In Defense of Quitting

Many of us have fallen into the trap of thinking that quitting is, broadly, a bad thing. Yet I think that association is neither true, nor helpful.

The idea that ‘quitting’ is the equivalent of admitting defeat, or showing weakness, is downright wrong. Quitting really shouldn’t be treated as a taboo, or avoided at all costs. Instead, I’d argue it should be implemented tactfully, in ways and at times that service you.

So - and here’s the tricky part - how are we supposed to know when to quit? In any activity/profession you choose to pursue, the going can get tough. With enough grit and practice, though, the rewards can also be great. But if you’re ‘browsing’, surfing the wave of mediocrity, or only in it half-heartedly, it’s worth rethinking your decision to push on. Asking yourself frankly if this, the stagnation you’re experiencing, is just a temporary phase, or whether a literal dead end, might be the biggest favour you could do yourself.

Seth Godin frames these thoughts as a single question: "is this something that will respond to guts, effort and investment?”*. Your answer to that question helps you understand whether you can, and should, be committing to this particular thing.

This is not to say that you should drop everything in which you haven’t reached expert status. Some things are no more, no less, than a hobby - take singing, or reading, for example -, on which the concept of ‘success’ has no bearing. Personal passions that are taken on and continued for their own sake, definitely have a place in our lives.

The Quit-When-It’s-Wise principle, then, only really applies to pursuits that you take more seriously - i.e. commitments from which you expect a clear output, achievement or reward. The truth is, success in some things relies disproportionately on factors outside our control: luck, being at the right place and right time, starting earlier than we could have or actually did. It is in these cases that carrying on becomes costly, and ultimately pointless. Quitting, in such a situation, is both wise and desirable.

I say we start to view quitting more favourably, as a smart, viable option rather than a hated last-resort.


* (Seth Godin’s The Dip, a book I’d genuinely recommend, explains the concept of strategic quitting in full.)