When is it time to quit? We often see quitting as giving up, as failing. A defeat. But sometimes it is the wisest thing to do. Self-care really. Continuing on a path that doesn’t suit you just because you don’t want to be seen as a quitter is stubborn and actually more of a defeat than quitting would be.
Another reason we sometimes don’t quit when we should, is because of all the time and effort and money we already spent on the thing we want to quit. We think about what a total waste of all this time/effort/money it would be if we threw in the towel.
However, the real waste would be to keep spending our valuable life time on something that no longer serves us.
I myself am ‘guilty’ of using the above excuses for not ending something that doesn’t suit me anymore. Quitting my PhD was a big step for me at the time and I still get a little stab of shame whenever I think about it. A feeling best identified as a mixture of shame, guilt and discomfort. Insecurity and inadequacy. “I quit my PhD and therefore I failed”. Some of my friends did get their PhD’s so they’re better than me. More successful, accomplished, tenacious, stronger; better people really. I am the loser, the one who couldn’t make it, the failure.
Of course I don’t literally think those things, but that sense of “I’m not good enough and I failed” is definitely at the core of my feelings. Rationally I know that I am no less of a person. And that quitting can be the best decision or even the necessary decision to make.
Recently I told someone about my life path and talked about how I was doing a PhD in Nijmegen years ago and how I hated it and that I quit and before I could say much more, this person said to me: “Wow, that’s so brave, way to go! So many people keep doing it just because they don’t dare to quit. Good for you that you did.” Instead of seeing it (or me!) as a failure, this person actually applauded me for it. Because why would you continue on a painful journey that you don’t enjoy and don’t have any fulfilling purpose for, just for the sake of persevering?
It wasn’t the first time that someone actually seemed glad to hear that there are people who do quit their PhD project. It wasn’t the first time that someone was relieved or even inspired to hear the story of someone who quit. We often get inspired by people who dare to stop and change direction when they feel they are on the wrong path.
Then why the stab of shame? Then why do so many people still keep on keeping on in their PhD projects, or jobs, or relationships, even though it no longer serves them? Even though they are suffering and may even have (serious) health issues because of it?
Because society still conditions us this way. There is a pressure on us to not quit. We are told from the time we are tiny little kids to persevere, to grit our teeth and sit this one out, to endure. That’s brave and that’s being a good girl. And sometimes that may be what you should do. It probably isn’t a good idea to quit everything right away whenever you feel like you’re not enjoying it. Discomfort or fear is normal or even unavoidable when trying something new or out of your comfort zone, and any and every job or project or relationship is bound to cause stress and problems sometimes. There may be a pot of gold on the other side of the rainbow if we push through. But what if you have tried to hold on and endure, tried to work on the issues, look into the causes and have come to realize that this path is destroying you rather than making you grow? That enduring this situation even longer would be unhealthy? When it feels like the job/project/relationship you are in is killing your soul and eating away at your sanity:
Then, please, quit. Quit before you lose your mind and your health. It is not okay to have to dread every new day on the job, every new step on the path.
Let’s reform society into a healthy environment where people can quit a situation that is unhealthy for them. Where people can end things that make them thoroughly unhappy without being judged, without being seen as quitters and failures. Where we encourage people to follow their heart and gut and get out of that lousy job or project instead of looking down on them for not being ‘strong’ enough to hold on.
We are not a failure when we give up and quit. People can’t be failures anyway. Judge Victoria Pratt said the following in an interview by Marie Forleo: “Failure is just an event. It is not a characteristic. People can’t be failures.” Repeat these words to yourself whenever you feel the need.
And know this: you are allowed to quit. You are allowed to say “this is not working for me and I choose to choose something else, something that makes me happy”. Even if others think this is the right path for you. Even if others think you are giving up too soon, or quit too often. It is your life. You are the one who has to live it every day and therefore you should be the one who gets to control it and make the decisions.
There may be financial restraints or other reasons making it impossible for you to quit right away. Then I hope you can find help from others (friends, family, institutions, funds) who understand your situation. Speak to trusted others about what you can do to get out of it. Start working on another solution/job/project behind the scenes of the current one if you can. Even if you cannot get out right now, there are small steps you can take and even just admitting to yourself and trusted others that you want to quit can help set the wheels in motion.
And, once you have quit, if for whatever reason it turns out that quitting was not the right thing to do after all, or you feel like you made a mistake: that’s okay too. Because when you quit you did something that in that moment or situation felt best for you. You chose what seemed best at that time. That’s what matters. We cannot look into the future and predict how everything will turn out. Just try to go with your gut, your intuition, with the self-caring part of you that whispers to you that it is time to let go. That’s the part that knows you can never be a failure.
You Are Allowed To Quit
Quitting does not make you a failure
You are not and can never be a failure
Note to self 😉