By nature, I am not a quitter. Something tenacious in me has largely always known, for as long as I can remember, that dogged stubbornness can be something of a roadmap even when you don’t know where you are going, and that there are more gifts and unexpected surprises from seeing things through than from quitting. Often you can only make sense of the gifts in hindsight, just as people who have mostly strengthened their reflexive muscle for quitting when things get challenging can only realize that it’s to their detriment after they’ve been practicing quitting for most of their lives.
I’ve strengthened the opposite muscles: stay, lean in, lean in deeper, dig deeper, find it the part of you that will not buckle, go to the core. It’s for this reason, I have not always understood how to know when to quit.
It happened that I truly needed to quit something, which then had me thinking about all the times when I’ve worked with a client or talked to a friend about these decisions of how to know when to quit. When it was the right decision to quit, what did those scenarios have in common? When it was just being a quitter, giving up on something due to fear (usually fear of failure), what did those scenarios have in common?
Here’s what I found when I investigated how to know when to quit. It’s not just one of these items, but a combination of all or many of these factors that will let you know it’s time to quit a relationship, job, living situation, or some other circumstance.
1. Quit when people are being assholes, despite your best efforts to engage with them differently (you’ve tried to wave a flag, meet them where they are at, use respectful communication, negotiate) or your best efforts to stay in your personal power. In other words, you’ve either tried to see if you can work out a different way of being with their cooperation and they aren’t cooperating, or you’ve taken on their behavior as your personal challenge and decided to learn all you can about not letting them get to you and/or practicing compassion—and instead of feeling like you’re learning something about yourself or expanding your ability to be with difficult behavior, you’ve worn yourself thin. You’ve given it all you’ve got, yet they are continuing to be either passive-aggressive or aggressive-aggressive, so it’s no longer effective to continue.
2. Quit where’s no personal fulfillment coming from the situation, despite your best efforts to stay in your personal power. Sometimes we can look at difficult situations as a calling to go into warrior mode and hone our own resilience, and that’s when not quitting can give incredible value. If you are training for a marathon and are frequently sore and tired, you’re going to have thoughts of giving up—so the question is, is running itself fulfilling for you? What can you find about running that is fulfilling, so that these challenging times feel a bit easier? A huge sign here is noticing how you are when you are not tired. Everyone has thoughts of quitting when they are tired.
3. Quit when the challenges of the situation are not necessary to pave the way for what comes next. For instance, in running the Courageous Living Coach Certification, I’ve seen that nine times out of ten, the coaches who join us are wild about coaching…yet they’re not wild about learning about marketing. I was never wild about learning about marketing. I can’t think of a single coach friend of mine who loved the heart-centered work of coaching and was also saying, “Oh, yay! Marketing!” Yet, if you are going to do anything entrepreneurial, learning about marketing is going to be a necessary challenge to pave the way for what comes next: you, doing work that you love, and not being holed up with a commute and a cubicle each day. If the challenge you are facing right now is not necessary for what will come next? Quit away. If it is necessary, and particularly if it is temporary (as the learning curve for marketing is), then please—dig in deeper and don’t give up.
4. Quit when you answer the question, “If this all worked out the way I would want it to, would I stay in this?” with the answer, “No.” Particularly in the earliest years of starting my coaching business, I would hit walls of resistance and doing the hard but necessary work of growing what I was doing through marketing, and I’d think, “I hate this and I want to quit.” It wasn’t coaching that I hated. It was marketing that I hated (see #3). I would ask myself, “If this all worked out the way I wanted to, would I stay?” and every time, my heart would say, “Yes.” The promise of what was to come, the knowledge that if others had made it they were my proof that I, too, could make it where I was trying to go, buoyed me up. Quit when the answer is “no.”
5. Quit whenever the act of staying is not tied to your personal purpose in the world. Particularly for coaches, this is important. Coaching is purpose-driven work. To step away from building your purpose-driven work in the world in favor of comfort and safety is a step backwards, not forwards, in your personal evolution. Often, I see coaches make having a coaching practice into an either-or equation in the earliest, hardest years. They say, “Well, I had to quit because I had to get a job and pay the bills; coaching wasn’t bringing in enough money.” That’s where it’s a step backwards, because…c’mon now. Let’s be real. It’s not a choice between salaried job or side hustle as a coach. Having a coaching business on the side can keep you tied to your personal purpose even as you have a salaried job.
6. Quit whenever staying is not tied to your ability to feed and house yourself and your family. With this, I’m thinking of extraneous things—the PTA Meetings, for instance. If you’re trying to get your business up off the ground, yet you feel you don’t have enough time to devote to your business…why in the world are you volunteering at your child’s school? Volunteering in this way might be a worthy endeavor, it might be aligned with your values, it might be a wonderful and generous thing to do—but if it’s not tied to feeding and housing you and your family, and you need that time for something else. You are the one making the choice to put your time into late nights on Pinterest, endless conversations with the drama-prone friend to hear about her latest catastrophe, binge-watching a television series. Take responsibility for quitting when you are fully in choice about quitting.
7. Quit when you are confident that you know your own fear patterns, and that you aren’t running them. If you are running a fear pattern, you’re likely considering quitting because of fear. Quitting because of fear doesn’t get you anywhere.
8. Last but not least, here’s perhaps the most important thing I’ve come to understand about how to know when to quit : when the choice to quit is truly an aligned choice, the act of quitting itself will feel aligned. In other words, if you are contemplating quitting, and it feels like drama, like this big deal, like “Oh my god, what will they think of me?” or like your internalized Critic is going to beat up on you for being such a quitter, then you still have internal work to do and might not be ready to quit, yet. Use what’s coming up for you as your personal work. When you’re really ready to quit something that truly isn’t meant for you and the situation has taught you all that it has to teach you, you’ll be stepping into more alignment—which means that in the act of quitting, you will actually feel aligned.
Read that again: when you are meant to quit something, you are stepping into more alignment, and as a result, you actually feel more aligned. This won’t mean that quitting will be without consequence or difficulty. Quitting when you are meant to quit might feel difficult, but nonetheless you will also have some sense of an undercurrent that it is right, it is aligned, it is the hard but necessary choice.