Quitting has a bad rap.
Winners never quit and quitters never win.
When the going gets tough, the tough keep going.
I can see how you don’t want to give up at the first hurdle, but sometimes quitting is actually a good option. The option that’s going to make you a winner.
Being able to quit allows you to try new things
I’m good at lots of things. You probably are, too.
We go into new situations — educational programs, jobs, relationships — with imperfect information. We make a good guess about whether it’ll be a good fit but we can’t really know until we are in it.
If you feel like you can’t quit once you’ve started, even if it’s making you miserable, you are going to be much more conservative in the things you try. You might miss out on interesting opportunities because of that.
I’ve quit a few things.
- After 2 years of a chemistry degree I took a year off, with no idea what I wanted to do instead. I just knew that chemistry was making me deeply unhappy.
- After a few years in a full-time academic position, I realized that I was unhappy. I didn’t leave immediately but started exploring options and eventually left.
- In 2010, I contracted with a university to provide support for a group of faculty. The faculty weren’t taking up the service so I refunded the full fee to the university.
I had a good example. My dad quit (or was fired from) several jobs when I was growing up. And he never presented that as a tragedy. He was unhappy. He left.
Quitting allows you to find something better
Each time my dad quit, he found something else. Eventually he found something that fit really well: he bought a business that he ran successfully for 20 years before selling it and retiring.
Similarly, quitting one thing, even with no real idea of what I was going to do next, has resulted in me finding new things that fit better.
- I left chemistry, tried some other things, ended up in sociology. Sociology really suited me and I stuck with it. It informs a lot of what I do now.
- I went from just being an academic, to taking on an administrative/management role, to working in a funding agency, to running my own business working with academics.
- That contract wasn’t good value for the client either. They are able to use their funds to do something else to support their faculty, and I am able to concentrate on other work that does provide value.
Quitting doesn’t indicate failure.
My dad is a brilliant sales rep. He left one sales job and then got another sales job. Quitting was often about how well he worked with others in that company, changes to the company, or whatever. He ended up running a successful business of his own, and his success was largely due to his own sales skills.
- I was doing well in chemistry. My faculty advisor thought I was nuts to leave. Friends wondered why I’d quit something I was getting As in.
- As an academic, I was publishing and getting good teaching evaluations (and good results). A senior colleague in my field said she was sad I was leaving because I had interesting contributions to make.
- That contract wasn’t working because it wasn’t what those faculty needed right now. I’d worked with that university before. The person who hired me (and I) thought this was a good fit. We were wrong.
Learning when to quit
It’s not easy. Knowing all this doesn’t result in some magical change in which you can quit things guilt free.
It will take some time to figure out the difference between a bad fit and the discomfort that often accompanies a new situation or the need to learn new skills.
You can practice on small things.
Quitting that one committee that you always feel like you are not contributing much to, and that drains your energy because you worry about it before and after every meeting as well as actually doing all the work it requires.
Trying a new kind of exercise routine and promising yourself you will quit if it isn’t right. And then figuring out what “it isn’t right” might look like in specific, practical terms.
In fact, you may never quit a job, or quit an educational program part-way through, or end a marriage. That’s okay. Knowing that you could if it really wasn’t working might give you the spaciousness you need to figure out how to make it work.