Make Quitting Your Superpower

Our Obsession with Quitting

“Quitters never win and winners never quit.” Except when they do. At least in American culture, we appear to be hung up on not quitting. On persevering. It’s probably tied to our historical emphasis on “pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps” yada yada. A Google search of “quitting quotes” reveals an association between giving up, giving in, throwing in the towel, the “ease” of quitting, and the permanence of quitting. The overall message is that if you quit something, you have failed. I call bullshit on that notion. For life’s significant decisions, the guilt and shame that society equates or tries to elicit when we quit something is not helpful. It’s harmful – to people, to relationships, to organizations, and even to Mother Earth.

Certainly, quitting drugs, smoking, vaping, drinking alcohol excessively, eating too much junk food, sleeping too much, not sleeping enough, showing up late to work, or binging an inordinate amount of Netflix can be fundamental to winning at the game of life. Winning at increasing our quality of life and our life expectancy. Winning at raising the balance of our bank account. Winning at improving our closest relationships. Winning in our work life. Quitting unhelpful or unhealthy habits requires numerous and frequent decisions that enable you to make big changes through those regular and choices. Lots of small actions = big results.

Quitting Life’s Biggies

But what about quitting when it comes to big stuff? Those really consequential one-time decisions? Not the little habitual decisions we make weekly, daily or hourly like whether we will take the stairs or the elevator? Or whether we will treat ourselves with compassion and kindness, or let our inner critic run wild such that it undermines our productivity, leads to depression, and increases the risk of cardiovascular disease? Quitting habits we know are unhealthy or are unhelpful to our happiness is often a no-brainer, even if doing so requires consistent effort.

Quitting bigger things often requires much more thought. The analysis is trickier because it’s more complicated. When we quit something big in our lives, often we are not the only ones affected. Our partners, kids, extended family, coworkers, bosses, and friends may be shaped a bit or a lot by our decision. The decision-making process for a big change feels like more of a hurdle. We often avoid these because that process is generally so energy, time, and attention-consuming. We may think the status quo is better than pulling the trigger on quitting something significant that could disrupt our lives, either personally or professionally. Quitting something consequential or fundamental to our lives, to who we are, or to how we see ourselves feels riskier. Sometimes that risk is real. That doesn’t mean the risk isn’t worth taking.

Make Quitting One of Your Superpowers

Here’s what I have learned in my 40s: quitting can be a superpower. Hell, it should be a superpower. I don’t know that it would qualify as one of my superpowers yet, but it is a skill or ability I have come to intentionally work to strengthen and practice on the regular. We think of the things we do, say, or buy as defining who we are and shaping our health, wealth, and happiness. But what role does quitting have to play in our lives and in how we live them? Quitting that involves small decisions every day often is a continual pursuit that requires intense or at least consistent discipline. Quitting a part of our life that has far-reaching implications or consequences requires something else entirely: courage and a shifting of resources.  

Quitting = A Positive Pivot

Quitting often has an overarchingly negative connotation. We quit a job because we hated the work or we had an abusive boss. We quit a friendship because a friend betrayed us. We quit a civic organization because it changed or we changed and our values no longer aligned with its values. We focus on the act of quitting, rather than focusing on what comes next.

Fundamentally, quitting requires two things: 1) courage, and 2) a shifting of our resources.  Quitting something that has a major impact on the status quo of our lives can be damn scary. Our brains are flooded with questions, concerns, and insecurities. Will I be able to find another job if I quit the one I currently have? If I get divorced or end a romantic relationship, will there be someone else out there who is interested and meets my needs? If I quit this religion or that church, will my friends there still hang out with me and my family still speak to me? If I quit the city I now live in, will I be happy in the new city where I plan to relocate? Decisions that involve quitting important parts of life also require tremendous boldness and bravery. 

Second, quitting requires a shifting of our resources. Those resources could include our time, energy, attention, intellect, emotion, social skills, and network connections. At its core, quitting frees us up to use our precious resources elsewhere. In quitting, we choose to focus on projects, people, relationships or endeavors that have a better return on investment than the one(s) in which we are currently involved. In shifting our resources through quitting, we are engaging in a Positive Pivot. We are shifting resources from a part of our lives that is not yielding good outcomes, and we are repurposing those resources to pursuits or relationships that yield more fruit, or that at least serve to better protect our health, wealth, and happiness.

How to Get the Positive Pivot

  1. Embrace the Strategic No, or strategic quitting. Strategic quitting means quitting with intention, not quitting simply because that’s all there is left to do. Quitting does not equal failure. Strategic quitting is a mindful choice in what may be a less than ideal situation. There can be as much more honor and benefit to the Strategic No than to sticking out a draining job, an unsupportive friendship, or a lopsided romantic relationship.
  2. Know that Suffering is Not a Superpower! Many achievements, things, or relationships worth having require effort – at certain times more than others. However, if you’re suffering more than you’re progressing, growing, or thriving, then it may be time to acknowledge that your mind thinks suffering is your superpower. It is not.
  3. Use the Marie Kondo Approach. While she uses the question, “Does this item spark joy in me?” to help her followers tidy and rid their lives and their homes of unneeded junk, we can use it to make quitting our superpower. It can help us determine if it’s time to make the Positive Pivot. Ask “Does this project/job/relationship/endeavor make me a happier, healthier, or wealthier person?”  If the answer is no or not very often, consider the Positive Pivot.
  4. Positive Pivot Means Shifting Your Resources. Whether we decide to quit a job, end a friendship, leave a romantic relationship, or close down a business, the Positive Pivot means we need to shift our resources to a new or different job, friendship, partner, or professional or personal endeavor. What resources are necessarily involved if you engage in the Strategic No and the subsequent Positive Pivot? Usually it’s your time, energy and attention, at the bare minimum. Be as specific or detailed as you can, and write those resources down. Where and how will you invest those resources in the next opportunity you turn to in order to get a better return on your investment?

Two Major Benefits of Quitting and the Positive Pivot

  1. Quitting helps us feel in control. That sense of control improves our well-being. More specifically, feeling a sense of control over our lives and our outcomes improves our life satisfaction and lowers the risk of depression.
  2. Quitting means we are less likely to give up our time, energy, and attention resources to unworthy projects, people, and organizations. We only have one wild, crazy, beautiful life. Contrary to popular thought, we don’t know how long that life will be. Do you want to give your life away to endeavors or relationships that demonstrate they haven’t earned your precious time and energy? Don’t miss the opportunity to make your resources count.

Bottom line: Quitting is not the same as failing. Engage in strategic quitting and put your precious resources toward the relationships, work, and endeavors that are worthy of you. Look for the Positive Pivot to live a happier, healthier, and wealthier life.

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Merideth Thompson

Merideth Thompson, Ph.D., is an educator, author, and speaker, who empowers young women with the skills they need to live a happy, productive life. It is her goal to demystify dense academic studies and data for everyday people so that they can make informed decisions for themselves. 


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