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Sometimes winners DO quit

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Does being resilient ever include quitting?

Can you bounce back from something by just up and leaving it?

I think so.

Like denial, quitting has kind of a bad rap. How many times have you heard these tired axioms?

“Winners never quit and quitters never win.”

“He’s such a quitter.”

“You don’t want to be known as a quitter.”

Granted, there are times when you really need to hang in there with something, to slog through until it is complete or some kind of healing has taken place. This is probably true of most things in our lives.

Freeing yourself

But sometimes, we need to quit so we can move on.

Did you know that, originally, the word quit in Old French meant “to be free, clear”? And in Latin it meant “calm, resting.” It wasn’t until seven centuries later, in the late 1800’s that “quitter” became an insult.

So quitting can actually help us to become free and clear of something that may be holding us back.

Clearing space

Nilofer Merchant wrote a beautiful post for The Harvard Business Review about this very topic. In it, she describes how she suddenly decided to quit her strategy consulting business that she had created from scratch and maintained at a high level for eleven years.

Her friends and colleagues thought she was nuts. But she knew that the joy of her own business had long since faded away and the amount of time and energy she put into it was draining her. She let it go. She quit.

And soon other, more satisfying opportunities opened up for her.

Getting stuck

Years ago when I was a young college student, I quit a statistics class. While it doesn’t sound like an enormous decision, it was for me at the time. I had locked it into my mind that I was going to be a mathematician. I had excelled at math in high school and thought it would be a prestigious career. I did well in my college math courses, too.

Until I got to statistics.

I just couldn’t get it. I failed the class my first time around but doggedly took it again. I was determined to follow my math path.

But then I started failing again in the second class. Somehow, statistics and my brain just could not match up.

I remember one night in my room, lying on my bed and staring at the ceiling with tears running down my face trickling into my ears. I was not going to pass this class. My brain raced in a zillion different directions.

How could I get through this class? If I didn’t make it, would I get stuck on other classes? I had to be a mathematician, I was good at it. Wasn’t I? How could I face my friends and family if I dropped this class?

Can I quit?

Then a new thought arose. Slowly, my tears stopped and I sat up on the bed. I could not only quit the class, I could quit the whole idea of going into math as a career. In a way, I hated the idea of giving up, of quitting on my dream.

But in another way, and one I found to be creating much more emotional space, I felt relief. Even though quitting might be difficult at first, I could already feel a tinge of excitement as I thought about what other paths might open up for me.

A month or two later, after allowing myself some grief over my lost dream, I began to assess what classes and possible careers really interested me. It dawned on me then that it was my psychology classes that energized me, not the math classes I had been taking.

The joy of quitting

The rest, of course, is history and here I am decades later in a career that I enjoy and find emotionally and spiritually fulfilling.

But I had to quit first.

As Nilofer Merchant says in her article, “Sometimes, to get where you’re going, you have to leave where you’ve been.”


Takeaway points: Quitting can actually clear the space you need to engage in new and fulfilling opportunities. It may not be easy at first, but the reward will be worth it.

What do you think about the idea of quitting?

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Bobbi Emel is a therapist who helps people in Los Altos, Palo Alto, Mountain View and the greater Bay Area manage their stress and develop their strengths.
She is effective in helping people dealing with anxiety, worry and grief; and also those who want to improve their effectiveness and performance.