Quitting is wildly underrated. For most of our lives, we’re told that grit, determination, and stick-with-it-ness are the qualities that will bring us success. While this can be true, giving up on something can be the smartest decision you’ll ever make.
I’m not talking about the ‘storm-off-in-a-huff, middle-finger-raised’ variety of quitting (which usually backfires in a big way). I’m also not encouraging a cavalier approach to commitment.
Instead, I’m advocating editing out what no longer serves the emerging you. A decisive ditching of a past-the-expiry date relationship, job, or situation so you can create a clear path to what’s next.
It’s hardly surprising that the verb ‘to quit’ has its roots in ‘to set free’ and ‘to calm’. Quitting allows you to get clearer on where you stand and what you stand for. Quitting allows something new to begin. Quitting is exciting.
One of my most memorable Big Quits meant waking up one morning and closing the creative events company I’d founded and run for nearly eight years. People said I was crazy. We were at the top of our game. Loyal customers flocked to our workshops. Big brands hired us to run bespoke offerings. We received top marks for our attention to detail and customer service, and the company was widely imitated throughout the UK.
Even so, I longed for fresh challenges. I craved the creative flow I’d felt in the early days of building the business. Although stopping was a huge decision, to paraphrase Seth Godin (whose short book, The Dip, is a brilliant guide to quitting), the temporary pain of my giving up was miles better than the slow death of mindlessly continuing.
Of course, ‘mindlessly continuing’ is what we often do, in part because of what’s known as the ‘sunk cost’, the time or money already outlaid that we can’t get back. The tuition fees paid for education in a particular industry, the years working at a job, or the time invested in a marriage. But the sunk cost is a fallacy, as the daily stress, anxiety, and lost opportunities that come from staying in something you’ve outgrown simply can’t be measured.
I’ve found that quitting gets easier the more often you do it. This week I’ve purposefully abandoned a burgeoning Facebook group I no longer felt called to grow and a weekly Zoom group that felt restrictive rather than expansive. I also showed the door to a deep-seated fear that had caused me to shrink in endless ways. Within minutes of saying ‘enough is enough’, I felt freer, lighter, and ready to move forward in ways as yet unknown.
Of course, giving something the heave-ho doesn’t always feel immediately euphoric. Quitting can create painful pushback. You may wonder if you’ve made the right choice. You might feel a rush of guilt and shame. Your friends and family may rise in opposition. It’s useful to remember, though, that people are invested in you not changing — you doing something different means disrupting their status quo, which can make them uncomfortable. They’re then likely to push that discomfort back onto you.
If you choose to quit, have faith in your decision. Hold steady and lean into the difficult feelings that might come up, you’ll find they’ll quickly shift. Remember to do something nice for yourself to celebrate the ending. And get ready for what might be next. As Aldous Huxley wrote, ‘There are things known and there are things unknown, and in between are the doors.’ It’s time to open the door to your future.