The Brilliance of Quitting

Sometimes, quitting is the best gift that you can give to yourself.

I think that quitting has gotten a bad rap over the years.

When most people think of quitting, they think of the chumps who give up once they experience the slightest challenge or smallest obstacle in their way.

Sadly, there are people who will take the necessary action to improve their lives, only when it’s easy.

It’s the guy who will take unhealthy pills that promise overnight weight loss or will strap an electric belt to his waist, but he won’t take the effort to modify his diet and go to the gym consistently.

It’s the woman who will order a $99.95 “Get Rich Quick” scheme from a 2 a.m. infomercial, but she won’t take the necessary effort to save her money and/or put in the consistent effort to create a legitimate business.

And because these people need things to be easy, their life’s motto often is: “When the going gets tough, quit.”

Let me be clear, nothing that you’re about to read in this blog post has anything to do with the people who I just described.

Those folks completely deserve the bad rap that they’re getting.

That’s because much more often than not, quitting is the easy way out.

But in some cases, the previous sentence could not be any further from the truth.

That’s why in this blog post I want to talk about the less understood and more important “other side” of the quitting equation.

Specifically, I want to talk about the situations when quitting is not only brilliant, but also the situations where it can be life-saving too.

Let’s get to it.

The Most Useless Road Trip Ever

Conventional wisdom will tell you to “never give up, no matter what.”

I’m here to say that conventional wisdom is wrong.

I know plenty of people who consistently force themselves to finish reading books (not books for school/work that you have to read) that are incredibly boring, finish watching movies that they hate, and finish eating meals that taste like crap.

And it’s all in the name of finishing what we’ve started.

Usually, it’s because we hold out hope that if we stick with it we might be pleasantly surprised at the end (but seriously, how often does that happen?)

Let me use an analogy to explain why this is not an ideal way to go through life:

Let’s say that you wanted to take a road trip from New York City to Los Angeles.

If you started your trip driving full speed toward Miami, it’s safe to say that you’re driving in the wrong direction.

Once you’ve made that realization, wouldn’t it make sense to stop, change direction, and drive west toward LA?

No reasonable person would call you a “quitter” because you stopped driving toward Miami.

If anything you should be applauded for having the sense to change direction once you realized that you were going the wrong way.

Unfortunately, the opposite seems to happen in the real world, doesn’t it?

In the real world, you’re expected to finish what you start no matter what.

Even if that means driving full-speed toward Miami when you’re really trying to get to Los Angeles.

Crazy, right?

But what if we replaced “Los Angeles” with “your best life?” Wouldn’t that make the above scenario even crazier?

I think so.

Giving Yourself the Permission

I believe that most people have a finely-tuned radar that can alert us early on when something isn’t right for us.

Instead of making excuses for why it makes sense to fight through a book that’s hopelessly boring, stick with a movie that you know is absolutely terrible, or a choke down a meal that tastes like ass, wouldn’t it make more sense to “quit” and find a more enjoyable alternative?

That’s what this all about.

Making the choices that will lead us toward the lives that we were meant to live.

Our best lives.

That’s why this is worth examining deeply.

So, let’s move past the simple stuff like finishing lame books, sitting through mindless movies, and choking down disgusting meals and talk about something that’s much more important:

Our goals.

Years ago, I used to live in the same apartment complex with a guy who had a goal to become a physician.

The only problem was that he hated medical school and he had absolutely no interest in becoming a physician.

Huh?

Let me explain.

He set a goal for himself (or more accurately, his parents set a goal for him) to become a physician and I remember him saying over and over again that even though he hated medical school and the idea of spending the rest of his life as a physician, he “didn’t want to be known as a quitter.”

To me, this is incredibly sad.

I have no clue if he ever made it through medical school, but if he stuck through it just to avoid being labeled a “quitter,” who does that benefit exactly?

Believe me, I work in healthcare for a living, and the last thing that this world needs is another physician who doesn’t give a damn about his craft and the patients he is entrusted to serve.

Spending precious months/years of our lives (time that we can never get back, mind you) slogging through something that we deeply hate just to prove that we’re not “quitters” is not something to be admired.

It’s stupid.

It’s embarrassing.

Worst of all, it’s unhealthy too.

Accomplishment for accomplishment’s sake is no different than being the dude at the bar who chokes down the “Gargantuan 15-lb hamburger” just to prove that he can do it.

I actually watched a guy do exactly that a few years ago.

Unsurprising to no one reading this, although he hated every moment of the process, he finished the 15-lb burger. But immediately afterward he spent the rest of the night puking his brains out and regretfully feeling like a complete ass for not stopping midway through and making a choice that would have better served him.

I wouldn’t be surprised if my former medical school neighbor is feeling the exact same way on his way to work right now.

A Better Choice

I know what some of you may be thinking.

Is this just a way to give people an “easy out” when they’re faced with a challenge?

No. Not even close.

I’ll be real–changing my crappy fast food diet was hard for me (some days, it still is.) I’m not one of those people who dream of chugging tons of water and munching on lemon-spritzed kale all day, but I really wanted more energy and better health and I knew that changing my diet would play a big role in making that happen.

Because of that, I’m willing to push through the very temporary pain of discipline in order to achieve my goal. So far, so great.

What I am talking about in this post are the people who stick with things that they hate in order to achieve a goal that they no longer want.

Raising the stakes a little–sadly, these are also the same people who stick with hideously toxic relationships/marriages, stick with jobs that are slowly crushing their souls, and stick with anything that is causing them infinitely more pain than joy.

And many of them do it because they believe that there is more honor in “sticking with what they’ve started” rather than “running from their problems by quitting.”

Little do they know that this has nothing to do with running away from the things that are challenging us.

This is about finding the courage and wisdom to “quit” the things/people that aren’t right for us, and equally as important, knowing when to walk away from the things that are holding us back from living our best lives.

It doesn’t matter if it’s about training to run a marathon, writing a book, becoming a physician, or staying with your emotionally-abusive spouse–it makes no sense whatsoever to stick with something that brings you consistent misery and absolutely no enjoyment just to avoid the “quitter” label.

You might have already figured this out by now, but this post really isn’t about “quitting” at all.

It’s about making better choices.

This is your life and you have the right to live it in the way that makes the most sense for you.

If your goal is to get into exceptional shape, but after months of marathon training, you realize that running a marathon just isn’t for you, that’s okay. There are plenty of other options to get in shape. Join a hiking club, take a Zumba class, do yoga, take long walks with your favorite music in your iPod. Regardless of what it is, make the best choice for you.

You don’t have to apologize for changing your mind along the way, and most importantly, you don’t have to prove a damn thing to anyone.

You always have the right to make a better choice, and you can do it at any time that you want.

Just like the road trip from New York to Los Angeles, if you’ve realized that you’re driving in the wrong direction, stop and turn the car around.

Contrary to what some people may think, doing so doesn’t make you a quitter.

It makes you smart.

Dare I say, it makes you absolutely brilliant.

Your Turn

Have you ever been in a situation where you are afraid to change course in your life because you don’t want to be labeled as a “quitter?” Jump into the comments below and make your voice heard!

Shola

Shola

Founder of The Positivity Solution
Author, keynote speaker, and kindness extremist who is committed to changing the world by helping as many people as possible to live and work with more positivity.
Shola
Shola

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Comments

  1. Shola! This is awesome!!

    I would like to add that this applies to marriage. I saw a quote on Facebook the other day that really rubbed me the wrong way. It said, “A marriage is like a new house. If a light bulb burns out, you don’t go buy a new house. You fix the light bulb.”

    I chose to share the quote on my facebook wall with this comment attached: “Unless, while burning out, the light bulb burns the house, me our my kids. The he’s history.”

    I once had a very toxic marriage. It didn’t happen overnight and I certainly did not marry the man with any thoughts of putting up with abuse. But he became mentally ill, I became depressed, and the whole thing became a toxic nightmare.

    When I finally got to the pain of no more (thanks to actions on his part that put our three small daughters in physical danger and at risk of being taken away by CYF), I left.

    I had given that marriage every possible ounce of effort. I had gone through two separate rounds of marriage counseling, as well as meetings with our priest. I could not allow his illness, which he did not acknowledge having, destroy my children or myself.

    Part of what took me so long to leave was because I did not want to be called a quitter. Who leaves a marriage after 14 years together? Isn’t that sad? That I endured years of emotional and verbal abuse, and allowed my children to SEE that unhealthy model of a marriage, all because I thought I was supposed to stick it out.

    Quitting is sometimes the very best choice a person can make. I would never be flippant about it nor would I ever enter in to a marriage with any thought that I could quit if I was unhappy. I did remarry, and I do intend to see this one to the end. That is, unless….

    This is one of those issues that shows life is not black or white, right or wrong. Divorce, while all too common any more, can be a very good thing.

    Thank you for this awesome lesson. And if anyone out there is where I used to be, please know… you are stronger than you ever thought possible.

    Kathy

    • I totally understand how you feel, Kathy. I stayed in verbally and emotionally abusive marriage for 13 years because I didn’t want to be a quitter and tried every possible way to make it work. For years, it made me depressed till I finally decided that enough is enough.

    • Hey Kathy, great comeback to the utterly insane quote about the light bulb! It amazes me how many people choose to stay in toxic relationships because they’ve been led to believe that leaving the relationship somehow means that they’re a “quitter.” If something/someone is making you consistently miserable, then doesn’t it make sense to choose something better? I know that you already know this, but what you did for yourself and your girls is not quitting, it’s brilliant. Even if it did take 14 years, at least you found the strength to do the right thing. Please believe that your words are an inspiration to me and to the many people who are reading your comment and are contemplating doing the same thing. Props to you, my friend and thanks for being an example of strength that we can all admire.

  2. Love this article!!! I recently quit a job that I had no passion for to pursue my life’s dreams. The one thing I have painfully learned is that not everyone will understand or support your journey…and that’s OKAY!!!!

    • That’s right Esmy, it IS okay! Sometimes we just need to give ourselves the permission to pursue our life’s dreams, regardless of whether or not other people get it or not. Like you said, not everyone will support your journey (I actually wrote about that exact point in this post), but we can let them stop us. Bottom line, it’s your life, not theirs. Congrats to you!

  3. Shola, you have such great timing, it was just what i needed to hear today!

  4. Hey Shola,

    This one made me think hard about why I do what I do. I did quit a job that was toxic and there are many times I’ve questioned myself. What have you done, you left a well paying job? Now I’m struggling to pay my bills trying to find an audience for my artwork. Was reading my email to see if any of the jobs I have applied for responded…nothing, then I saw your blog. It gave me the strength to be okay with my decision. To continue to create art even though galleries turn me away and only a few people have bought some, because…it keeps me sane, even if no one buys it! If I could find a part time job to pay the bills and have the time to work on my own stuff – I would be in heaven!

    • Hey Kat, I completely hear you about the second-guessing thing. Many years ago, I left an incredibly toxic job and spent 8 months unemployed, with a rapidly-depleting savings account, and consistently eating a “well-balanced” diet of buttered noodles and honey sandwiches. Believe me, I definitely had many nights of second-guessing, but every time that I went there in my mind, I remembered the the soul-crushing toxicity that I left behind at that job. The good news is that I used that time to re-evaluate what I really wanted out of my life, and even though it was tough to receive more job rejections than I can count, it eventually ended up directly resulting in my current career and the blog that you’re currently reading. So, long story short–what I’m saying is that you can do this! Props to you for quitting your toxic job that was bringing you misery, but please don’t quit on the art that brings you joy. The world needs your gift, my friend!

  5. Sherrie Sobel says:

    Thank you for this inspirational post about positive choices! I’m new to reading you, but I like you already.

  6. Another wonderful post Shola! I have never been one to continue reading a book I don’t like or eating something I hate, but I have definitely made choices based on what I thought others wanted of me. I love the road trip analogy! Life is much better when you make the choices that are right for you!! Of course I found a quote for you 🙂

    “I won’t tell you that the world matters nothing, or the world’s voice, or the voice of society. They matter a good deal. They matter far too much. But there are moments when one has to choose between living one’s own life, fully, entirely, completely—or dragging out some false, shallow, degrading existence that the world in its hypocrisy demands. You have that moment now. Choose!”
    ― Oscar Wilde

    Have a wonderful week!!

    • Spring, that’s such an awesome quote! We’re all here to live our lives fully, and in the end, we have every right to choose something different for ourselves if we’re currently experiencing misery and joylessness by sticking with something/someone. It’s not up to our parents, our significant others, our friends, or anyone else to decide for us. As always, the choice is ours 🙂

  7. I very much agree with most of this. However, there are some times where you really do need to “suck it up.” I know so many people who have ONE semester left of college and just don’t finish. And sometimes there are people who have a dream of becoming a rockstar or artist but should be taking any kind of job they can to feed their families while pursuing that goal. I wholeheartedly agree that we should follow our passion, but we should do so responsibly.

    • Jennifer, I think that we are pretty much in complete agreement. Sometimes you do just have to “suck it up” and push through until you reach your goal–I know that’s what I’d probably tell the person with one semester left before graduating. But (and it’s a big BUT) if he told me that getting a degree is something that he no longer wants to pursue and that being in school makes him completely miserable, then I’m really in no place to tell him otherwise. It’s his life and he’s free to choose whatever he wants, whether you, me, or anyone else gets it. When the goal we’re fighting for no longer serves us (like realizing that you’re driving to Miami when you’re really trying to get to Los Angeles), then we should give ourselves the permission to stop and re-evaluate. I know far too many people who stay in horribly unhealthy relationships/marriages or burn themselves out trying to reach goals that they no longer want (but have been told that they “should” achieve), just because they don’t want to be labeled as a “quitter.” To me, that’s just crazy.

  8. Shola, I know you don’t know me….and I am just reading your blog for the very first time. However, I totally feel that we are kindred spirits! I cannot wait to dive into some more of your posts.

    This particular one is BRILLIANT!! I have been the “strong-willed” just-do-something-to-prove-someone-wrong kind of person and thankfully I can say that I have seen the light!! I wasn’t willing to sacrifice the rest of my life for misery when I knew there was a better way. It just took a bit of humility to admit that I was wrong and choose a better path!

    • Hey Michelle–welcome aboard, fellow kindred spirit! We do have a lot in common because I’ve definitely spent more time than I am willing to admit slogging through things that I hated to achieve goals that I no longer wanted, just so that I could avoid being labeled as a “quitter.” Thankfully, I now understand that I have every right to change my mind, and that there’s nothing honorable about forcing myself to stay in soul-destroying relationships or stick with no goals that no longer serve me. Things change, priorities change, people change–and it’s all good! Like you said, the key is finding the humility to admit we are wrong and then choose a different path. Thanks for being here Michelle, and I hope that you dig the other blog posts too!

  9. Luna Futura says:

    Hi! This is a brilliant piece. In August I was in a well paying job that was so destructive for my soul and wellbeing that I came home crying every day. I was studying a degree I no longer wanted to do. I was surrounding myself with ‘friends’ that I had grown apart from and no longer had anything in common with. I was living in a place that made me so unhappy that I would find any excuse not to be there. I was not living the life that I wanted to be living… so I quit it all.

    I relooked at what I wanted to do with my life and have now started doing what I love. I’m unemployed, I’m sofa jumping and I’m living out of suitcases, but I’m happy! I love what I do and I’m making it work because of that. Your post just reinforces for me that I made the right decision.

    • Hey Luna! Your comment is brilliant, my friend. Isn’t it funny how many people define success as having a well-paying job and multiple degrees, instead of defining success as the amount of happiness and joy that we’re experiencing? I know plenty of highly-paid and well-educated people who are absolutely miserable, and largely it’s because they didn’t have the courage to do what you did. I’m sure that you’ve run into a lot of people who don’t “get” what you did, but I’m definitely not one of them. Congrats to you for having the guts to follow your individual calling, as opposed to following the path that life tells you that you’re “supposed” to follow.

  10. From someone who recently quit her toxic and abusive marriage and quit smoking after 16 years, I can’t agree with this more. Sometimes, it’s ok to quit… For your health and well being, you HAVE to quit. Thank you for putting this out there to remind people like me that we’ve done the right thing!

    There aren’t many times when I find myself without more than one quote to back me up in any given situation. However, I’m always shocked at how many “Never Quit” quotes there are in the universe, while we seem to be lacking the “Ok to Quit” quotes. In all my books, searches, I’ve come across one. (You didn’t think I’d leave you without one, did you?)
    “Of all the strategems, to know when to quit is the best.” ~Chinese Proverb

    • YES Valisa! For our health and sanity, it always makes sense to “quit” the things that are causing us more pain than joy in our lives. The common message is to “Never quit, no matter what,” and I’m convinced that 95% of the time, that is phenomenal advice. But like you said, there are rarely any messages out there that support finding the wisdom to quit. Well, that is until you, with your infinite pool of quotes, found a perfect Chinese proverb that supports this post perfectly! Serious props to you for quitting the abusive marriage and quitting smoking too–that is a beautiful way to fully reclaim your life and focus on finding what truly brings you joy. Well done, my friend!

  11. Dearest Shola,

    Boy did I hit the jackpot today, when I clicked on the link I didn’t expect to read something that really touched home for me on many levels. I thank you for your brilliant mind and how you touch people by your positive attitude. Thank you for this believe that this blog was meant for me today and I will make better choices.

    Kindest regards,
    Patty

    • PATTY! It’s so great to see you here, my friend! Thanks so much for the kind words and I’m honored to know that this post has touched you. Make sure to make yourself comfortable and stick around for a while, ok? I’m so glad that you’re here!

  12. Hi Shola,

    I love this so much 🙂

    I’m really into dog training and I can remember doing a blog along similar lines regarding dogs and not trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. It’s nice to know there are other people in the universe that question ‘the norm’

  13. Thankyou so very much for your wonderful words of wisdom! I recently quit University as I was getting very run down from the deadlines and stress, and I was starting to neglect my children and husband. I have felt like a failure a little and reading your words has made me feel much better. Thank you again 🙂

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