How to be a quitter

Hockey sticks and helmets on the iceGrowing up playing hockey, calling someone the Q-Word was akin to insulting their mother, stealing their Gatorade, and throwing in a breezer wedgie to boot. In my hyper-competitive and melodramatic adolescent mind there was nothing lower than giving up, literally the last step before death. Needless to say, I never imagined I would become exactly that.

In the past year I’ve quit four major occupations, three of them jobs and one a labor of love organization I co-founded with two close friends. While I didn’t exactly set out to become a quitter and none of my decisions to quit were easy—some were much harder than others—I don’t regret it.

Let’s be clear, when I use the word quitter now I don’t mean it quite the same way as I did on the hockey rink. To be a quitter in this context is to be someone who actively and frequently makes choices that affect their professional life in a major way, often in the form of leaving a job, organization, or group. In other words, a quitter is someone going through a period in life when he or she just can’t seem to sit still.

To come out as a quitter is an extremely difficult thing. There’s an enormous amount of stigma associated with it; overwhelming uncertainty and self-doubt are almost always involved, and, let’s face it, change is never easy. Despite my cheerleading, I’m not going to be putting the title on my resume any time soon. But, similar to accepting and embracing failure, accepting and embracing quitting can be a profoundly important part of personal and professional self-discovery. Quitting can be often seen as taking the easy way out, but in many cases it is the exact opposite. As long as your decision to quit is a reflection of your desire to take risks, find what’s right for you, and understand when it’s time to move on, and not of an innate lack of motivation, work-ethic, or drive, quitting is nothing to be ashamed of.

Here are a few things I learned from the ups and downs of My Year as a Quitter:

Believe in your risk-taking

If you’ve thought long and hard about the decision, if you’ve analyzed your situation from all angles and made all the right preparations, and if you really, truly know in your gut this is what’s best for you, then take the leap and don’t look back. It will be hard. You’ll feel embarrassed admitting that yes, once again you quit another job/organization/group, and there will be people that will try to change your mind and tell you you’re making a mistake. Don’t get defensive and don’t begrudge those people that question your decision—most of them are really just looking out for you—but don’t let yourself falter either. In the end, believing what you’re doing is right for you is the most important part.

Always take risks responsibly

Quitting a job is always a risk, but there’s a way to do it responsibly. While leaving a position is your decision, it’s very rare the decision will affect only you. Being honest with yourself and with the people that depend on you is a key part of being a good quitter. You can’t quit responsibly if you haven’t taken a realistic look at your financial situation and budgeted out what is and isn’t possible. Naturally, this is usually harder the older you are/the more financial burdens you’ve taken on, but the rule applies to everyone. Being able to quit a job is a privilege, and taking that privilege lightly is never a good idea.

Always take risks respectfully

Except in the most extreme circumstances, quitting without giving proper notice is unacceptable. It took time and money to hire and train you and it takes time and money to hire and train a replacement, so be professionally respectful no matter how much you’re itching to get out. But more than that, just be personally respectful. You never know how or when someone will come back into your life and burning bridges is rarely worth it. When you look back ten years from now at the time you left your job, the main thing you’re going to remember is who you left and in what manner you left them. Don’t let that become something you’ll regret. If it helps, just imagine yourself as one of the silhouettes in a professionally appropriate version of a DeBeers commercial. Jobs come and go, but a relationship is forever.

Quitting is never easy, and for good reason it likely never will be. But by accepting quitting as a part of life and by learning to quit better, you may just end up having one of the most challenging, exciting, liberating, and unexpectedly meaningful experiences of your life. I know I did. 

What tips do you have for quitters?

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