I consider myself an expert-level quitter, and it’s a distinction to which I firmly believe more people should aspire.
Why? Because quitting is the most underrated tool for achieving success not only in business, but in relationships, personal happiness and well-being. In fact, it’s one of the most underrated self-care tools out there.
The walls of Amazon’s virtual bookstore are overflowing with self-help books telling us to live our best lives. But rarely do they address one of the main reasons that people get stuck in something less than their best life: no one tells them how to get through the necessary quits to leave whatever isn’t working. They just tell you to transform your life and strive to make progress…until one day you’ve suddenly arrived at said ideal life.
And quitting ain’t easy.
It’s a process fraught with unwarranted stigma -partially thanks to unhelpful sayings like “quitters never win and winners never quit.” And if you can get past the stigma, you’re then smacked in the face with many of the fears associated with quitting, like wondering if another opportunity will arise to replace whatever you’re leaving, or wondering what people will think about your quitting, or fear that the new scenario you find post-quit won’t truly be more fulfilling than the original one.
It’s enough to make someone just stay put. Stuck in the less-than-ideal.
But it doesn’t have to be. Quitting can be your best friend. But not just regular old quitting. Strategic quitting.
Now I could tell you theoretically about why strategic quitting is the greatest thing since avocado toast, but I think it will be slightly more effective if I show you what it looks like in the real world. Because at this point you may be (understandably) wondering how someone with both medical and law degrees has ever quit anything.
I quit all the time.
Because what does it take to get through that much school and training? Time, money, and energy. How was I able to make sure I had enough of all three to get through? By quitting things that were draining my time/money/energy and focusing only on the things that served me.
So what does it look like in action? Before medical school, I was a multimedia designer, but the sinking feeling I got while sitting in coding classes learning new programming languages told me this was not the field for me — so I quit. I started completely fresh and decided to try to get into medical school.
And after I finished medical school and residency in family medicine, I finally got to my sports medicine fellowship, as I had decided I wanted to be a sports doc. However, I got that same feeling when I was doing sports medicine — like something just wasn’t right. Mostly I didn’t like that the hours were somehow both 9 to 5 and nights and weekends, leaving little time for myself.
So I quit. Again.
At this point you may be thinking, “whoa…but what about all of that time and money you wasted on medical school?” Well that’s where strategic quitting comes in. With regular quitting, I would have walked away from medicine altogether and tried some other career that may have had all the same attributes I disliked about medicine.
But with strategic quitting, you take stock of exactly what parts of a job or relationship, etc. aren’t working for you, and quit only those…and you stay vigilant not to get in new situations that have features that didn’t work for you previously. And as long as you learned something from a past situation, it wasn’t a waste.
So I quit the long hours of sports medicine, and took a job where I make my own schedule. And in the future, you can bet that I won’t be taking any new jobs that have night or weekend hours, because I learned from my previous experience. And as for the money and time I spent? Well having spent a lot of time or money on something that isn’t working for you is a terrible reason to spend more time or money on it. Sticking it out doesn’t get you back your investment, it just gets you further from where you want to be.
Now you may be plenty happy in your job or relationship, but what about some smaller things that may be stressing you out?
Here’s another real-life example. I finished yoga teacher training last year, and during my training I had an unlimited membership to the yoga studio. However, shortly after receiving my instructor certification, I started volunteering with a political campaign and didn’t have time to go often enough to make the membership worth the money, which started to stress me out. Yes, you heard that right, yoga was stressing me out.
So what did I do? Did I quit yoga? Obviously not! I just quit the unlimited membership and switched to a class card, thereby taking away all the guilt and stress I felt over not being able to make it to class as much as I needed to.
Now look at your own life…is there something that brings you stress or causes a sinking feeling in your stomach? Is your body subtly trying to tell you to make a change by giving you heartburn or keeping you awake at night? As a doctor, I can tell you the effects of staying in something that is wrong for you are not minimal. Stress is a leading health risk these days, and a major cause of stress is doing something that’s not in line with your own personal good.
So if your job doesn’t light you up, or your relationship brings you anxiety, or your city just isn’t working for you anymore, I urge you to make close friends with strategic quitting before your body stops whispering to you and starts yelling in the form of chronic pain, depression, anxiety, insomnia, and more.
Strategic quitting is the self-care tool you never knew you needed, but that you’ll never give up once you’ve got it down.