Wise to call it quits?

Consciously quitting to stay ahead isn’t such a bad idea

Quitting is all about knowing when to stop.

Change is never easy, especially when it involves the word ‘quit’. Psychologically wired to perceive ‘quitting’ as a failure, or worse, leaves us physically unable to stop doing something even when we know it’s not the best available option.

Often seen as a sheer lack of perseverance, quitting tends to leave an individual not just doubting his own abilities, but also finding himself labelled by everyone he knows as well as ‘someone who quit’. Maybe it’s leaving a table where conversation seems to be all about putting you down, maybe it’s not staying friends with someone who didn’t care to help when you needed it, maybe it’s just avoiding that extra helping of dessert every time you are at the buffet table when you know you’re borderline diabetic. Quitting is so much more about knowing when to stop rather than giving up on something.

Common notions

Quitting a job, for instance, initially leaves one with a sense of despondency and innumerable unanswered questions. Do I know what I am doing? No matter how bad this has been, shouldn’t I have stuck it out? Wouldn’t things have gotten better over time? What am I going to do without that money, and where in the world is my next job? What if I don’t get another job? Anxiety sure outweighs the joy of not going to a dreary office every morning. To make matters worse, all self-help books speak of how “winners never fail” or “quitters never win” and more on those lines.

Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin sure knew what they were talking about when they declared their ‘conscious uncoupling.’ For all we know, ‘conscious quitting’ is all about assessing where you are at present, figuring out that the current situation you’re in is probably not where you’d like to be in future, and making a change.

Here’s what everybody forgets to tell you, however. As commendable as sticking it out and persevering instead of quitting is, to quit is nothing but letting go of something and starting something new. Maybe it’s a bad relationship, maybe it’s a job, maybe it is just getting rid of an old car that you know is guzzling fuel on every drive and you don’t want to sell. Irrespective, it is all about identifying when it’s time to stop. It’s about understanding that change is good, and something new and better lies ahead of this one ‘seemingly’ huge step.

According to Rachel Simmons, well-known author, educator and consultant who helps girls and women build lives of integrity, confidence and self-compassion, “I realised I wanted a Rhodes scholarship, not because I wanted to go to graduate school but because I wanted to win a famous award. Quitting forced me to realise I was on the wrong track and had lost touch with who I was and what I cared about.” Simmons, today, works with girls, helping them move beyond ‘impossible standards of success to live happy, healthy and fulfilling lives.’

When the going gets tough...

Bijit M talks of how he quit a job he’d been at for over 15 years, “all of a sudden I found I was not using my brain anymore. There was no value added to my day, and it wasn’t just my professional life that was suffering. I just woke up one morning and, for the first time in my life, made a decision without thinking it through for more than 48 hours. I quit.” Needless to say, this did involve waiting another six months until he found the right job. In retrospect, however, this was probably the best decision he’d ever made. “My new job now gives me a lot more than just a salary. Maybe what it was ‘conscious quitting’.”

“What nobody talks about is that, sometimes, quitting is really good. It’s really important,” says Eric Barker, author of Barking Up the Wrong Tree. “There are only 24 hours in a day. If you never quit anything, you’re going to have less time for the things that really matter.” Often, as research has proven, when done for the right reasons, walking away from a workplace, relationship or even a personal goal can make you happier, healthier and more successful. For all we know, as Barker said, “If I never quit anything, I’d still be playing tee-ball and playing with Transformers.”

According to Gallup’s 2017 State of the American Workplace report, 51% of currently employed adults in the US say they are searching for new jobs or looking out for new job opportunities. Even more interesting is the fact that they are optimistic about their chances of new work, as 47% of workers say now is a good time to find a quality job. This essentially also means all these people think there are better opportunities for them outside, a fairly good indicator of how good the economy is.

Embrace change

Maybe change is finally in the air. Maybe it’s time to be the change we always want to see in the world. Maybe it’s time to get up and do things you want to do instead of merely existing. Maybe the time to do something about it is now.

Figuring out what exactly it is you want to quit is what’s important here. Maybe it’s time to put that smartphone away or switch it off for a couple of hours a day before you make it to a complete phone detox weekend. Quit social media for a couple of hours a day or more. Ultimately, it’s the small things that matter.

Researchers at the University of Adelaide studied the fact that we have a hard time walking away from options in front of us, more when the payoff is unidentified. They studied 32 participants playing a computer game who were asked to repeatedly pick one out of nine possible doors to enter. Every door the participants decided to enter gave them some reward or treasure.

However, in some versions of this game, doors that were left unopened eventually disappeared. This meant researchers observed that participants were usually okay with giving up bigger rewards to keep those options open. That’s probably all there is to it — choosing which doors to open and when instead of staying in the same room without exploring more options.

Easier said than done, it eventually boils down to figuring out what needs to stay and what needs to go. Take a macro look at your ultimate goal and see if where you’re standing at the moment is moving you forward or keeping you stagnant. Finding out what isn’t working out isn’t too difficult, but it’s the part about stopping that takes more effort. Remember that ‘quitting’ is not about failure but excelling at something else that is even better.

When it ultimately comes down to quitting, it’s all about understanding what to stop and when. It’s about believing in the possibility of something better. Consciously quit while you’re ahead, and always know that quitting is after all an essential ingredient to success. Besides, as Lynyrd Skynyrd so perfectly sang, you’re “free as a bird now, and this bird you cannot change.”

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