Quitting Is Okay

I quit

Quit school, quit your job, quit the race; “quit” has joined the ranks of unspeakable four-letter words. We’re always told to finish what we start, it’s drilled into us as we grow up: finish your homework, finish the game, finish your peas. And as kids, we need that. We start out as need machines driven by pure ego, and have to be taught how to focus, how to fulfill our commitments and do our best, and that we do in fact need to eat things that aren’t made of pure sugar.

The problem is, as we get older this mindset persists, even though the lessons are learned. We continue on the path we think we’re supposed to take because we were never taught how to quit. Not only is our thinking narrowed and stunted by never considering the alternatives, but when we do fail, we often get so hung up on the fact that we failed, it makes it that much harder to learn from why we failed. Our day-to-day lives all so often become victims of our ingrained sense of satisfaction at persisting.

I was always my own worst critic growing up, far more than any expectations placed on me. I would be paralyzed by the fear of failure, to the point that I simply wouldn’t start anything I didn’t think I wouldn’t be able to finish. I was a good student and did well at sports, but I still suffered from this self-imposed debilitating crush of expectation of success. Growing up, I had to fight to overcome this just to be able to function, and in doing so, learned that not only was failure acceptable, but quitting could be even better.

First and foremost, I learned that disaster was not waiting for me when I quit. If anything, I could be doing the wrong thing by persisting when I should have given up. So often you will hear people talking of the immense feeling of relief and satisfaction when they quit their job or give up on a long-standing goal they’ve been striving towards, even finding renewed purpose when they’re no longer so doggedly focused on that looming peak of accomplishment. Ask most any entrepreneur, anyone who has successfully started their own business, and they will tell you any number of stories of how they would not be where they were today if they had not simply stepped off their normal path.

The important thing about quitting, or rather the two important things about it, are what you take away from it, and keeping it from becoming habit. If you quit, it’s important to have a reason. Not a justification, but an actual reason. Knowing why it’s the right thing to do and what your alternatives are not only helps you move forward, but makes you expand your thinking beyond the narrow focus you’ve become so accustomed to.

This also sets you up for avoiding becoming a habitual quitter; someone who serially begins an idea but never finishes any. It’s incredibly easy to get excited about an idea, and even easier to give up on it when reality weighs in. There’s a line between quitting for a good reason and quitting simply because you don’t want to put in any effort. If you don’t find that line, you risk never completing anything, and more than that, never having anyone believe or trust you to do anything. Your opportunities dry up before you even had a chance to try them.

Commitment and quitting are not contrary ideas, they go hand in hand. Just because you’ve committed to an idea doesn’t mean it’s the right one for you. The key is knowing when to let it go.

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