We’re taught from an early age to stick things out, no mat­ter what, but some­times quit­ting can be the best way to move life for­ward, says Sharon Par­sons

Friday - - Contents -

Why quit­ting may be good for you.

Aisha* al­ways knew she was des­tined to work in medicine: her par­ents were both suc­cess­ful doc­tors, and from childhood, she and her brother were en­cour­aged to fol­low in their foot­steps. “There was never re­ally any ques­tion we would do some­thing else,” she re­calls. “We both worked hard and got into med­i­cal school, but while my brother thrived, I strug­gled – not so much with my stud­ies, but with the slowly dawn­ing re­al­i­sa­tion that this might not be the right path for me.”

Even when she even­tu­ally qual­i­fied as a ju­nior doc­tor and be­gan work at a large city hos­pi­tal in Lon­don, Aisha, now 34, found her­self fre­quently mis­er­able and dis­sat­is­fied. “De­spite that, it didn’t oc­cur to me that I could do some­thing else – I knew it was a pres­ti­gious ca­reer and I felt guilty that I didn’t en­joy it more. Then one day when I was com­plain­ing yet again to a friend, she sim­ply said, ‘Well, if you re­ally hate your job so much, why don’t you quit and do some­thing else?’ It was like an epiphany – I re­alised I could ac­tu­ally do just that.

“Telling my fam­ily I was go­ing to walk away from a med­i­cal ca­reer was so hard – but ul­ti­mately all I felt was relief. I knew I wanted to do some­thing more cre­ative, and while it hasn’t al­ways been plain sail­ing, six years on, I’ve carved out a ca­reer as a jour­nal­ist spe­cial­is­ing in health – iron­i­cally – and I’m so much hap­pier. I only wish I’d had the courage to quit ear­lier.”

It’s un­de­ni­ably true that in to­day’s suc­cess-driven so­ci­ety, giv­ing up on some­thing that isn’t work­ing – be it a job, a re­la­tion­ship or any other kind of com­mit­ment – is far from easy. From childhood, we’re taught that stay­ing the course no mat­ter what shows strength of char­ac­ter, for­ti­tude and loy­alty, whereas walk­ing away means quite the op­po­site.

“So of­ten we re­gard quit­ting as a ter­ri­ble weak­ness,” says Bri­tish health au­thor and psy­chother­a­pist Dr An­drew Reeves. “We’re es­pe­cially hard on our­selves, be­liev­ing that giv­ing up on some­thing equals fail­ure. Un­sur­pris­ingly, we’re also wor­ried about what other peo­ple will think: we de­fine our­selves by our jobs and sta­tus, and the peer pres­sure to main­tain th­ese out­ward signs of achieve­ment can be in­cred­i­bly force­ful.”

Caught at a cross­roads

If giv­ing up on some­thing means far­reach­ing changes, we’re of­ten afraid to let go be­cause of what the fu­ture might hold, says clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist Dr Tara Wyne of The Light­House Ara­bia. “We may feel we’ve in­vested so much in, say, a ca­reer, that it would be fool­ish to draw a line in the sand and con­clude ‘enough is enough’ with­out know­ing for sure what will hap­pen next,” she says. “Equally, we know that the act of quit­ting can cause con­sid­er­able pain and con­fu­sion: some­times it may seem eas­ier to stay sim­ply to avoid those feel­ings.”

Ob­vi­ously, no­body would ad­vo­cate throw­ing in the towel with­out a lot of care­ful thought. Our rea­sons for want­ing to quit could just be down to a blip – a tough pe­riod at work or a rough patch in a mar­riage, for in­stance. Rid­ing the storm, and putting in the time and ef­fort nec­es­sary may well get things back on an even keel. “If you’re not sure what to do, put some bound­aries in place,” sug­gests Dr Reeves. “Ask your­self what is cur­rently ac­cept­able in your sit­u­a­tion – and what isn’t. Be­ing able to con­sider that puts you in a much stronger po­si­tion about whether to stay, go or just to try to make nec­es­sary changes to im­prove your cir­cum­stances. That in it­self is im­mensely em­pow­er­ing.”

There is also, it must be said, a huge dif­fer­ence be­tween quit­ting mind­fully and run­ning away if some­thing is dif­fi­cult: some chal­lenges need to be en­dured in or­der to reap the re­wards down the line. This could mean any­thing from learn­ing to drive to mas­ter­ing tech­nol­ogy, or putting in hard graft for a much-de­served pro­mo­tion. “In th­ese cir­cum­stances, ap­pre­ci­at­ing that there’s no other way and stay­ing the course is to be com­mended – es­pe­cially

when the prize is an ob­vi­ous one,” says Bri­tish health and well-be­ing con­sul­tant Liz Tucker.

Keep­ing your op­tions open

Some­times, un­re­al­is­tic ex­pec­ta­tions may mean we’re forced to quit. Sara*, a mar­ket­ing ex­ec­u­tive and a busy mother of three, was de­ter­mined to ful­fil a long-held am­bi­tion – namely, to learn French – and en­rolled on an in­ten­sive six-month cor­re­spon­dence course. “At first it was great,” she says. “I carved out spe­cific study times dur­ing the week, and kept on top of the moun­tain of work I was ex­pected to do. Friends and fam­ily were im­pressed by my ded­i­ca­tion.”

But life soon got in the way. “We had a lot go­ing on in the of­fice, which spilt over into week­ends; my daugh­ter wasn’t well; and then we had visi­tors stay­ing for a few weeks. Pretty soon I was fall­ing be­hind with the study mod­ule, and far from en­joy­ing the chance to learn some­thing new, I be­gan to re­sent its in­tru­sion on my time,” Sara says. “It was em­bar­rass­ing to ad­mit de­feat, but it was such a weight off my shoul­ders when I quit. I haven’t given up on learn­ing French in the fu­ture – but I’ll do it when I’ve got the time to do it prop­erly.”

In­deed, this ap­proach can prove a suc­cess­ful mid­dle ground in many sit­u­a­tions. “You might feel you have no other op­tion but to give some­thing up at a par­tic­u­lar mo­ment in time, but the door doesn’t have to shut com­pletely,” Dr Wyne points out. “You can al­ways go back and try again when you’re bet­ter placed to do so.”

Equally, she adds, if quit­ting is ul­ti­mately the right thing to do, it doesn’t need to hap­pen in one fell swoop. “A grad­ual process will be much more suc­cess­ful than at­tempt­ing to sever some­thing im­me­di­ately. Tak­ing it step by step is far less daunt­ing. Think about what you’re do­ing, talk it over with those you trust, and en­sure you put some prac­ti­cal plans in place first.”

Fi­nally, have faith in your­self: while the cost of walk­ing away can be high, do­ing it well also shows tremen­dous self-re­spect and aware­ness, not to men­tion courage. “Per­haps it’s time we stopped us­ing the word ‘quit­ting’ al­to­gether,” says Liz Tucker. “It can be much more lib­er­at­ing to think of our ac­tions in terms of ‘mov­ing on’ – and em­brac­ing the changes and op­por­tu­ni­ties that come with that.”

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