. Sometimes we do have to break commitments, but take extra care to ensure the hit to your reputation is worth it.
I have done a lot of quitting in my life. I quit six corporate jobs. I quit a career as a magician. I have quit romantic relationships and friendships. I have even quit my fandom of sports teams I have followed since I was 10 years old.
But I am not a quitter and you probably aren’t a quitter either, even though at times you may feel like you are.
Labeling yourself as a quitter can bring self-doubt and low self-esteem, but that’s not a useful take. The Oxford Dictionary defines a quitter as “a person who gives up easily or does not have the courage or determination to finish a task.” Does that sound like you? I doubt it.
Whether quitting or not quitting is the best choice for you and your situation, be sure to ask the right questions now so you won’t make a decision you’ll regret later.
Lastly - love yourself. Do what is best for you in the long-term but don’t make life miserable in the short-term. Embrace challenge and hard work but don’t be afraid to make a change when the time is right.
Think well and be well.
- Steve Haffner
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