Day #992: When is The Best Time to Quit?

Just this morning on my commute to work I was reading the story of Ellen Chisa and how she made the decision to quit Harvard Business School. In today’s world of positive thinking, work hard, hang in there till you succeed, talking about quitting is not only counter intuitive, it goes against the general idea of success. We all know too well the quote : “quitters never win and winners never quit” often attributed to legendary American coach Vince Lombardi and to Napoleon Hill.

While this has some element of truth in it, it doesn’t tell a complete story. Winners do quit sometimes to good measure and quitters do win.

In their book Mastering the Art of Quitting, bestselling author Peg Streep and psychotherapist Alan Bernstein demonstrate that persistence alone isn’t always the answer. We also need to be able to quit to get the most out of life. Most times quitting promotes growth and learning, as well as the ability to frame new goals. Without the ability to give up, most people will end up in a discouraging loop. The most satisfied people know when it’s time to stop persisting and start quitting. Quitting is a healthy, adaptive response when a goal can’t be reached.

In the Business Insider story on Ellen Chisa, Ellen used a simple system to determine why she needed to quit Harvard Business School. She used a framework to think through it:

  • She didn’t know what she wanted to get out of the Harvard experience, so she didn’t know how to prioritize her classes. There was missing context.
  • She would’ve definitely chosen the Lola opportunity ( a job opportunity she got after her 1st year in HBS) over HBS had it arrived earlier. This she knew stone cold.
  • The Lola role would give her an experience she had prioritized for a long time — the ability to grow a product team.
  • She could always go back to HBS. There would be no chance to join Lola at such an early stage again.

It can be tricky to determine when is the best time to quit. Quitting a job, a relationship, a goal you set for yourself or something you have put so much into.

We waste time and effort trying to stay in touch with people who have no interest in keeping their friendship with us.We hold on to jobs  and relationships where we are not happy, making ourselves physically and emotionally ill.

So how do you know when it’s time to give up? Here is what I think:

If you feel that you’re not enjoying life to the fullest because you can’t stop thinking about your situation, it might be time to reconsider the reasons you continue trying.

Working toward a worthwhile goal should be elating and exciting. Lack of excitement about achieving what you think you want probably means that you’ve become used to striving and never arriving. It’s “what you do,” and this routine doesn’t serve you.

Also, you may be justifying a painful situation in the name of psychological comfort. Fear of the unknown or of upsetting other people could be the true driver of your efforts because perceived safety and popularity are comforting.

What would your life be like if you stopped trying? Notice the first feeling that arrives when you ask this question. A feeling of freedom or exhilaration is a sign you are ready to give up.

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