Remember those age old adages that the elders told you? Things like “winners never quit and quitters never win?” Lessons like you should rough it out, suck it up, face your problems head on for as long as it takes and you will come out on the other side a stronger, more accomplished human being? That things are just going to work out and everything is going to be awesome once this period of anguish is over because the universe is going to modify its laws of probability just to give you the happy ending you think you deserve? That “when the going get tough, the tough get going”?
They were wrong.
Quitting may be the best thing you can do for your well being, your happiness, your health, your career, your life.
We are smarter than our brains. Our physiology is very well attuned to what’s good for us and what isn’t, even if our brains think otherwise. This often manifests in that unsettling feeling of unhappiness and depression, of wrongness we feel when things don’t agree with us. But our brains tell us these feelings are natural, that anything worth getting is going to be difficult, that everything will work out and peace is ours in the future if we can survive the torment of the present.
The problem is, we often listen to our brains. And our brains are often wrong.
This causes us to make all sorts of mistakes. We stick it out in the wrong career, we get married to the wrong person, we pick the wrong life. We keep going because quitters never win and winners never quit and it will turn out okay at the end. We continue sacrificing little parts of ourselves, little pieces of happiness and freedom, and we get sucked deeper and deeper into the lie we tell ourselves.
The main cause of why we do this is what economists call “the sunk cost fallacy”: we look at the time or money that we have already spent on something, the ‘sunk cost’, and tell ourselves that we can’t quit because of all that time of money already spent.
And so we stick it out, spending more time and more money, reinforcing the hold of the principle till quitting becomes absolutely impossible and we resort to insane justifications to keep ourselves sane.
“I do it for the family”, or “what else can I do?”, or “Mom/Dad/Grandpa/Grandma/The President would be mad”, or the dreaded “I’m too old to change now”.
Sometimes the only thing between you and the life of your own making is sacking up and quitting.
Quit the job, quit the marriage, quit the relationship, quit school, quit the life that doesn’t feel right and find your own way.
In my case, I was doing a PhD I didn’t want. It never felt right, but I thought that’s probably what a PhD is supposed to feel like. I kept going, publishing papers, doing research, teaching high schoolers, entering NASA robotics competitions, finishing coursework, taking the incessant crap my advisor threw my way, all because I felt that after four years of undergrad and four years of grad school, quitting would be ludicrous.Too much time and money had been invested. And I’d have to go back to Pakistan. And probably not be able to find a good job since I had no real work experience, and so on. I found a million and one justifications, and each time they felt shaky it just took some mental masturbation to find some more. The brain can be cruel like that if not wielded judiciously.
But I was constantly depressed. I wasn’t eating right, I wasn’t sleeping right. I was a shadow of a self. Finally I listened to what my body was trying to tell me and realized that if I continued down this path, I’d have chosen misery over happiness just so I won’t be labeled a quitter. And that made no sense whatsoever.
I cashed in the courses I had completed and got two Master’s degrees (I’m a quitter, but not a moron). I packed my bags, informed the shocked and disgusted parents, and returned home.
Making the decision to quit was terrifying, but a sense of peace washed over me right after which told me I had done the right thing.
And now, two years later, I’m living a life of my making. And wouldn’t have it any other way.
If you have a dream, a goal, something which must be accomplished, then it behooves you to push through the obstacles. But if you don’t see a dream you could aspire to and your life is simply a series of obstacles perpetuating ad infinitum, then man up and quit. You will thank yourself years from now.
This applies as much to relationships as to career; too often I see folk get arranged marriages and then ‘make do’ for the rest of their lives in relationships that simply don’t work. The game is rigged that way, what with family pressure and narrowmindedness and the taboo of ‘rishta toot gaya’ being permanent features of the landscape. But if that is you, it won’t hurt to reconsider. Compromise and sacrifice aren’t necessarily noble, sometimes they are the worst form of pain you can inflict on yourself and those around you.
Sometimes quitting is awesome.