Never give up … except when you should: A love letter to the quitters

I’m going to offer up an unpopular and perhaps controversial take: sometimes, giving up is the best thing you can do for yourself. Of course, I don’t mean this in a general, overarching sense — I wholeheartedly subscribe to the idea that you should try to put your best foot forward in everything you do. However, pushing oneself to the point of risk, pain, or suffering is counterintuitive. I believe many of us semi-regularly find ourselves in unintentionally precarious positions, teetering on the brink of outstanding achievement and complete mental and spiritual breakdown.

We undertake new projects, commitments, and life goals with positive aims (at least, we should). Still, when we begin a new journey, it’s impossible to know how unknown challenges will affect us and what other obstacles might present themselves along the way. In today’s competition culture – spurred on largely by social media’s stranglehold on us – it’s easy to compare ourselves against our friends, associates, family, and idols and feel a sense of insecurity, jealously, or unworthiness. In some cases, we bite off more than we can chew because we feel guilty or poorly about our current situations, as though our present load isn’t enough, or isn’t as impressive or important as someone else’s. We become ensnared by the idea that suffering is good for the soul when, in fact, suffering is hindering our ability to alleviate stress and rebalance our mental and physical health.

Most people, at some point in their lives, come to a crossroads about whether they should continue on their current journey, or journeys. When I say “journey,” I mean a job, school, an activity, a social commitment, a relationship — anything, really. All of these things are specific journeys, and they all change over time. Persistence along these journeys is essential for personal and sometimes professional growth, but this growth is not dependent upon the endeavor’s endpoint, and this is where I believe people get hung up.

I hate to be the one to tell you this, but if a journey is tormenting you or causing you undue stress, and you can do without the long road, it’s perfectly OK to hang up your hat and say, “Nope, that’s it — I’ve had enough.” Again, the end points of your journeys do not define you. Also, no one’s opinion defines you — only you can define yourself to your own soul.

Opting out of a pursuit can be daunting because, in addition to the pressures imposed on us by the various media we consume, we may feel as though we’re answerable to our families, significant others, friends, and institutions. Of course, in some cases, we are, but – and here’s another big one – the idea that we should keep hammering away at a thing because we’re afraid of letting someone down or experiencing their judgment should really be thrown straight into the bin … and then maybe set on fire. I know, I know — everyone’s circumstances are different. Maybe you have a job that you can’t leave because it maintains your current quality of life, or perhaps you have a full scholarship, and if you withdraw from your classes, you’ll lose considerable sums. Similarly, you might not be able to walk away from your relationships; all of this is OK. You shouldn’t quit on certain things … unless you can, and this is entirely personal.

Which leads me to my next point: we should all make a better effort to make decisions about our journeys on our own. “What?” You may say. “Outrageous! This goes against all the wholesome memes I read every day about letting people in to support me.” Right, well, I’m not saying you can’t or shouldn’t lean on people, but when you’re making a decision about your life, shouldn’t you make it? Getting comfortable with your thoughts about your journey and coming to terms honestly with how it makes you feel will strengthen your confidence in your decision-making. I know. Crazy right? It’s real, though — to this, I vow. Sure, does this approach open you up to sleepless nights and overthinking? Totally, but if you’re able to find something to break your repetitive thoughts, pause your decision-making until you’re ready to consider your journey again.

Why am I encouraging readers this way? Well, because family, friends, and associates are just as apt to give garbage advice as they are to give good advice. It is easier for someone to tell you what you want to hear than what you need to hear. It’s also possible for a person to offer advice, which might lead to a guilt response, and this – in turn – might cause you to persist through something unnecessary because you feel influenced by someone else’s opinion of your journey. I find that most people mean well, but perhaps it’s best to consider your triggers before confiding in someone about your decision. Are you setting yourself up? Do you know a person’s response will upset you because that’s a pattern in your communicative relationship? If the answers to these questions are yes, you may wish to reconsider sharing your thoughts about your journey.

I strongly dislike the word “quit” because it describes an action with absolute permanence and carries a poor connotation, suggesting that quitting is angry, cowardly, or misdirected. Deciding to “quit” a journey is not nearly as one-dimensional as that. In addition to the social influences we must contend with, we also become hyper-fixated on words and labels, which we allow to mold us. Don’t get me wrong, I can imagine that this type of pressure motivates certain personality types, and that’s alright if it’s productive, but it’s not everyone’s best look. Here’s another hot take: quitting doesn’t have to mean forever. In many cases, situations are more complex than that. It is possible to return to something you’ve given up, depending on the circumstances involved. Maybe a hard reboot is exactly what you need.

Your journeys are your own, and it’s your responsibility to manage them in the best interest of your mental health and sense of peace and fulfillment. Work hard to achieve your goals and remain strong in the face of adversity. Challenges shape who we are throughout our lives, and it’s important to take the good with the bad and process both equally and healthily. On the flip side, we are only human. Every day we are bombarded with influence, news, life stress, pressures, fears, and uncertainty that impact our ability to see our journeys through to conclusion. It’s OK to give up if it means you’re going to feel better for it. The experience of embarking on a journey and trying something should be fulfilling in and of itself. Your experiences along the road shape you and, hopefully, inspire your future decision-making.

Rethinking the ideas of quitting, surrendering, withdrawing, and interrupting is difficult, but once we consider these words and concepts more objectively, our options widen, and we may find that our ability to persist can be realized in different ways. Remember: the road your journey takes is rarely straight; it will likely break off on many paths through rough terrain and unfavorable weather. There’s nothing wrong with pausing to take shelter and rethink the future of your journey, even if it means that the trip is ultimately over.


One thought on “Never give up … except when you should: A love letter to the quitters

  1. “Here’s another hot take: quitting doesn’t have to mean forever. In many cases, situations are more complex than that. It is possible to return to something you’ve given up, depending on the circumstances involved. Maybe a hard reboot is exactly what you need.”

    This, this, 100% this. I’ll be one of the first to admit that I push myself way too hard to try to see my goals through, and it’s always been difficult for me personally to accept the idea that giving up, or halting, an objective may be beneficial in the long run. This is something I had to learn hard over the years.

    All in all, this essay is eye-opening, and to be honest, I read it 2-3 times to fully grasp everything because your insight is great. There are definitely a lot of lessons in here I should apply to my own life. Great work. 🙂


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