The Art of the Quit


How often have you been in the middle of something, anything, and wished you were not there, but feel obligated to stay and wallow in your misery?  

You’re in the theater in the middle of a movie that is absolutely terrible but don’t want to leave because you feel that you’d be wasting the $15 you spent to be in there.  

You’re trying to get through that stack of magazines on your nightstand but are crippled by the feeling of needing to read every article for fear of missing something “life-changing” in those pages.

You’re in that needy friendship where you dread getting the next text, which will undoubtedly guilt you into “hanging out” and listening about how everything is still going terribly in your “friend’s” life.  After these encounters you feel like Radagast in The Hobbit after saving the life of his little furry friend, completed drained of life.

You’re on that volunteer board that takes up one of your precious evenings every other month, never has an agenda, and consists more of pie-in-the-sky ideas rather than any real action, leaving the organization that you care about no better off following every meeting.

It’s time to flex those quitting muscles.

No matter how intentional we are, we all bite off more than we can chew at times.  We all commit to things that are not a good fit for the life we desire to be living.  This is when we must call upon the skill of quitting.

There is often societal pressure against quitting, which often makes us feel guilty to even consider it.  Quitting is often seen as immature, weak, or inconsiderate.  To be sure, it can be all of those things.  However, it can also be none of those things.  It can be a powerful tool, allowing you to choose life, rather than misery.  

Life is too short to be spent doing things that are not directly in your wheel house.  There are so many incredible and wonderful uses of your time that is a crime to let them go to the wayside for a poorly chosen commitment.

The art of the quit.  Always think in terms of trade-offs.

Some quits are easier, and simply require a mental shift.  The movie you are watching that is terrible.  Just leave, pure and simple.  Your time on this earth, regardless of your hourly wage, is worth far more than $7.50/hour.  It is as valuable as you choose to price it.  Really, it is priceless.  Don’t waste another second of your precious life killing your brain cells.  

Same goes for reading those magazines.  Perfect the art of skimming and then drill into an article that seems interesting.  If it turns out to be less than awesome, stop reading!  Just like this post.  If you aren’t benefiting from it, move on to something that fits your fancy.

The Harder Quits

Friendships and other relationships.  I will not pretend to be anywhere near qualified to offer advice in this area.  I will simply say that Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend is one of the best books I have read on this subject.  Healthy boundaries are a necessity for human thriving, both for you and those that you interact with.  Friendships should be mutually supportive, growing and challenging each other through the seasons life.  If this doesn’t sound like your relationship, quitting may be in order, or at least definitive boundaries to reduce the bleeding.

Organizational commitments.  Boards, the PTA, volunteering at that benefit auction, coaching, etc.  These ones have become easier for me personally over the years as I now speak in terms of trade-offs when quitting these.  For example, “I really believe in what this organization is doing, however, over the past several months I have realized that I need to free up more time to be with my wife and year-old son.  I can’t get these years back and want to soak up as much of them as possible.”  I frame the quit with the fact that I am trading an evening with my lovely wife and super-fun son to be in a board room for 3 hours.  Ick.  This not only tends to smooth over the quit, but also bolsters my confidence in the decision when I can see the excellent trade-off this quit will provide.

Avoid chronic quitting.

A necessary piece of quitting well is evaluating why you ended up in that commitment in the first place.  Repeatedly having to quit things is a sign of not making good, thought-out decisions on the front end.  Of course, no one is perfect or all-knowing and some of our commitments will simply turn out to be duds.  However, the opportunity to quit is an opportunity to learn how to commit well in the future.  It has been said by someone far smarter than me that every “yes” must be defending by a thousand “no”s.  Examine the circumstances and your decision process surrounding the commitment you are quitting.

Optimize.  Commit well.

In the future, give your commitments the weight they deserve by asking this question, “Am I willing to defend this ‘yes’ by saying ‘no’ to a thousand other things?”  Click to Tweet

Happy quitting.

Mr. Optimized Life