Lani: Never, Ever Quit. Unless You Should Really, Really Quit.

darwin-change-v2We’ve been watching a lot of The Amazing Race lately. Alastair is not typically a big fan of reality shows (I am; few things give me more pleasure than when Gordon Ramsay calls someone a “donkey”) but he’s always been intrigued by The Amazing Race because of the travel, adventure and exotic locales, so we gave it a shot, and were, of course, immediately hooked. We’re through about five seasons of a total twenty-one, and it’s gotten to the point where at the beginning of a season, we try to predict what episode someone will say, “I didn’t come here to make friends.” Usually, it’s somewhere between episodes four and six, for those of you who want to play at home.

But the one thing that comes up even more than that old saw is the married couple saying, “We’re here to show our kids that you never, ever quit.” Hand to God, at least once a season, a married couple who left their kids for six weeks to romp around the world (hey, no judgment, a million bucks can put a reliable roof over a lot of little heads) makes it some kind of moral lesson for their kids on quitting, as though there is no lesson in the world more valuable than, “Never, ever quit.”

I’m not sure I agree with that. I mean, “Keep going even if it’s hard,” is a good lesson, sure. I want my kids to stick with things even if they’re hard, because if something’s worth doing, it’s worth working for. It’s the “never, ever” that gets me.

Sometimes, you should just quit. When something ceases to be worth the pain of attaining it, you should quit. Life’s too short. Do something else. Don’t ever stick with something just because you said you would. Yes, there’s the giving-your-word thing, and you should take that seriously, of course, but not to the detriment of all parties involved. Not when keeping your word becomes more important than what’s best. There comes a time, no matter what you said when you started, when finishing something isn’t just unfulfilling, but downright hazardous, and at that point, quitting is absolutely the moral, proper and correct thing to do.

I’ve quit untold jobs, various endeavors, and one faulty marriage and looking back, I don’t regret quitting. I’ve also kept at it when things have become impossibly hard. I’d put writing in that category. But the reason I never quit writing isn’t because of some misplaced sense of commitment, but because writing never stopped being worth it. I’ve promised myself I would quit publishing a number of times, but I’ve stuck with that, too, because on the whole it’s been worth it. But there are times when something not only stops paying off, but it’s actively detrimental. When that becomes the case, for God’s sake, quit. Let it go. Release. Move on.

And there’s no shame in it. When I moved into Jenny’s attic, she had a wall hanging with a quote from E.M. Forster. We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us. Boy, was that ever true for me, and it wasn’t until I let go of my old, dysfunctional life that I was able to find the life that was waiting for me, which is pretty damned good. Last year, Jenny shared with me an insight she had: When something isn’t working, don’t do it harder. Yes, absolutely. Hallelujah, sister.

In general, any quippy motto that claims to tell you how to live your entire life should be handled with latex gloves and extreme suspicion. But if the words “never” or “always” show up, instantly disregard it.* “Never, ever quit,” just seems too simplistic to me, so here’s my alteration:

Don’t quit because it’s hard. Don’t quit because you’re afraid. Don’t quit because you think you’re not good enough. That’s all nonsense. Quit when it stops paying off. Quit when not quitting will hurt you or someone else. Quit when staying will prevent you from doing something better. Trust your own judgement about what is right for you, and don’t ever stay with something for any reason other than it’s giving you something back.

And sometimes, if you can pull it off, quit for a day or two. Writers do that all the time. What we do, despite all appearances, is actually really hard, and sometimes, in order to not quit, you need to say you quit, just for a little while, just to try on quitting and see if it really feels as good as you think it will. For me, it has always felt great the first day, okay the second day, and on the third day I wrote again. Sometimes no one else ever even knew I quit; sometimes my agent did, although she knows me well enough not to take me seriously when I quit.

So, yeah. Go ahead. Quit if you need to, and trust yourself to figure out if it’s right or not. But if you’re dead last in The Amazing Race, and your ankle is swelling up twice its normal size, and you’re being forced to run on a super-fast treadmill then jump up and grab a rubber chicken in front of a live studio audience on a weird Japanese TV show… maybe now’s the time to walk, or in your case limp, away.

*With the exception of “Always look both ways before crossing the street,” and “Never eat the yellow snow.”

36 thoughts on “Lani: Never, Ever Quit. Unless You Should Really, Really Quit.

  1. Mary M. in Denver says:

    Lani, I love your blog posts and I love YOU for giving words to my feelings. I’m no slacker at that, but every time you post inside my head as I read I’m saying things like, “Exactly!”, “That’s how *I* feel!”, and various murmurs of agreement and approval.

    Thanks for taking the time to share these thoughts with us readers. I, for one, truly appreciate it and know that these posts have helped me see things with a less critical eye toward myself.

  2. Danielle says:

    Dave Chappelle gave a phenomenal interview on Inside the Actors’ Studio after his trip to Africa (where he went after breaking his very lucrative contract and turning his back on Hollywood in the middle of the third season of The Chappelle Show) and as soon as I started reading this post, his voice popped up in my head:

    “Name your price. In the beginning. If it ever gets more expensive than the price you named, get outta there. Thus, Africa.”

    One of the most concise, heartfelt interviews I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching. I feel blessed to have seen it. If anyone wants to see it (sorry, it’s long, but totally worth it), here’s the link:

    • Sometimes that’s the very difference you need to figure out. Also, it’s good to ask yourself why you want it so bad. I’ve known a lot of people who got exactly what they wanted, what they worked so hard for, and in the end, were more miserable than when they started because what they wanted was ego-driven, rather than something that would genuinely pay back. They wanted other people to view them as a success, and it came at too high a cost.

      Just something to chew over. Ask yourself why, and ask yourself if it’s worth it. If both of those answers come back in the positive, then dig in and hang on. Otherwise…

  3. German Chocolate Betty says:

    Oh, Lani, thank you so much for this wonderful post.

    You have hit it spot on. When my first husband was sick (and dying, although we didn’t know it yet), I was working at a job where I got paid pretty well, but was terribly unhappy. And I put my head down and suffered everything because he(we) needed the health insurance.

    Then he died. A year later, I had a chance to do something different with my life. So I gave up this well-paying, high status job, sold my house and moved myself and 3 critters (2 dogs, 1 cat) overseas to a freelance job with only faith that it would turn out all right. I was 45.

    When my folks brought me and my critters to the airport, my dad said, well, if you aren’t happy, you can always come back. I told him I could be any more UNHAPPY than I had been at the previous job.

    It wasn’t easy, and there were a lot of hard times but it all worked out. If you look at it from the financial point of view, quitting that job was the absolute worst decision of my life. If you look at all the other things, it was absolutely the right decision.

    QUITTING don’t always mean GIVING UP!

  4. Kieran says:

    Once I quit a teaching job in the middle of the year. I told them by October, which gave them plenty of notice to hire someone for the second semester starting in January. I took a lot of flack for this decision, including from my own sister, a long-time teacher, who felt I owed it to the students and school to stay.

    But what my sister and other people didn’t know was what it was like to be me. In my little world, that teaching post wreaked havoc on my family. My son with Asperger’s–his grades went straight down the tubes, and it was because our homelife became totally unpredictable. He needed more structure and stability. If you want to be a good English teacher, it requires a heckuva lot more from you than a 40-hour workweek.

    I cried, and some of my students cried. That was the hardest part. Because I was a very out-of-the-box English teacher, and to this day, I have kids (now in college) from that year who stay in touch. And we were only together a few months.

    I was very sad. But it was the right thing to do.

  5. Sometimes, Lani, your blog posts have my name in about every other paragraph and this is one those. You and my mom would’ve gotten along famously! There’s the polka dot thing, of course, but also, she was a proponent of knowing when to stick it out and when to cut and run. Our culture discourages us from teaching our kids that it’s okay to just walk away when things simply are NOT working. I love Jenny’s words, “When something isn’t working, don’t do it harder!” Words to live by. And I’m completely with you about the writing thing–that’s one area where I doubt I’ll ever quit because it’s something I can’t seem to stop doing. Like you, I stop for a while, but I’m always pulled back into my stories. It’s a place to stick because the payoff is getting them out of my head and onto a page.

    As the old Kenny Rogers tune tells us, “You gotta know when to hold ’em and know when to fold ’em. Know when to walk away and know when to run.” You’d think if we can figure that out about a silly card game, we could figure it out about life…

  6. RanchGirl says:

    I have learned to listen to fate, or the universe, or my subconsious (or maybe it is my good wolf trying to get my attention) when I am trying so hard to do something and things just keep not working. I have found that I get so wrapped up in not quitting and pushing on, that I have not noticed that I am putting way more into the project than it is worth. Such a great post! Thanks Lani!!

  7. JulieB/Julie Spahn says:

    So well said Lani. I realized I wasn’t “owning” the fact that I’d quit writing – I was just feeling guilty about it. And, I’ve always labelled myself a “quitter” and “failure” when I have had to quit, even though over the years I’ve later realized that many things have been for the best. I haven’t been able to articulate it as well as you have here though, so I think I need to work on owning it more and scraping off those silly, negative guilt connotations, and allow myself space for more perspective on these.

    This just came up recently when one of my children wanted to quit two classes and pick up a different one. She’d auditioned for one, and had been in the other for several years, and my first reaction was, “But you _can’t_. What about all the years and effort? You’ve reported these classes to your colleges already…” I was also worried because she made the decision after a very intense semester, and she was not feeling well at the time, and I didn’t want her to regret it later.

    We ended up having a fight. Fortunately, she was able to point out that I was not _listening_ to her needs, and I realized I was approaching things with a “can’t do” mentality. Once we all took a breath, we came up with a plan (guess what, you _can_ switch classes you final semester and there _is_ a process to make sure your college acceptance will still be honored…), and I was reminded once again that making a gut decision based on worries and fears really isn’t productive.

  8. Theresa says:

    Amen. Amen, amen, amen.

    One problem is with the word “quit” itself. And the phrases “give up”, “cut and run”, “abandon”, “throw in the towel”, etc. They all have negative connotations in our Protestant-work-ethic of a society and dredge up negative emotions of self-worth. In my family, if you committed to doing something, you followed through with your commitment or you were a failure. At least that’s the message I ingested.

    Plus, I’m tenacious, which doesn’t help.

    This is something I’ve been struggling with a lot over the past several years. It’s been hard, so very, very hard, to allow myself to admit that what I’m doing isn’t working, doesn’t make me happy, and that it’s ok to choose to do something else that has the chance of being better.

    Clearly, your post resonated. Clearly, this is something I’m still struggling with. Therapy (and to be fair, medication) has helped, because when you keep trying and trying for YEARS and not meeting your expectations, and then lowering your expectations and not meeting THOSE expectations, well, it’s depressing. Especially when you have something like ADHD, but don’t know that you have ADHD, and it keeps helping you sabotage yourself.

    And, unsurprisingly I got distracted from my point.

    I think we need to stop using the word “quit”. It’s not “quitting”, it’s “choosing”. It’s choosing to stop what isn’t working and doing something else that maybe will. It’s ok to do that. Really.

    Maybe one day I’ll completely convince myself of that. I’m working on it.

  9. I love this post. I think this graph should be pinned everywhere:

    Don’t quit because it’s hard. Don’t quit because you’re afraid. Don’t quit because you think you’re not good enough. That’s all nonsense. Quit when it stops paying off. Quit when not quitting will hurt you or someone else. Quit when staying will prevent you from doing something better. Trust your own judgement about what is right for you, and don’t ever stay with something for any reason other than it’s giving you something back.

    People sometimes forget that the word “quit” simply means making a choice to do something else. Maybe that something else won’t be immediately apparent, but we all have finite time and resources–we need to spend them on what works for us, what makes us happy, what feeds us in a positive way. It doesn’t have to give us instant gratification, and that positive feedback may only be “you’re improving with practice” for a long long while, but as long as you’re enjoying it, that’s fine.

    Because no one, when they are dying, will think back over the years they spent doing something they didn’t want to do, something they dreaded, and be glad that they simply “didn’t quit.” They’re going to look at all that wasted time, realizing they have no more, and deeply regret.

  10. I’ve watched many seasons of Amazing Race, liked some better than others, but you are so right. Those lines always come up and they make me nuts. Finally had to give it up to make writing time, but I miss watching.

    Here Here! to the rest of this. Life really is too damn short. Doesn’t mean take the easy road or walk away without a fight, but my current motto is “Don’t be miserable.” If you are, change it. If you refuse to change it, don’t bitch about it.

  11. Jenni Mac says:

    This is a very timely post for me. I had a “Death before Dishonor, or divorce as the case may be” attitude about my marriage, and it nearly cost me my life. Depression is a hell of a thing. When I came to my senses and reached out for help, both medicinal and emotional, it quickly became clear it was time to throw in the towel.

    Next week, I go for my first PTSD therapy session. I made the appointment just yesterday, and I’ve been anxious and thinking about backing out. But, I’m going to stick with it. It’s time to deal with the bad man/marriage issues that still follow me around, 6 years later. I’m going to quit letting those memories and experiences sabotage my present and future. Quitting can be a fantastic thing to do!

    • Amie says:

      I don’t know your situation, but I’m proud of you for having the courage to leave!! And, yes, follow through on your PTSD therapy. Not only to get over the damage he caused but also to help figure out what drew you to him in the first place. (I had to reword that sentence like 5 times. It is in no way judgemental or laying blame – what he did was in no way your fault. I know I have an issue with being a “caregiver” so I pick men I have to take care of but then get really frustrated when it becomes an all the time thing. I’ve been married for almost 12 years and I’ve had to let go of some of my quirks to let him be his own person capable of doing things on his own.) I wish you the best of luck!!!!! 🙂

  12. I don’t see the many things I’ve walked away from in life as “quitting” but rather as “growing.”

    When I look back on my life, I see a long stone staircase with each step leading to the next and the next and forever moving upward. What is at the top? Who knows? All I know is I couldn’t have arrived at where I am if I’d stayed on step one. Each step was like a building block. By having the courage, or the sense, or sometimes just an inner knowing or reckless abandon, I took that next step. I’m happy with where I am today but if I need to take another step or three, I will. : )

  13. Lani,
    One of the best gifts I ever gave myself was to quit trying to please someone I was never going to please. And it felt soooo good once I got it. That it wasn’t about me. It was her. And I didn’t have to please her. I wanted to, for a lot of reasons. One being that I don’t quit, and I think I can fix anything and win people over. (It was an editor, so this was about believing I was a good enough writer to win her over.)
    It went against what I believed about myself, and I spent years longer than I should have beating my head against that wall to try to please her. And it probably hurt my career, too.
    But in the end, I got it. I didn’t have to please her.
    There were plenty of other people I could please. And my life and my career got so much better.

  14. My parents were of the “never quit” variety, even towards us when we were just children. I tried some things and gave them up and got labeled a quitter very young. It stuck with me for a long time and it still sneaks in there. Like when my doctor asked me why I was living in Houston when my oldest, closest friends lived in Seattle and I couldn’t think of anything other than that I’d more or less committed to living in Houston. Which didn’t seem like a very good reason after all.

    I definitely follow the idea that “always” and “never” are seldom to be followed. You stated it all so eloquently. Thank you.

  15. For me the distinction is between quitting and letting go.

    Life is about cycles and things need to transition from one thing to get to the next. It’s recognizing the cues that’s tough.

    I like the idea of trying on “quitting” to see how it feels. Especially because if we get to that place when we can even consider that idea, it means we’re open to seeing what could come next.

    I’ve never been a big believer in impossible, but I’m a huge fan of the possible. And sometimes just letting in the possible is all we need to let go, move on, and invite in more life.

  16. “When something isn’t working, don’t do it harder!” = Pure Gold.

    I have a ‘never’ along the same lines as your post: never be afraid to stop wasting your time. I’ve got a huge psychic booboo around quitting, or flaking, as my bad wolf wants to call it. Took me a while to reframe that as making a different choice, because my previous choice was making me miserable. No matter what’s been “invested” if I’m wasting my time/energy/emotions, it’s time to walk away. And hooboy is that a toughie, as I’m nothing if not a stubborn bitch. But really, What You Said, so very, very well. Thank you.

    • Micki says:

      I loved Lani’s post. I loved the “reframe quitting as choosing a different path.” But . . . this cut the BS approach is something I can tell myself.

      Never be afraid to stop wasting your time.

      (-: Could be a good mantra for my procrastination addiction, too!

      (Is it procrastination when you find gems like this that can help you not procrastinate? Um, yeah. but still glad I found it. I’m writing it out and putting it where I can see it before I open my computer up.

      In gold pen.

  17. Amie says:

    I, sadly, have the opposite problem. My husband called me a Two-Weeker for years. I would try things for 2 weeks, get bored, and move on. Wouldn’t matter what it was – exercise, eating habits, religion, the latest psycho-babble nonsense, hobbies – I would get mega-excited, go all in, and then move on. When I was a teenager, I would work at a place for a few months, burn myself out, and quit and go work somewhere else. Thankfully, that part didn’t carry over into adulthood. I love this post because it gives good advice for me on what types of things I should try to keep doing.

    • Or you can say that you’ve already mastered this, Amie. It’s all about the context we put things in. No matter what you do, you can find a bad way to look at it. You know when to quit, and that’s good. Congrats!

  18. I think I read something similar in one of the Oriah Mountain Dreamer books – The Invitation or The Dance or The Call.

    She talked about how keeping a promise can make you miserable and make others miserable as you enforce the conditions you need to keep that promise.

    Since then, I’ve changed professions 3 times. The change did me good each time.

    My resume is not saved as “resume” but as “adaptable” – seriously. I know how important resilience is to my wellbeing.

  19. stephanie says:

    I was just thinking about this yesterday, and as someone who has the hardest time quitting anything I think hearing this message 2 days in a row must be the universe telling me something. Now I need my Magic 8 Ball to help me decifer:)

  20. Mitchiewitch says:

    It can be particularly hard when your unhappiness calls for you to leave something that you are really good at doing and earns you kudos but has still started to suck away your energy instead of replenish it. The support of friends and/or family is so important then. I know that reading Lani’s blog back in 2011 (and the comments) helped me effect a change that has left me much happier. People are still telling me how happy I look almost a year later!

  21. Yes, what you said. Can I quote you on my Facebook page? This paragraph in particular, “Don’t quit because it’s hard. Don’t quit because you’re afraid. Don’t quit because you think you’re not good enough. That’s all nonsense. Quit when it stops paying off. Quit when not quitting will hurt you or someone else. Quit when staying will prevent you from doing something better. Trust your own judgement about what is right for you, and don’t ever stay with something for any reason other than it’s giving you something back.”

  22. Catherine says:

    Good advice. I inwardly shudder when I hear, never ever, always, and or you must.
    Rigidity of thinking freaks me out a bit. I speculate that people that speak in absolutes on some level need a sense of certainty… But for me I love fluidity.

    For some reason I don’t think much in terms of quitting. I think more in exploring another way to do something.

    I know there have been times where I’ve worked harder when a situation is not working. My working harder has usually been coming at the situation from every alternate direction I can think of until I realize I’m done, or I can make some sense of why I’ve kept going. I think my life has much more momentum since I started self checking whether my actions are consistent with what I value. It’s yet another way to not get mired in internal or external bullshit.

  23. When I was younger I had a counselor who told me that people from dis-functional homes tended to stick with things long past the point that well adjusted people would, because we were trying to please others, or not be quitters. She said lots of other stuff I don’t remember as well.

    I’ve had to balance the when to quit with the when not to. I can’t always tell the difference. But I”m learning to trust myself – and also to say “financial stability is a good thing to have right now, I’ll wait a while before I quit this job.”

  24. Olga Godim says:

    Fantastic post! There are so many people/books/proverbs that advise you not to quit, it’s hard to resist their supposed ‘common’ wisdom. But you’re so right! Sometimes, quitting is the only way.

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