Quitting Time: How to Know When Giving Up Is the Right Thing to Do

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“Quitters never prosper” is a lie that could be holding you back.

Growing up, I was told in a hundred different ways that being a “quitter” was one of the worst things you could be. If you were seen as a person who gave up, it meant that your character was flawed — weak, lazy, incompetent. Quitting a sport that you signed up for? It just wasn’t done. Quitting a marriage you’d taken vows to uphold? It was seen as destroying the family. We were supposed to keep trying — no matter what.

I see now that they were all trying to instill certain values in us — work ethic, determination, resilience, and commitment. But the way these values were instilled taught us guilt, shame, and a stubborn refusal to move on even when we should. For many of us who grew up with this message, it can be hard to quit without feeling like a total failure.

But whoever said quitting was failing? That’s the point: everyone did for a long time. And the message isn’t gone either. It’s still out there. It’s in our work culture, our school system, and even in our homes. Don’t give up. But what if there’s a very good reason to do so?

Here’s how to know it’s time to quit:

When you’ve done everything you can — and it’s not enough.

I’ve said before that I didn’t quit my marriage; I survived it. But from the outside looking in, it probably looked like I quit. I filed for divorce. I started over as a single parent. I had done everything I could to save my marriage — and then, when I couldn’t save it single-handedly (and we never can), I quit.

When we’ve done everything we can possibly do to make a relationship, job, or activity work and it still falls short of what we need, it’s time to quit. This isn’t a character flaw. It’s understanding that not everything we try is meant to become a part of our lives or our identities. We are meant to learn from these experiences, not to double down on our mistakes and keep at it.

When you learn something new and change your mind.

If we are who we were a year ago or ten years ago, there’s something wrong. We are meant to grow. To learn. To absorb new information — and to let what we learn to change our minds. If we believe what we always have without any alteration in our thinking, something is very wrong.

When we’re exposed to new thoughts and ideas, it’s supposed to change us. Knowledge is more than power — it’s essential to growth. If we’re not growing, we’re either in an echo chamber where everyone we know is repeating back to us the ideas we’ve embraced, or we’re not encountering enough new people or new experiences to broaden our minds.

Changing our minds is maturity. It’s growth. It’s supposed to make us better humans — ones who give up our narrow views for a more global, inclusive perspective. It’s understanding that our own life experience isn’t a measuring stick to judge everyone else’s.

When you realize you’re living someone else’s life.

If we wake up one day and find that we’re living someone else’s vision for our life rather than our own, it’s absolutely appropriate to quit. We’re not meant to live out someone else’s plan for us. We’re meant to decide what we want and to make choices that honor who we are.

I woke up inside a marriage that didn’t feel like love. It felt like obligation, like following the steps in someone else’s plan. If we date someone for X number of years, we’re supposed to get married next, right? Right??

Because that’s what I did. High school, college, grad school. The marriage. The kids. Check, check, check. Until I had checked myself into a little tiny box where I felt unloved, neglected, and unseen in my own life. I wasn’t living my dreams. I was following society’s unwritten rulebook, climbing a ladder I didn’t even care about to achieve a dream I didn’t even want. I got off the fucking ladder. I’m living my life now.

When you’re only staying out of obligation.

Whether we’re talking about a job, relationship, or even a random hobby we picked up along the way, if we’re staying only from obligation, it might just be time to quit. Relationships require commitment — but love and affection should factor in, too. And respect. Mutual support. Shared hopes and dreams. Without all of those things, what’s the point of sharing our lives with someone else purely out of obligation?

Apply this to jobs. Yes, we’re in it for a paycheck, but if we find ourselves in hostile work environments or deeply unhappy with what we’re doing, it could be time for a change. While that doesn’t mean we should bounce around between employment expecting it to be what brings us happiness, it does mean that we get to decide that a job is no longer a good fit and seek out one that will fit better.

Obligation is a terrible reason to continue. It’s different from true commitment. When we commit to doing something, we have an intention — and, usually, a reason to keep making that choice. Obligation implies that we’re doing something we don’t want to do. It may seem noble, but the difference is felt by the other person keenly. While life does come with certain obligations (paying bills comes to mind), it may be time for a mindset adjustment. Is this something we actually have the power to quit or change, or do we need to shift our view to one of responsibility and commitment rather than obligation and resentment?

When someone or something quits you.

This seems simple, right? When we lose a job or a relationship, it’s over. But it may not feel over. We may carry around hurt, loss, and sometimes even love. But when someone quits us, we need to learn to quit right back. It’s time to let go. To give up. To acknowledge that wanting something isn’t enough to keep it.

The idea is simple, but it’s far from easy. Even now, I love where it’s not returned, and I am learning to stop devoting my energy to the love. It’s there. I can feel it. But it can’t be my focus. I have to give my energy to other things — ones that return my investment in them. I give the energy to building new dreams and hoping for new love that doesn’t leave me feeling this way. I give the energy to my little family, to the home we live in, to the garden I’m growing, to the friends I cherish, and to the life I’m reimagining every day.

When someone or something quits us, we have to learn the art of quitting them by refocusing our energy, accepting what is, and moving on with our lives.

When you’re fighting change or growth.

Resistance is natural — and futile, too. Yet, we all do it. When we’re fighting change or growth, it’s best to give up. As long as we’re resisting what is happening anyway or what we need, we’re just delaying the inevitable — and making our lives harder in the process.

This happens in many ways. Ignoring an addiction won’t make it magically disappear. Refusing to accept reality won’t change it. Fighting how we really feel with distractions or denial won’t make us feel differently. Whatever we’re resisting that’s getting in the way of our personal growth, it’s time to surrender. To quit. To give in. Yes, it’s going to be challenging. But little is more challenging than resisting what we know is right just because we’re afraid.

There are times in our lives when we should absolutely quit. When quitting is the best possible choice. Yet, many of us still feel the lingering effects of growing up with the idea that quitters never prosper. But I’m on the other side of having quit a marriage, a career, and many life choices and relationships that no longer fit, and I can tell you it’s a lie served up to keep us down. To keep us clocking into the jobs we hate or showing up for the relationships that meet their needs while disregarding our own.

Quitting can be how we prosper. It’s accepting that we make choices, and when they turn out not to be the right ones, we’re mature enough to make new ones. We accept that life changes, and we change along with it. We learn that giving up on something we committed to doesn’t have to mean that we’re giving up on ourselves. It’s what we do to keep choosing ourselves — to honor what we feel and want and need. To make new choices and take new paths.

Yes, there are times when we shouldn’t quit. When life gets hard and we think that the world would be better off without us, that’s the best time to hold on — to stubbornly refuse to give up on ourselves and the beautiful potential that’s unique to us. To know that the pain will pass if we give it time, even if the time feels interminable.

There are also times when we might mistake temporary discomfort for unhappiness or when we’re looking for fulfillment in places we’ll never find it. Perhaps, in these cases, we should try a little longer. But there are times when the right thing to do is quit — when quitting is how we succeed rather than how we fail. When we get to those points, we need to realize that we’re growing as humans, not giving up as quitters.

Written by Crystal Jackson

Crystal Jackson

Former therapist. Author, Heart of Madison series. Poet. www.crystaljacksonwriter.com https://subscribe.to/crystaljackson https://linktr.ee/crystaljackson

Ascent Publication


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