When It's OK (And Not OK) To Quit


So, here’s something that may or may not be a big shocker: I can be a rather stubborn person from time to time.  I am the guy that forces the square into a circle with a sledgehammer.  I’m that guy.  Sometimes, to my amazement it works…until it doesn’t, and the nature of the universe kicks in and reminds me that squares shouldn’t fit into circles, and spits the square back and hits me in the forehead.  

That may or may not be an analogy.  Just run with it. 

The point is, I don’t like giving up easily.  I will sit and simmer on something for hours sometimes, grumbling to myself about a problem, or a situation, or possibly just life in general when it’s not working out the way I want.  I will literally overthink a problem for days or weeks.  I’ll spend WAY too much energy and time on little things, forgetting the bigger stuff that actually matters because this small little thing has me obsessed. 

The obvious thing to do, is to acknowledge that I may have met my match on this little problem (even if it’s just for the moment), quit it and move on.  We don’t do this, because we’re told quitting is for losers.  I don’t know if this indoctrination is a global thing, but certainly in America we get that jammed into us at an early age.  Here’s a quote attributed to Thomas Edison that has been used to death: “I haven’t failed, I’ve just found 10,000 ways that don’t work”.  

I’m sure we could fill this space with pithy quotes from supposed icons, thought leaders, and tastemakers about the value of not quitting, In fact, I’m pretty sure I could make a separate channel dedicated to just the American Ideal of not quitting, persistence, grit, and victory.

At what cost, though?  I don’t want to single out any one person, but we can all point to one person who ‘leaned in’, who persisted, who won, who became the icon at the cost of their kids, their wife, their family, the loss of any kind of life outside their field of expertise.  Many times, at the cost of their sobriety, and in a few cases, their sanity.  Yet we hold these people up as titans of business or the arts, but they really sit as king or queen of a pile of hot garbage of their own creation. 

I suggest a different path.  Sure, it’s great to be thought of as a thought leader, a cultural icon, a titan of your art or business, but you have to have the self awareness to know what you’re giving up instead.  I gave up my twenties and my young family who was just starting out—my kids were babies—in order to work and work and work and try to establish a reputation as a workhorse, a leader, a go-to guy.  Every hour I put in at the office was an hour I missed at home, and this was the 1990s where greed was still good, and the general refrain for slacking off even just 1 percent at work was met with “What have you done for me lately?”  That was the attitude where I worked at the time, maybe you had a different experience, but that was definitely what I was going through.  

When I finally sat down and thought about it, I realized that what I was giving up was worth more to me than what I was doing.  So I quit.  I’ve never regretted that decision.  

So, when it is OK to quit?  I think that you have to sit and ask yourself the following questions:

* Is what I’m doing right now moving me towards my own personal or professional goals?
* Is what I’m doing right now a trade off for something way more important to me?
* Is what I’m doing right now something I’m going to regret in 5 or 10 years from right now? 
* Lastly--and this may not be as important to you as it is to me today--is what I’m doing right now    in line with my values?  

If these questions don’t come out in a positive manner for you, it’s time to really sit down and think about whether you need to persist.  If it were me, I’d be gone before I got to question #3.  

So now that we’ve talked about when it’s ok to quit, we need to address when it’s NOT ok.  You should not quit just because things get hard.  That really is the loser’s path.  If you can’t lean in and persist when things get hard, you won’t lean in and persist on anything.  Life is not meant to be easy, and I don’t want things to be ‘easy’.  I want to be challenged, I hope that if you’re here with me you agree with that and want to be challenged as well.  Challenge is good!  A little adversity is great!

Risking an ulcer and missing your kid’s birthday because you worked 16 hours doing the work of three people, and you’re miserable?  That’s different.  

Learn to quit when it matters.  Lose the programming.  Cut the stuff that doesn’t return on your personal and professional investment, and instead, focus on the things that move you towards your personal goals, and focus on the things—and people—that DO matter.