How to Quit Something Well

Obviously Vince Lombardi was a smart guy, but when he said, “Winners never quit. And quitters never win,” I’m thinking maybe he didn’t completely think that through. I obviously get his sentiment, but let’s be honest – we quit things all the time: a book we’re just not that into, a relationship that wasn’t what we hoped, a job that becomes a dead end. You know, all those things that need to be over and done with. In our quitting, though, does that really mean we can’t be a winner? I don’t think so.

But I do believe there is absolutely a right and a wrong way to quit something well.

I recently started a business venture with a friend. Someone who I actually thought was a good friend. We got it up and running, gained a solid organic following, and then after only three months, I got an email out of the blue from this person that essentially said, “I’m done. Sorry, but it’s for the best.” Wait, what?! For the best? For whom?

In trying to process all this and regroup and figure out Plan B with this now solo business venture, I found a recent popular podcast with an episode called, “When to Quit.” The advice given in it from some really smart and well-known people included, “If you’re not passionate about it, just quit” and “Life is short. You shouldn’t be ‘in prison’ to anything. It’s all about freedom” and “If it’s not serving your needs, quit.”

Again, I get it. Life is short. We should pursue things that fill us rather than drain us. But, I think it’s become far too easy to “just quit” on things. If your significant other is not meeting your needs, do you just quit on him or her? If your kids are increasingly needy, do you just quit on them? If your business venture is harder than you thought it would be, do you just quit it? I sure hope not.

The fact of the matter is life is hard. Starting something – a relationship, a family, a business, a new hobby, commitment to your fitness – is just plain hard. But it’s important to define “hard.” Someone’s got cancer; that’s hard. Someone loses a limb on the front lines of battle; that’s hard. Someone’s child has special needs; that’s hard. Walking away from a relationship because you’re not getting your needs met, walking out on your kids because they drive you nuts, or walking away from a commitment in business is probably not as hard. You have to be honest with yourself and determine whether what you define as hard is really enough to justify walking away from something.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t quit. If a relationship is toxic, or a business is sucking you dry, by all means it may need to end.

But, how you end it is what’s important.

Based on my all too recent experience, here are four questions to ask yourself before you throw in the towel:

  1. Did I give it my best effort for success? It’s human nature to cut corners or want to take the easy road to get instant gratification. We all have that small voice in our head that tries to let us off the hook by saying, “It’s OK. You don’t have to do this.” But if deep down you know better because you haven’t put in the effort or done the work, then yes, you do have to do this.
  2. Would my quitting affect other people? We live in an incredibly selfish world. Some selfishness is good, don’t get me wrong. If you aren’t taking care of you, you’re most likely not good for other people. But, when the decision is all about you, there’s a problem. Often when business is only about money and not about the relationships that are affected, if you look deeper you’ll find a poor leader.
  3. Would I have regrets if I quit? If you find yourself steeped in emotion, or you’re desperately needing a break, or you’ve got too many plates spinning, then that’s probably not a good reason to quit. When things slow down and life becomes less stressful, you may regret walking away too soon.
  4. Does quitting this thing align with my values? You have to be clear on what are the non-negotiables of your character, and then weigh your decision to quit against those. For example, if you value transparency in communication, quitting something without having an honest, maybe difficult, conversation is not in line with your values. Or, if you say you value people and relationships, yet you’re making it all about the money, those two aren’t congruent.

One final tip: When you want to give up on something, give yourself a timeframe. Maybe it’s six months or a year. And then give it 100 percent during that timeframe. If it doesn’t change, you’ve done your best at trying to make it work. Then, and only then, would be when you should walk away because then and only then should you be able to sleep well at night with your decision to quit.

Julie Weldon

Julie Weldon is on the leadership team of 321GoProject. Her diverse background includes being a cake designer, coaching basketball, traveling to 13 different developing countries to do volunteer work on a year-long trip, working in the not-for-profit world for 10 years, starting two businesses, working as a People & Change consultant for PricewaterhouseCoopers, taking a product to market (and “failing”, only to get back up and do it a second time), and working as a business coach/consultant to small businesses with her company, A Salty Rim. Her core belief is that it’s always about the people no matter if the company is large or small. Contact her at julie@321goproject.com.