Are you in a situation that feels miserable? You dread it. You think about it all the time, trying to sort out a way to make it better, or how to escape it. It might be a job or a project or a relationship. But still, you can’t imagine choosing to quit it. Why? Because quitting equals failure.
Or does it?
We live in a culture that dreads and fears quitting. We call people “quitters” like it is a bad thing. Old adages, like, “Winners never quit and quitters never win,” replay in our heads, sometimes in the voices of our parents or childhood coach. Quitting is bad.
Choosing to quit a commitment is wise, when it is thoughtful and based in good self-awareness. In business, a company that stays committed to a market or product that is losing money would be silly, and might cause the company to go out of business. So why don’t we let ourselves quit something that is similarly failing? We keep trying and trying to make it work, but sometimes our desire to follow through on a commitment – taken too far – becomes detrimental to our own physical or mental health.
How to know when it is time:
There are consistent signs that quitting is a solution you should consider. While none of these are as quantifiable as whether a business market is profitable or not, they are still measures that are important to pay attention to.
When the pursuit is misaligned with your values.
You can tell this is true when you have a squirmy feeling when you think about it. When you feel embarrassed or ashamed about doing the work or telling people about it. Maybe you are working for someone who has a different set of moral values than you do. Maybe the commitment to the project means that you are unable to commit the time you want to something else that is valuable to you – long working hours taking time away from connecting with your family, for example. Personally, I have strong values around honesty. I would quit a situation if I had to interact with someone who wasn’t honest with myself or others.
When the work is causing you physical or mental harm.
If you are in pain, or starting to suffer from depression or anxiety, it is time to re-evaluate the situation.
Address physical pain by a trying change of equipment or an ergonomic review. But do not “manage” or brush mental suffering. Take a good look at your feelings when you begin to dread doing the activity, and instead consider how choosing to quit will feel. If it feels like freedom, it may be time.
When you are exhausted and cannot refuel.
Some kinds of work are demanding, but also exhilarating. Maybe you love the work, and are willing to put in long hours or intense concentration. You are excited to dive back in after a period of rest. But when you are constantly exhausted and there is no space for rest or re-fueling, or you are no longer exhilarated (or maybe never were), pay heed to this warning sign. Is this happening inside a relationship? Review the distribution of responsibilities with the other person to see if your load can be adjusted. If they are unable or unwilling to shoulder some of the burden, it is time to get out.
When the goal is no longer something you want.
You began a project because you were invested and engaged in the end goal, but somewhere along the way either the goal changed or your priorities did. Or maybe it is something you thought you would enjoy, but after trying it, you realize you don’t. If this has happened to you, it is OK to stop. Save your energy for projects where you are invested, engaged, and excited. Don’t waste it in places where you no longer care about the outcome.
When you realize you don’t have the skill needed to succeed.
While sometimes it is possible to learn what you need on the fly, other times you might realize you just don’t have the skills to be successful. In this case, you might need to pause, go learn or practice what you need, and then return. Powering through a project with the wrong skills may be more detrimental to you (and the project) in the long run than just stepping away for now.
Choosing to quit is a powerful act of self-love.
You are saying, “I value my self-worth and my health first and foremost.” But choosing to quit can also be a kindness to others. If you are resentful and unhappy, you are bringing that energy to every interaction. Wouldn’t it be better to quit, and make room for someone who might be a better fit? Who will be joyful and engaged in a way you are not? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to bring your best self home to your family, instead of coming home exhausted, anxious or depressed?
Change can be stressful. But thoughtfully choosing to quit something that is not a good fit for you is positive for everyone.