The Lost Art of Quitting
May 25, 2010
“Quitters never win & winners never quit.”
Excuse me, divine gods of all Protestant work-ethic-inspired proverbs, *takes drag of imaginary cigarette* but I beg to differ. *Apathetically exhales and flings cigarette to ground before grinding it with the ball of not-so-imaginary fire engine red high heel.*
We've heard these types of statements all our lives: Stick with it, keep your eye on the ball, never give up and if at first you don't succeed, try, try again.
Essentially, there's one big, giant underlying message:
Quitting is taboo.
More taboo than going under anesthesia and having someone slice open your breast, insert large pieces of unnatural matter underneath your skin, and then sew you back up and ship you off with the Victoria's Secret Dream Angels Collection, Size DD–while risking one's life in the name of vanity, for example.
Quitting has become the equivalent of committing a sin. It has turned into a moral issue of sorts; we stick with something, oftentimes for the principle of it, rather than the value of it. And while that may score us brownie points from the integrity fairy, the truth is that it isn't going to do much in terms of advancement.
But isn't integrity important, you ask?
But the problem is that our integrity will be capped off at some point, if we aren't living an honest version of the life we aspire to have. Hypocrites don't make the best integritists. (If that's not a word, it so is now.) So what's better? Short-term integrity that keeps your wheels spinning, or long term integrity that will eventually launch you headfirst into the lead?
That's why I'm calling for a rediscovery of the lost art of quitting.
We've been taught that quitting means failure. But we neglect to add the very important caveat to that statement, which is that there are two types of quitting: Quitting things that matter, and quitting things that don't. Because we've had it so drilled into our minds that quitting is bad, we don't tend to make that distinction, and instead, don't quit anything. We persevere through the things that matter, as well as the things that don't. And we use a hell of a lot of energy in the process, all in the name of fear of failure. After all, we wouldn't want to be a quitter, would we? It's almost like being called a vulgar profanity.
We persevere to save face. We persevere to avoid looking like a failure. We persevere to prove ourselves to others. We persevere so we don't feel like all the time we spent up until that point was a waste.
And all of those reasons are bullshit reasons that are centered around pride.
The only reason we should ever persevere is when it matters. And when does it matter? When it contributes to your big picture goals. Anything else is a waste of your time, and not quitting is extremely counterproductive. In that case, quitting is the most intelligent move you could make. It's acknowledging that–hey–I can't do everything. There are things I'd like to do, but I am only one person. There are people I'd like to please, but I am only one person. There are opportunities I'd like to take, but I am only one person. It's about keeping the big picture in mind, focusing on it, and then aligning yourself with whatever it takes to make that picture a reality.
This notion that quitters never win and winners never quit is nothing more than a feel-good bunch of so-called inspirational malarkey, designed to give us motivation. What it ends up doing, though, is gives us misplaced guilt. And frankly, there's no reason for it.
As human beings, we change. Our lives change. Our opinions change. Our habits change. Our thoughts change. Our perspectives change. Our ideas change. Our goals, dreams & aspirations change. And with that needs to come flexibility. If, on the other hand, we are constantly in the process of change, but are also constantly trying to stick to our initial commitments & try to avoid being a quitter, we're going to be pulled in both directions, never making progress in either.
If something doesn't make sense for us, then retreating once we've started isn't a sign of flightiness, unreliability or commitment phobia; it's a sign of wisdom.