Quitting the Right Way

quittingWhen I was quite young, I played soccer.  I mean, I was really young.  Probably 4 or 5 years old.  At that point, there isn’t much going on as far as strategic play or even positions, really.  All the kids run around and try to kick the ball as hard and as far as they can.  The only kid who stays in place, in fact, is the goal keeper.

That was me.  I was the goalie.  But not for very long.  You see, I recall having one of those coaches who everyone hears about.  You know, the ones that yell and scream and think winning a peewee soccer game validates their existance.  I remember being reduced to tears at a practice one time and telling my parents that I didn’t want to play any more.

This is the only time in my life where I remember my dad telling me it was okay to quit.  I was never allowed to quit another thing that I had started in my entire time growing up.  If I said I was going to do something, it had created an obligation for me to finish what I’d set out to do.  After obligating myself to do a couple of things that turned out to be difficult, I was very wary of starting things I couldn’t finish or that I wasn’t sure I could succeed in.

How I wish I would have known that it’s okay to quit sometimes!  Because of what my dad had told me throughout my growing-up years (“You cannot quit, ever”), quitting (to me) was admitting failure and breaking my word.  My honor, integrity, and sense of self was wrapped up in a false understanding of what quitting really meant.

It’s not that I think my dad was wrong to enforce the “no quitting” rule; in general, I think it’s very wise.  Quitting can become a habit, especially in kids.  Kids usually don’t have the long-term perspective necessary to make good choices about benefits that accrue later in life for struggle you go through in the here-and-now.  However, I think that I oversimplified my thoughts on quitting to the extent that I based my sense of self-esteem on doing everything right the first time.  Why you quit, and how you quit, are as important as staying through a task to the end.

1.  If you’ve made a commitment to someone else, you can’t quit. This is where honor and integrity come in.  If you make a commitment to someone else, I believe that you have to fulfill it.  Someone else is relying on you, and if you betray their trust, it becomes very hard to gain it back.  That’s just how I am, and I think it’s how everyone should be.

If, however, you’ve committed only to yourself, then there is a possibility that quitting may be justified.  It’s not automatic, and it should be a last resort.  But, there are certain circumstances where you can quit and still hold your head up high.

2.  If the only reason you’re quitting is because it’s hard, then you can’t quit. Just because something is difficult, or you’re not immediately good at it, is no reason to give it up.  What if Itzhak Perlman had given up the violin when he was young because he got sick of practicing scales?  What would have happened if Abraham Lincoln had given up at any time during the succession of setbacks he faced prior to winning the presidency?

This is an instance where it’s important to have a source of accountability, be it extrinsic or intrinsic.  While I don’ t know this to be the case for certain, I’m going to bet that Perlman’s parents had to force him to keep playing the violin.  As I mentioned, most kids aren’t going to have the long-term vision necessarily to see that the benefits that will accrue in the future will outweigh the tedium in the present (which is why I’m sure my dad was so strict about the “no quitting” thing).  Lincoln, though, had to have had some serious vision to keep going.  His life wasn’t a litany of failure; that list I linked to doesn’t show that anything good happened to him, but there must have been positive events scattered throughout his life.  However, I think that most of us would have given up the political ambitions and just remained a lawyer at some juncture if faced with the same issues.  He had a goal, however, and he knew deep down that he had the ability to achieve it.  It was important enough to him to keep going through the hard times.

3.  If you’ve determined that what you’re trying to accomplish is getting in the way of something more important, maybe it’s time to quit. I’ve finally come to realize that the good is sometimes the enemy of the best.  If completing a task you’ve set for yourself has become a detriment to your health, your family life, or something else that you care more about, then stop.  What you deem to be success (i.e. – completing the task you’ve set out for yourself) will be hollow if you lose something else that you value more.

To determine this, you need to take a good, hard look at yourself.  Make sure that you’re not quitting because something is difficult.  Make sure that you have demonstrable evidence that pursuit of this task is interfering with your health, home or happiness.  Make sure that the pain you’re experiencing in the present isn’t outweighed by the gain you’ll have in the future.  Don’t lie to yourself.

There are some instances where it’s justifiable to quit.  It shouldn’t happen often, and it should never be easy, but it is okay.  Don’t allow your self-esteem to be so wrapped up in finishing something that you’ve started that you allow better things to pass you by.  This acknowledgement, that quitting can be justified, is rather liberating.  I think it allows folks to take more risks, because you know that failure isn’t something that you can’t back away from.  Do something as hard as you can for as long as you can, and if you find out it’s not bringing you the contentment and joy that you thought it would, then give yourself permission to quit and move on to better things.

What situations in your life have you stuck with too long? What about the opposite; anything you’ve quit that you wish you hadn’t? Let us know in the comments

Photo courtesy: fedexman1

9 thoughts on “Quitting the Right Way”

  1. I have recently come to some of the very same conclusions!

    I had been in my job for just over two years and had known for the last year that it wasn't working the way it should. I thought I could get through it and that quitting would be an admission of failure so I stayed in an attempt to make it better.

    That last year has had a negative affect on my confidence, my self esteem and my health and so at the beginning of this month I quit. I don't have another job to go to and I am not completly sure what the future holds yet as soon as handed in my notice I knew it was the right thing to do and wished I had had the courage to do it much earlier.

    Now I'd like to make it clear that I am not recommending everyone do what I did but I do think it's important to recognise that in some cases quitting is not only acceptable but neccesary.

  2. I applaud that decision CLangdell!! Not having an income is so scary for many people they can not even consider it. It takes courage to have the faith in yourself and the self-esteem to to that. Realizing that your mental and emotional health are also important signals to me that you'll be just fine.

    1. Thanks Steve – I hope so. It's funny but once I'd taken the leap it felt like everything was going to be ok and I'm now really looking forward to discovering what comes next

  3. Hi, Son! Figured I should weigh in on this one since I was referred to more than once. I must confess that I don’t recall giving my OK to you quitting peewee soccer. But then again, I’m not sure I remember that you even played – really. My memory is quite strong however, regarding the “no quitting allowed” ruling in our home. 🙂 That mandate actually had its root in an occasion when I quit something in my youth. I quit the cross country team in my senior year of high school. For the record, I hated CC. But I was participated because the coach (also the head Track Coach) required it if you didn’t play football. Track was my sport, you likely recall that. But much shorter distances were my forte`. I had finally made the CC varsity team. But in the meets, I always choked. Bad, really BAD. So bad that members of the reserve squads would pass me on the way to the finish line. My self image was in toilet over that and I quit – against my coach’s strong encouragement no to. Not only that, I didn’t even go out for track in my senior year. I quit. I really quit. And to this very day I regret it. Why? Because there was no reason to. I could’ve learned more about persistence while failing instead of letting myself off the hook. Such is the immaturity of youth, no offense to youth.

    Here is a point I’d like to submit for consideration: if you feel you must quit something, FIRST – ask yourself if you’re quitting just to get away because you don’t like the results you’re getting now OR are you quitting to SPECIFICALLY move toward something better. Not some nebulous “I’m sure I’ll be happier” feeling that can’t be rationally supported. But an ACTUAL GOAL-ORIENTED movement in a positive direction toward your dream. Now, if you can honestly say that’s the case (remember, stop lying to yourself) then go ahead. Quit the negative and move to the positive. But remember, learning and growth and victory happen in the darkness of the valley (when you want to quit). The mountain top is for celebrating and that’s great. But don’t cheat yourself of the real value that can only be gained by enduring the pain.

    I think you’re the BEST!

    1. Thanks, Dad. 🙂 Now I'm embarrassed. And, now that I think about it, you might be right; the soccer thing may have happened at a tryout or something. What can I say? I was five and my memory of the specifics is admittedly hazy…

  4. Whoaa! Hold on there a minute, pard. I said I couldn't remember that you played soccer. But that was 25 yrs +/- ago. You know how my memory is…. If you say you played, I don't doubt it. I just don't remember it. 🙂

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