Quitting is different than giving up. Persisting is useless if you’re on the wrong path.
By Bo Ren (Product Manager, Facebook)
“The way I see it in thinking about my own life…it as being framed and the narrative of it being pushed along by quitting, by quits.” — Evan Harris
Growing up I was told not to quit, to persist, to stay on course. In kindergarten, posters of mountain climbers read “Winners never quit and quitters never win.” Words like “quitting is for losers” brainwashed me into thinking quitting is bad. Raised by tiger parents, I was too afraid to quit piano when clearly it made me miserable because I thought it was what all good Asian children should do. I remember being tormented about quitting debate team simply because I got tired of arguing with people. It starts young, we are brainwashed by career fairs, piano lessons, soccer, debate camp into thinking quitting is bad. Wrong.
After reading Evan Harris’ “Quitter’s Quarterly” zine, I began seeing the biggest lessons and defining moments in my 20’s all revolve around quitting.
My pivotal moments were marked by quitting something which became just as important as persevering. Every time I quit a job, a relationship, a city, a person, I found solace, freedom, increased self-worth, new opportunities, and subsequently, fulfillment. No one told me that quitting was good. This was the biggest secret of them all.
Quitting is Different from Giving Up
Out of the gospel of persevering is a myth: Persisting will lead to happiness. Promises of the struggle will rise above all hardships and lead you to a more meaningful, happy, fulfilling existence are seldom true. The truth: persisting is useless if you’re on the wrong path. Giving up on something that makes you unhappy is different from persisting to stay on course just so you don’t quit.
We forge new courses when we realize we’re going down the wrong path or when we realize what we actually want deviates from what we think we should want. At school, teachers don’t tell you to pause, think for yourself, and realize if you’re going in the wrong direction then you should probably stop to course correct. This happened to me when I realized I didn’t want to follow the safe course of going to law school after gaining admission to the school of my choice. Before me lay a linear trajectory —the safe and stable life my survivalist immigrant parents wanted for me. But deep down I wanted to say “no” to comfort, predictability, safety, and just quit. So I did.
So why is there so much stigma towards quitting? Because quitting is hard and scary. It involves giving up on an option without knowing there is a satisfactory backfill. Quitting requires overcoming the malaise of status quo, complacency, and unhappiness. You have to fight friction and inertia. In the Greek myth of Sisyphus, Sisyphus finds himself in an uphill battle rolling a boulder up a hill which will inevitably roll down after sun down. Quitting is break out of the cycle. Quitting requires facing yourself, being brutally honest, admitting that something isn’t working out, deciding to change, and veering off course into the unknown.
The Anatomy of a Quit
- Overcome inertia.
- Be honest with yourself.
- Assess your risk: Is the present so bad that I can give it up for an uncertain alternative?
- Make a decision to stay on course or veer off.
The Tenets of Quitting
- Nothing lasts forever.
- The status quo is so unbearable that you have to do something.
- Quitting is a philosophy and a lifestyle. Knowing when to quit is just as important as knowing when to persevere.
- All new beginnings come from quitting something.
Dispelling the Stigma
Contrary to popular opinion, quitters are not lazy. They are brave. Quitting is cutting your losses and moving on. Quitting marks milestones in our lives. They separate the denouement from the beginning of a story, wants from needs, likes from dislikes, and toxic from positive environments. The quitting cycle and nature of quitters is marked by growth, outgrowing confines, and progress. As you quit more, you start to see…
“Quitting itself has an identity, and your particular quit, one quitter’s particular quit, fits into the world and all the other quitters in the world. And you have to remember that your quit is going to influence another person’s quit, potentially.” — Evan Harris
Taken to the logical extreme, quitting can become a philosophy, mindset, lifestyle — and ultimately — an obsession. Quitting is infectious. Once you realize that you can pull off one quit, you spur other people to quit, to break out of their cycle of unhappiness, and realize that quitting marks the beginning of something new — tabula rasa.
The Pros of Quitting
- Quitters have volition. You are your own agent.
- Saying “no” to things is just as important as saying “yes.” Deductive reasoning allows you to infer what you do want from knowing what you don’t want.
- Cutting your losses, admitting sunken costs, detaching, and moving on.
- Making room for new beginnings, new people, new opportunities. Out with the fillers in with the new.
- Quitting has psychological and physical health benefits. In a study published in the Journal of Psychological Science, researchers studied two groups of teenage girls: Ones who persisted in the face of incredibly difficult life-changing obstacle and ones who let go of it. The former group had much lower levels of a protein called C-Reactive Protein (CRP), which indicates bodily inflammation linked to heart disease, diabetes and other markers of chronic illness. Tenacity to something unattainable or unrealistic has its toll on our body and mind.
Besides the health benefits, quitting grants us the freedom and relief by realizing that not everything has to work out, have a clear beginning, middle, and end. You don’t have to persevere for the sake of persevering. Looking back, I see my life forged and separated by a series of big quits, small quits, foolish quits, heartbreaking quits, and bold quits. Don’t be like Sisyphus, instead of rolling the boulder up the same hill every day, try a different hill. Be brave enough to quit something today.
What’s one thing you can quit today?
This piece originally appeared on Medium on April 17.