Inside: Should you quit? An exploration of the the difference between pivoting and quitting and 9 questions to help you examine if you should quit or stay the course. This post includes referral links.
I quit things all the time. I pivot, shift course, tweak, stay responsive to my body and life, and build a one of a kind, imperfect and beautiful life as I go. When I let go of a fairytale ideal of how life should be I live present, curious, and creatively in the life in front of me.
Sometimes I quit because I change my mind, at times because I’ve gleaned new wisdom and knowledge that helped inform a new path, other times I’ve quit out of fear or because of severe anxiety or to honour my current energetic or emotional capacity. And in every case, I was making the kindest choice possible with the tools, support, and resources available to me, and in response to the season of life and specific circumstances in front of me.
Rarely do I actually use the word “quitting” though. I relate more to the terms pivoting, shifting course, releasing. They feel more mindful and honest. I listen and respond. I let go of what no longer serves me in order to say yes to the next right thing or the truth of what I want and need in this season. As life unfolds, I become.
I know it’s semantics and yet, words matter. Words weave the narrative of our life and help construct emotional experience. Words impact our nervous system. Still, for the purpose of this conversation I will use the language of quitting because it is common and recognizable.
Like most good conversations, this is a nuanced one.
Let’s not overvalue grit; pressing forward no matter what. We change. The context changes. The capacity to walk away from existing goals that no longer serve us can be courageous, smart, and strategic. There’s a time to grit. And there’s a time to quit.Susan David, PhD, author of Emotional Agility
quitting and failure are terms that reflect binary all or nothing thinking
Quitting gets a bad rap. The way I most often hear people talk about quitting makes it seem like quitting is synonymous with failure. It’s bad. Period.
I never think of my life or myself as a failure, no matter what happens. I think of my life as an adventure and of myself as a human in progress. We’re all in progress, learning as we encounter new challenges and opportunities. Learning to love ourselves, figuring out what we want, testing out ideas, experimenting, practicing, maturing, and becoming.
If every decision needs to be a forever decision, why bother growing or learning? If we feel compelled to stick with every decision we’ve made, we won’t risk or try and we’ll limit ourselves and our experience of life.
How could we have known one year ago, ten years ago, twenty years ago, what we’d need or want in this season of life? How could we have planned for every unexpected event, every tragedy, or all the incredible beauty we encounter along the way? We couldn’t see this far ahead. We were working with the beliefs and limited perspective, resources, and sense of possibility we had. We were also operating from unconscious patterning and conditioning and deeply rooted fears and motivations that we didn’t even recognize were at play in our lives.
Hopefully today, we know more than we did yesterday. And so, our life should reflect that.
The negative connotation around quitting and failure feels very much a reflection of binary all or nothing thinking. Either this or that. Here is a right way, there is a wrong way. I’m good or I’m bad, no in-between. What an unhelpful, simplistic, and unrealistic way of viewing the reality of being a wholehearted human in a messy world. Not everything is a moral decision. We reduce complex, nuanced choices and life experience into a rating system of personal worth or identity.
Who gets to decide when we’re good enough, successful enough, when we’re accomplished and productive enough to prove our worth and lovability? To whom are we giving this power or authorship over our lives?
Let’s say you need to let go of ambition in order to prioritize rest or healing for a season, or you realize you need to leave an unhappy marriage and move back home for a while, or you recognize and respect the limitations of your body or finances or energy or the reality of this season of life and you let go of lots of really good things in order to make space for what is MOST important. This is good. You are not doing life wrong. I hope you’ll be proud of yourself.
Every life experience offers valuable information that we can build upon. Maybe it’s not about quitting or staying the course, or about failure and success, but about listening. And learning. And staying open to growth and discovery.
I asked for feedback from folks on my FB page about what they have quit and their relationship to quitting, and the response was fun: You can take a look here.
DOING HARD THINGS: it’s brave to live on purpose vs on autopilot
I believe in doing hard things. I do hard things daily (and likely you do too!). But I only care about doing hard things that align with my core values and priorities for this season of life.
I show up through fear to write and serve. I sit with my grief and process it instead of running. I have brave conversations with the people I love. I use my voice to help build a kinder, safer world. I tell the truth and ask for help and say I’m sorry when I’ve messed up. I build a business that honours my wiring instead of following the “experts.” I love myself well in all my messiness. I rest though my to-do list is never-ending. I live within my means. I watched my mom and dad die of cancer. I’ve been with my husband for 28 years and feel confident that there is not a healthy marriage in existence that hasn’t required hard work at times. I advocate for my kids and do my own soul-stretching healing work to leave a healthy legacy for them. And since my son left this world I’ve said yes to life with every breath.
I know what hard feels like.
So there is a time to grit (Susan David); to own our fear and put imperfect work into the world. To dive into something we want even though we don’t control the outcome. To risk love or vulnerability, to sit with discomfort, to fight hard, to do the work to expand our capacity for joy and pain. This is good and important but this doesn’t mean that it’s ALWAYS wise to stay in the muck, pushing, striving, hustling. And just because we CAN do something doesn’t mean we ought to.
I don’t think we have to go searching for hard things; just being human means we’ll come face to face with all sorts of hard things. Just being human some days is a hard thing.
I don’t believe we need to stick with hard things that don’t reflect our top values and priorities; there are no bonus points for making our lives extra hard or uncomfortable.
Only when we come face to face with the truth of what is, in this season, are we able to move forward gently, and on purpose. As Amanda Joy wrote on my FB post, “quitting one thing can be the beginning of something great.” I agree.
Living consciously is about taking control of your life, about thinking about your decisions rather than making them without thought, about having a life that we want rather than settling for the one that befalls us.Leo Babauta of Zen Habits
things I’ve quit
I like making lists. I’m not a traditional journaler but lists, brain downloads, mind maps, diagrams, etc. help me get my swirling or anxious thoughts out of my heart, brain, and body and onto paper so I can make sense of them or look for evidence of my strength and courage. Also, in honour of Matt Haig, a British writer who speaks openly about mental health (which I respect) and who includes frequent lists in his writing, I’ve created a couple of lists to share with you.
Perhaps it would serve you to create a list of your own! You could create a list of things you’ve joyfully quit or if you wrestle with judgement around the idea of quitting as failure or you believe the story that you quit everything, then create a list of values-based hard and meaningful things you’ve overcome, persisted in, and stuck with through struggle.
Each new chapter of our lives requests an old part of us to fall and a new part of us to rise.Jenna Galbut
tHINGS i’VE quit IN YOUNGER YEARS
I’ve left behind many relationships. Sometimes we try relationships on for size in order to find our people. Sometimes a friendship is for a season. Not every relationship is forever.
I quit an all or nothing mentality and decided to do things I wanted and put imperfect work into the world and let that be enough.
I didn’t complete the final 8-week practicum of my Education Degree. My son was miserable in daycare and things were getting worse not better. I was severely anxious and asked for help from my son’s pediatrician but my plea for help went unheard. I was doing my best with the support and resources I had in that season.
When my youngest child was born, 16 years ago, for her sake and mine I quit body shaming, diet mentality/restriction, and self-loathing. I decided to opt out of comparison and perfectionism and to love and like myself exactly who and how I am.
From a very young age I opted out of hustle and a belief that heaps of stuff, or money beyond “enough” or external accolades determine happiness, wellbeing, or worth.
I quit only noticing where I struggle and started owning all the things I do well. I started cheering myself onward like my own best friend.
For 20 years, I opted out of working outside the home in order to homeschool, nest, and live simply on one income and I have never regretted one moment of that season of my life. Then I happily quit homeschooling and my youngest headed to public school.
I stopped pouring every last penny into being debt-free and instead chose to live a more balanced life that included fun and travel. Losing both my parents so early taught us not to defer happiness for one day and to live imperfectly on purpose now.
Now I get to quit paying my mortgage as we’ve paid it off through one conscious and stubborn step at a time, keeping our eyes on our own path.
I quit eating meat for 20 years then I quit being vegetarian. What helps me thrive shifts in different seasons. Pregnancies, autoimmunity, perimenopause – they all have different needs. I also stay open to new research. What I eat in spring isn’t what I eat in Autumn; I stay responsive to the shifting seasons and what I can buy local and in-season.
I quit refined sugar.
I quit doubting my husband’s love and commitment.
I quit gossiping or hanging around people who talk about people more than about ideas or their own growth and learning.
I let go of trying to convince my family to move or do teaching exchanges and surrendered to the truth that they did not want to leave our small town until graduation/retirement.
I stopped letting my thoughts run amok and letting stories circle in my brain unexamined.
I stopped buying stuff I didn’t feel good in and chose a minimalist, primarily black and grey wardrobe.
I quit books that weren’t lighting me up. There are way too many fabulous books in the world to force myself to read what I do not enjoy.
I quit skiing and camping because I don’t like them. I quit swimming because of a torn muscle during my hip replacement.
I quit trying to die and decided to live.
I stopped believing that I was bad, wrong, or broken because I didn’t fit neat and tidy into this busy, noisy world.
I stopped pushing away compliments or lovely moments and learned to sit with the vulnerability and let them soak in.
I stopped always waiting for the next bad thing to happen and learned to live mindful and present in each ordinary day. To allow joy to live alongside grief and uncertainty.
I’ve quit many things – from university to my first marriage – because I pursued them for the wrong reasons. I did what I was “supposed” to do, without considering what I truly wanted because it felt so outrageous at the time. But the heart always knows. It wasn’t right for me, and when I found the courage to walk away, it was a great relief.Jennifer Burger of Simply + Fiercely, in this FB Post
Things I’VE QUIT SINCE MY SON DIED (almost) TWO YEARS AGO
I left my church officially. Quitting was an act of self-care and of walking in integrity. In this moment, even as I grieve and heal from trauma, I am the most honest, integrated, and emotionally and spiritually healthy version of myself that I’ve ever been.
I let go of needing to fit into a box and gave myself permission to not know.
I quit sacrificing myself for pleasing other people or out of fear of judgment.
I dropped down to a deeper level of honesty and courage and stopped putting other people’s needs (people beyond my immediate family) above my own.
I quit work that was good and paid well but didn’t feed me on a soul level. I had zero energy left for anything beyond my priorities.
I ended a couple long-term friendships Quitting was an act of self-compassion and removing myself from places or relationships in which I do not feel safe or heard. I live the truth that you can care about someone, even love them, and not want to be in relationship with them.
I stopped pretending. Quitting masking or hiding parts of myself for belonging is an act of choosing myself and allowing others to see the real me and decide for themselves if they want to be in relationship with me. Take me or leave me.
I released the idea of going back to university, once and for all. This is the path I’ve chosen and it’s good. Part of this is letting go of the old story that somehow, I prove my worth and legitimacy by finishing my undergrad degree.
I stopped responding to entitled or rude messages and emails. They get deleted immediately.
I quit trying to force holidays to feel light and fun. Instead, I let them be however they are. This includes opting out of arbitrary holidays that hold no meaning for us as a family.
I quit sleeping with my phone on beside my bed every night out of fear.
I let go of trying to keep everything together on my own and expanded my support team: I hired a virtual assistant, a housekeeper, a trauma therapist.
I released the remnants of pressure I sometimes felt around growing my business or email list or social pages. Bigger isn’t better. I love my business as it is.
I deleted a bunch of podcasts and social accounts that no longer served me.
I quit watching movies. My son used to love sharing his favourite movies with me. I stopped playing video games. I only played because my son would rally us together and get us belly laughing.
I quit being a non-napper. I now nap as often as needed.
I quit hoping I’d make my manuscript deadline. I wanted to be capable of writing. I have not been capable of writing. I am still healing from trauma, learning to live without my son, and closing out one story before trying to write the next.
I’ve quit pushing myself past my honest emotional and energetic capacity for work. I am no longer willing to give up my rest time to get more done.
I used to avoid quitting, wearing that attitude as a badge of pride. Once I realized that wasn’t working for me, I found quitting really liberating. It’s taken me a while to come to terms with doing what was best for me without feeling guilty but I’m glad I took that step. Leaving a job I had worked hard to achieve wasn’t easy but I now have a life with less stress, more time for family and friends plus a slower pace of life that I was desperately in need of. No regrets.Rosie Griffiths, on this post
9 questions to help you examine if you want to quit or stay the course
For most of my life I’ve had a clear Life Vision that helps guide me. Clarity around my values allows me to live in integrity, keep my eyes on my own path, and work through any challenging decisions that arise. The “how” of my life shifts as I move through different seasons, but my values do not waver. The hard work I’ve done to deepen my roots of self-awareness and self-compassion helps me show up to life through comparison, perfectionism, and fear. To stay rooted and resilient when the storms come.
Any work you do to befriend yourself or get to know the real you will help you sift through competing tensions and desires, uproot old unhealthy stories, and uncover freedom and permission to handcraft a life that feels like home, no matter what others are up to. Working with a coach who can hold space and guide you through a process of self-discovery, therapy, personality typing (as long as you don’t put yourself into a box), journaling for self-exploration, it can all be helpful.
But for now, I’ve offered you some questions to explore. Your responses to these questions can help you find clarity about when to quit and when you want to stay the course. In addition to these questions, you might want to explore the idea of sunk cost fallacy and how this influences our decision making around quitting or persisting with what is.
1. Who do you CHOOSE to be in this season?
Name 3-5 words that help create a vivid picture in your mind of who and how you want to BE in this season of your life. Not who your parents expect you to be, who you used to be, or how your best friend is. Write these words on a sticky note and check in with them at least daily. You might be surprised at how helpful this simple practice is. You may also want to choose a mantra for your year. This is a short verse, thought, or quote that reminds you of what you want and need for THIS season of your life.
2. What are your 5 core values?
Clarity around our core values serves as a light for the path ahead. There are many wonderful possibilities in life and knowing your core values will help you sift through competing tensions and desires, all the noise of life, and narrow your focus to live on purpose.
3. do you have breathing room in your life so you can listen inward?
How can you hear yourself think if you’re constantly rushing and filling up every waking hour with busyness? Get out for a walk in nature, take a weekend away to rest, give yourself a rest hour once a day to do whatever feels good in the moment. Limit your kids activities, automate, outsource, ask for help.
4. Are you familiar with The enneagram?
The more we befriend ourselves, the more empowered we are to write a new story for our lives. Personality is not the full truth of who we are; it’s how we learned to navigate the world. Typing models like the Enneagram help us uncover our truest selves underneath all our layers of self-protection and shadow, efforts at finding belonging, or the masks we wear (unconscious or not). Waking up to our root fears and motivations helps us live more consciously. The Enneagram does not put us into a box but it helps us identify the box we’re already in so we can climb out and then choose our path forward. This is one of my all-time favourite tools for deepening self-awareness and self-compassion. This is a quality test. And this book is a great way to dive in. And I share a handful more Enneagram resources here.
5. are you Telling the truth about the state of your mental health?
We pay lip service to the importance of mental health and yet judge ourselves and others if we cannot measure up and keep up to arbitrary standards. Your mental health matters more than a job, relationships, or a number on a scale. You matter more than the opinion of people who don’t live in your body or life. What do you need in order to be able to say yes to the thing you desire in this season? For instance, could you lower the bar, ask for and receive help, give yourself permission to take longer than typical to achieve it? Is your current life supporting your mental health? Name the power structures that make it hard for you to feel safe and in control of your own life.
6. do you ever ask yourself what you want or need?
Pause several times a day for a brief mind-emotion-body check-in. Ask yourself “what do I want or need right now?” or “what would feel good right now?” and respond to what you hear. You will deepen self-awareness and self-trust this way and learn to recognize the voice of your inner wisdom or sense of direction. Somatic exercises can help you take this further and deepen your relationship with these different parts of yourself. I incorporate somatic embodiment and regulation strategies into my work.
7. How will you know at the end of your life that you lived well?
What are the things you do not want to regret when you lie on your deathbed? Bonus: this can give you clues about your core values. What do you worry about that you suspect will not matter at all when you’re ready to take your last breath? What legacy do you want to leave behind? Are you living today in a way that reflects the truth of who you truly are/want to be?
8. what is the vision you have for your life?
Create a snapshot of your Ideal Day/Life; you can do this through writing, through mind-mapping, or you can make a vision board on Pinterest or using a bulletin board and pins, old style. Engage your senses and consider how you want to feel and move through the day: who do you spend time with, do you work, what does your environment look/sound/feel like, what is your relationship with yourself like, what lights you up and helps you feel safe and at home in your body and your life? Next, get honest about how close your current reality is to this vision (many people are much closer than they realize). What would be needed to bring you a little bit closer? Are you chasing someone else’s dream? Do you even want the thing that you’re working towards? Remember that you can admire someone else and even feel envy at times and yet not truly want what they have or not want to BE them.
9. Do you know how to Practice self-compassion?
Self-compassion is required for a conscious life. It means “treating yourself like you would treat a close friend who was struggling” (Kristen Neff) and includes three components: self-kindness, mindfulness, and common humanity (life is imperfect and we are imperfect just like everyone else). There are many powerful benefits of self-compassion including increases in life satisfaction, happiness, self-confidence, body appreciation, and immune function. Understanding the difference between gentle and fierce self-compassion is helpful as we navigate challenging decisions. This is a good book if you want to delve deeper. Otherwise I’ve shared some resources from Kristen Neff to help you get started.
in order to receive we must also release
Not everything is for this season. and again, just because we CAN do something doesn’t mean we have to. I’m not interested in hustle culture. More is better culture. Sacrifice your health for productivity culture.
There are a whole lot of unhappy people with lots of money and degrees and stuff (in addition to unhappy people who won’t ever risk or go after what they want) yet we continue to buy into the idea that more is always better. Faster is inherently better. We fill our lives and brains and homes to overflowing and call that a good life.
I want something different. I choose a slower path. A meaningful and gentle path that reflects my core values and honors my wiring. A home woven together with story and connection. A life that includes good food, great books, meaningful work, travel, and brave, wise, and compassionate community. A handcrafted, one of a kind, beautiful life of enough.
My husband and I are on the homestretch toward a new season in which we will travel more and rent a flat or tiny home in a new location, a few months here, a couple there. I’ll bring my laptop and keep working and writing part-time. We’ll get to know some locals and frequent the markets. In order to make space for this new season we will release our old way of living, his income, many of our belongings, and the home we raised our family in. We’ve been working towards this, slow and steady, for at least a decade.
Maybe I’ll hate travelling this much and miss home. Maybe I’ll dislike being so far from our kids. And if I do, that’ll be great information; I can respond to what I learn. I don’t have to stick with something once I’ve outgrown it. I have permission to play, experiment, and shift course as I go.
In order to receive we must release. I can’t hold onto all the things and thrive. “Everything” is too heavy for me. In letting go of what was, who I used to be, the beautiful season of my life that is coming to a close, I express trust in my own capacity to meet challenge and adventure with strength and wisdom, and I trust that there is more goodness and beauty ahead.
Sometimes it feels excruciating to let go of what was; recognizing that my son is not physically coming with us into the next part of our story is incredibly painful. And yet through this messy and admittedly heart-wrenching process of surrender we find joyful, hopeful possibility.
Monthly and quarterly I complete a release and receive exercise so that I never grow stagnant.
So should you quit?
Unless you want to live a stagnant life, you will need to quit, at least some of the time. In order to grow into the person you want to be, or to become more fully yourself, you will need to quit, let go, release some stuff, choices, relationships, ways of thinking, along the way. You will be required to let go of shame and judgment around quitting, to challenge your old stories around the idea of quitting as failure, in order to have the freedom to move forward in an intentional and compassionate way.
No matter who you are and how you’re wired, you can’t have it all, do it all, be all the things. We have to choose. We have power of choice. Agency. And if not in all areas of life, then in some.
My experience is that life can turn out far more beautiful, and far more painful, than we ever could have imagined. I want to live willing and open to the journey. One of the reasons I practice Seasonal Living is that it reminds me that there is a time for turning inward and a time for engaging outward, for building and creating and for receiving and resting, for planting, watering, and harvest. For new life and for death. Not everything is for this season.
We remember that diversity is needed, who we are is needed, and this opens us up to find our place in the world and to experience true belonging. It helps us recognize our interconnectedness and to live consciously and more sustainably as we navigate life.
Seasonal living offers me hope. I know that however dark a particular season, spring will always come again. And if life is hard, it’s not because I’m doing it wrong but because a full, beautiful, meaningful life will inevitably involve stress, loss, and invitations to growth. I am human in a messy world. The more I release an expectation of life being linear and tidy, the better I am equipped to show up with joy and on purpose to the messy and beautiful life in front of me.
Quitting isn’t a dirty word.