You have permission to quit

At so many points in our lives we are asked to make choices. Choose a career, choose a life partner, choose where to live, what to do and who to surround yourself with. At very few points in our lives do we take the time to reconsider. Each choice is final, each decision locking us in with all its might. But what if it weren’t that way at all? What if every choice was just the one that suited us right now and in the future,  if this doesn’t work, we just quit. I think there are times when quitting might be more powerful than following through – here’s why.

There’s good and bad quitting

If you find yourself saying ‘this is too hard, I want go give up, I don’t want to struggle or change’ – you’re preparing for the bad type of quitting. The rage quit.

the office rage GIF

If your inner monologue is more along the lines of ‘I’ve outgrown this, this is toxic for me, I’m ready to change’ – you’re preparing for the good type of quitting. The honest quit.

Feeling Free So Excited GIF by Originals

Rage quitting is fast, it happens in a moment and it happens usually out of frustration. Honest quitting is a calculated risk, it takes time to decide on and a good dose of self-examination. It’s the honest quitting that helps us to separate the things we don’t want from the things we do. It’s honest quitting that makes us more comfortable with consequences. Rather than waiting for change to be forced upon you, you’ve chosen to walk towards it. It means you’ll be more responsible for the outcomes of the choices you’ve made, but it also means you get to fully own your success.

Successful people don’t quit? I call bulls**t

I thought, you know what would go nicely in the middle here – an inspirational quote on quitting. Did I find one? Hardly. Here’s what Goodreads gives me on the topic of quitting:

“Pain is temporary. Quitting lasts forever”

Lance Armstrong

“If you quit on the process, you are quitting on the result.”

Idowu Koyenikan

“Age wrinkles the body; quitting wrinkles the soul.”

Douglas McArthur

Add to this list the old adage, “when the going gets tough, the tough get going” and you have a robust group of ‘quitting is evil mantras’ to fall back on. We’ve built a belief system that in order to be successful, we must go through some kind of pain. That the person who quits in the middle of the pain will be forever destined to exist on the fringes of success, not the rewarding centre. Well, I call bulls**t. There’s no denying that change and growth are uncomfortable, at times even painful. But plenty of successful people have quit one thing to start with another.

“Quitting is not giving up, it’s choosing to focus your attention on something more important. Quitting is not losing confidence, it’s realizing that there are more valuable ways you can spend your time. Quitting is not making excuses, it’s learning to be more productive, efficient and effective instead. Quitting is letting go of things (or people) that are sucking the life out of you so you can do more things that will bring you strength.”

Osayi Osar-Emokpae

Neither Sara Blakely, the CEO of Spanx, nor Candace Nelson, founder of Sprinkles Cupcakes, started out in the industry that made them a huge success. Nelson was an investment banker and Blakely an almost-lawyer, sometimes comedian and most-of-the-time saleswoman. When the time came, they both had the courage to quit. Nelson struggled in the dot-com bust of the early 2000s and decided it was time for a change, opening her first cupcake bakery in 2005. Blakely took her personal experience with uncomfortable pantyhose as a sign she could do this better, quitting her job to run Spanx full-time in 2000. Maybe it’s true that some successful people reach their highest heights because they refused to quit, but for others – it was quitting that has been a part of their success.

Elaine Welteroth is another successful young woman who quit a job that many would only dream of. As the youngest editor of Teen Vogue and the second black woman to hold the position, she was on a fast trajectory to conquer the publishing industry. But she knew it wasn’t the right fit. Having grown and learned plenty at the magazine, she resigned in 2018 to pursue other ventures. In an interview with Elle she says, “I have not looked back once…Like I have zero regrets.” What has she done since? Starred as the first black judge on Project Runway, published her memoir and completed a book tour. She was a success before quitting and she has continued to be so afterward.

Learn more about Elaine, Sara & Candace in Reese Witherspoon’s Netflix series Shine On (Episodes 4 & 5)

Photo by Masaaki Komori on Unsplash

When to follow through

If we understand that honest quitting can be good for us, how do we know when we’re doing it? And how do we avoid the rage quit? The essential step in an honest quit is the self-examination. Ask yourself:

  • Do I still have things to learn here?
  • Can I turn this experience around or am I at the true end point?
  • Do I have control over this situation?

When there is more to learn, it’s not time to quit. When all you need is a new perspective, it’s not time to quit. When we physically cannot quit a situation (hello COVID-19), your focus is better placed on finding peace with it in your life than on giving up.

Embracing your honest quit

Practising an honest quit is as simple as granting yourself permission to let go. Ask yourself, ‘What if I quit?’. Perhaps it will strike you with fear (not a reason to stay), perhaps it will fill you with positive energy or remind you there’s another way out of this situation. Whatever it brings up within you, the first step is allowing yourself to entertain the idea at all.