Ask Yourself These 4 Questions Before You Quit Something

When you’re ready to give up on a job or a big project, it can be hard to know if you’re making the right choice. Asking yourself these questions can help.

Ask Yourself These 4 Questions Before You Quit Something
[Photo: Chinmay Singh/Pexels]

We’re led to believe that the best approach to life is to “never give up.” And while perseverance and  “grit” are essential success, so is knowing when to walk away.


But how can you tell when quitting is the right thing to do? After all, if you give in every time you feel like throwing in the towel, you’ll never get anything done. These four questions can help give you an idea of whether it’s time to say goodbye, or keep at it just a little longer.

1. Why Did I Pursue This In The First Place?

Every worthwhile endeavor will have its challenges and setbacks. In testing times, it can be easy to get fixated on how dire things are, and ignore why we pursued the project or said yes to the job offer in the first place.

Allison Gabriel Rossetti, a professor of management/psychology at the University of Arizona, previously told  Fast Company that when an employee is going through tough times at work, they should remind themselves of why they accepted the job when they started. Understanding their “why” and examining whether or not that aligns with their role allows the employee to make a more rational decision on whether they should stay or go. If they find that what they are doing still very much aligns with their why, it may be a sign that the challenge is just something they need to weather.

On the other hand, if they are dissatisfied because their job is not aligned with their why (and is unlikely to ever be), then quitting may be a smarter decision.

Related: How To Prepare For The Worst Without Being A Pessimist


2. Why Do I Feel The Need To Quit?

We want to quit something when it makes us unhappy or uncomfortable. In addition to understanding why we took it on in the first place, figuring out why we are thinking of giving up makes it easier to decide what’s best.

Say you’re a new business owner and you’re facing financial uncertainty–and you feel like people don’t take you seriously as much as they did when you were a high-flying executive at a global corporation. When you see your former colleagues living this lifestyle and getting the star treatment, your pride might drive you to quit and go back to your former life. But as recruiting specialist Skip Hall previously wrote for Fast Company, pride or prestige should never be the only reason for making a move. “There are so many other factors to weigh in, even if they’re harder to see.” If you left your corporate executive role because you were frustrated with the lack of autonomy, and quitting your business venture meant going back to that, you’ll probably find yourself unhappier if you quit being an entrepreneur.

On the other hand, Hall wrote that when your values don’t align with what you’re doing, you probably won’t be able to make yourself happier in the long term.”If you can’t go home at the end of the day feeling proud of the decisions you’ve made at work, it’s time to consider a move.” So if in the course of your entrepreneurial journey, you realize that you do thrive better as an employee, then quitting your business venture might be the right thing to do.

3. Have I Done Everything I Can To Make This Work For Me?

Sometimes your frustrations might come from change, and the best thing to do in this instance is to embrace it, as Stephanie Vozza previously wrote for Fast Company. Other times, you’ve tried one method and didn’t succeed, so you need to try a different approach in order to get different (and better) results. Entrepreneurs do this all the time by “pivoting” their businesses when one avenue doesn’t work. As reported in a 2016 Fast Company story, Naama Bloom, founder of tampon-subscription service HelloFlo (later acquired by SheKnows media), realized that her customers wanted information more than anything else. So she focused her energy on developing content and working with brands to scale her business rather than her initial product-based idea.

There will be times, however, when no amount of “pivot” will lead to the results you want. When the cofounders of The Brooklyn Kitchen were approached to build a store in Manhattan, they viewed it as a great business opportunity. But their Manhattan store never took off, and they decided to abandon the project after a year. It was clear that no matter what they did, the concept they were trying to sell would just not stick. Taylor Erkkinen, one of the cofounders, told Fast Company, “We would have been sunk if we had waited any longer.”


Related: This Silicon Valley Therapist’s Tips For Coping With Startup Stress

4. What Do I Have To Gain By Quitting?

Everything you do has an opportunity cost, whether you choose to do something or not. And sometimes, quitting something means you gain more resources to do something that’s more important to you.

In Barking Up the Wrong Tree: The Surprising Science Behind Why Everything You Know About Success Is (Mostly) Wrong, writer Eric Barker told the story of a man, Spencer Glendon, who suffered from chronic ulcerative colitis in high school. Due to his weakened immune system, he was instructed to focus on just accomplishing one thing a day. So that’s what he did. Sometimes it was as simple as cooking dinner, and other times it was something else. He quickly learned that quitting something that wasn’t that important to him freed him to do the things he really wanted to do. In other words, he had a lot to gain by quitting.

Barker wrote, “We don’t like to think about limits, but we all have them. While grit is often about stories, quitting is often an issue of limits–pushing them, optimizing them, and most of all, knowing them. Glendon could not deny or ignore his. He was forced to acknowledge trade-offs and focus his little energy on the things that mattered–and to quit doing everything else.”

About the author

Anisa is a freelance writer and editor who covers the intersection of work and life, personal development, money, and entrepreneurship. Previously, she was the assistant editor for Fast Company's Work Life section and the co-host of Secrets Of The Most Productive people podcast.