Why It's Okay To Quit

Quitters can win. Here's how to know when to call it a day.

In the middle of a tough, endless job, a little thought bubble might pop up over your head.

Maybe I could just quit.

In a flash that relief is quashed by guilt or fear and papered over with a determined vow: I will work harder!

Perseverance is part of our national DNA: “Winners never quit and quitters never win” could be a national motto, and we’re taught to strive, push, and achieve from day one. In our hyper-competitive marketplace, the thought of letting go, of resting, of giving something up often seems foreign.

I believe in tenacity. I believe in hard work. Without it, a leader or entrepreneur isn’t going to weather the inevitable failures and rejections that accompany risks. When you quit, you do forsake your chance to win the race you were in.

So, when that thought bubble appears, give it some serious consideration before you forge ahead. Quitting is an option. Think Magellan, not Sisyphus. What you aren’t willing to keep doing is as much a sign of your strength as what you’re willing to commit to.

Learn to Quit to Stay Ahead

Facebook product manager Bo Ren wrote recently about the powerful nature of quitting. “Persisting is useless if you’re on the wrong path,” she pointed out. Actor W.C. Fields had a pithier turn of phrase: “If at first you don’t succeed, try again. Then quit. No use being a damn fool about it.”

Your business will suffer if you continue to push hard on a marketing campaign, product line, or hiring strategy when it’s proven to be futile. Plus, if you wear down your gears on things that don’t work, you lose your ability to stay respond nimbly to the challenges and ideas that do work. Your negative stress will likely push you into an unproductive state as you remain stuck on a futile path.

Quitting mindfully is a powerful act. It’s you choosing, of your own volition, to grow professionally and personally. A conscientious quit gets you closer to the “win” that matters, the one that’s worth the rough patches.

To become an effective quitter, you need to reframe quitting.

Face your fear of what quitting says about you.

I believe that scarcity-based fear partially motivates our go-go-go mentality. Fear of missing out on opportunities. Fear of failure. Fear of fighting inertia. Fear of disappointing the authority figures in our lives. Fear that there isn’t enough—of anything—to go around, and that to quit is to give up something and live to regret it.

It means admitting you were wrong, or that something you tried isn’t panning out the way you planned. That can be the most difficult thing of all. It takes courage to make this decision. I’d rather quit for the right reasons than keep going for the wrong ones.

See quitting as a beginning, not an end.

As Bo Ren writes, “All new beginnings come from quitting something.” Quitting is a forward-looking action. You are making space for bigger and better possibilities and connections. A quit opens up energy and resources for whatever new endeavor you have your eye on. Rather than worry about you’re losing by quitting, think about what you’re losing by keeping your hands full of something that’s doing nothing for you or anyone else.

Use the discomfort and stress of quitting to motivate you. Veering off the known path is scary. Your adrenaline is going to kick in. You might get a little or a lot tense. Maybe a little defensive. It’s normal. That doesn’t mean quitting is the wrong idea; in fact, that feeling can kick other things into gear. When you’re beginning an adventure, these symptoms of stress are, in fact, a good thing—excitement, motivation, energy, pressure.

Steve Jobs talked a lot about perseverence, yes. But he also said he was as proud of the things he hadn’t done: “Innovation is saying no to a thousand things.”

Jan Bruce is CEO and co-founder of meQuilibrium, the new digital coaching system for stress, which helps both individuals and corporations achieve measurable results in stress management and resilience.

[Image: Flickr user Jeff Kubina]

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4 Comments

  • As Yoda said, "If no mistake have you made, yet losing you are... a different game you should play." Sometimes you have to change your game plan and the same goes for relationships and friendships, know when to quit and have the courage to do so.

  • Cliff Notes version: it's okay / advisable to quit a tactic that's not working; try to persist with the larger intent, or strategy, for the long run.