When's the right time to quit?
Sometimes quitters are the real winners
Hey friends, it’s been a while. I’ve missed this space to share my thoughts. For most of 2020, Gridology was my outlet to organize my thinking, publish my thoughts, and connect with awesome readers. No excuses, but sometimes—as today’s post discusses—you need to know when to take a step back. The only way to describe 2021 for me was busy (getting an MBA and working part-time at a startup will do that). While I hate using “busy” as an excuse (read: The Busy Trap), I didn’t create the mental space required to produce meaningful content. I won’t proclaim that I’m back on my normal cadence quite yet, but for the new year here’s a piece I’ve been wanting to publish for some time.
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Let’s jump in:
One of the most inflammatory things you can say to someone, especially if they’re American, is to call them a quitter.
It breeds antipathy and disgust. If you’ve ever been labeled as a quitter, you know this feeling. It’s like drinking a cocktail that’s two parts guilt, one part shame, and another defeat. The hangover is brutal, too. You feel worthless. Inadequate. Sad.
Growing up, my parents, teachers, counselors, and friends shared the same mantra, “Winners never quit, and quitters never win.” As a child, I interpreted this into an “always try hard even when times are tough” mindset. It means to always power through adversity to reach the other side... where victory is waiting.
This axiom—one I lived by for years and never thought to second guess—began to feel really backwards in 2021.
The “winners never quit” mindset disregards strategy. Sometimes you just can’t bulldoze through the obstacle you’re facing.
It disregards mental and physical health. Sometimes your mind and body shut down and trudging forward is impossible.
It disregards interest. Sometimes you no longer care about the things you start.
Over the summer, some rightfully praised and others wrongfully butchered Simone Biles for her decision to pull out of the gymnastics team and all-around events. Citing a case of the “twisties,” Simone said she couldn’t track herself in the air anymore. For a gymnast, that’s the difference between landing on your feet or getting seriously injured. Above all, continuing would have put her in physical danger… so she didn’t.
Quitting, though, has different connotations depending on the context. For example, quitting a job is commonplace. It’s built into the DNA of what it means to be a corporate employee. It’s so ordinary nowadays that the media has even dubbed all of the employees quitting their jobs in 2021 as The Great Resignation (it even sports its own Wikipedia page).
However, if you quit a hobby or bail on a commitment you run the risk of getting (or feeling) judged. Why is it okay (and considered normal) to quit in some situations yet frowned upon in others?
For today’s grid, let’s disregard all the irrelevant external pressures associated with continuing or stopping any given activity. Let’s focus solely on what it is you’re actually looking to quit. Let’s put everyone else’s opinions where they belong. The trash.
On the x-axis, we have the impact the activity has on your emotional or physical health. When deciding to quit something you should always ask yourself, “Does continuing to do this improve or ruin my life?” The answer here should dictate whether the activity falls on the left or right half of the grid.
On the y-axis, we have how much you enjoy doing the activity. When making a decision to stick with or quit something, it’s important to understand how much you are enjoying both the process of doing the activity and how you feel afterwards. Some activities are a struggle to do (such as going to the gym), but once it’s completed you feel great.
Understanding the Grid
If you’re thinking about quitting something, this grid is immensely valuable. The grid will help you categorize your life’s activities, habits, and relationships in the right frame of reference.
The activity is healthy and exciting. This is an all systems go quadrant. Blue skies. Clear pastures. The activities in this quadrant are healthy and are enjoyable. For me recently, this has been weight lifting. As a runner for many years, I felt like I needed to take a break from running after completing a marathon back in 2018. My body felt worn down and tired. Weight lifting, however, offers me a chance to feel strong and challenged. When activities make you better physically, mentally, and emotionally there should be no question here: keep going.
The activity is healthy but a nuisance. Gridology fell into this quadrant for me by the end of 2020. My laundry list of weekly topics had run dry (or uninteresting for me to write about). Time worked against me—I had commitments as a student and as a part-time startup employee that stretched me too thin (more on that in an upcoming post). So it was time for me to Refocus. Refocusing, or reevaluating the amount of time you spend with an activity, enables you to reflect and make necessary tweaks to your current commitments.
My parents are always quick to remind me of the time where I wanted to quit working for the high school newspaper. While being a member of the newspaper was certainly a positive growing experience for me in high school, when I first joined as a freshman, I found it an anxiety-provoking nuisance. I was intimidated to interview the high school football coach or any of the varsity athletes. Having my name published next to my writing caused real panic. What if my article was horrible? What if I got something wrong? The stakes felt so high. So rather than quitting the newspaper, I refocused my attention into writing articles that didn’t cause as much stress. I eased my way into being a reporter. This led to me becoming the sports editor, then the news editor, then the managing editor, and eventually a journalism student at Northwestern University. Had I not refocused the activity into something more manageable to start, I probably would have quit and failed to cultivate my love for writing.
The activity is unhealthy but exciting. Most vices fall in this category (or the Quit quadrant). I personally have a self-proclaimed addiction to sweets—just give me a vanilla sheet cake with vanilla icing and I’m a very happy guy. That said, it’s so unhealthy. A big objective for me this year is to build healthy and lasting health habits. Thus, it means taking a pause of many of the sweets I know and love until I can figure out to how to effectively incorporate them into a healthy lifestyle. Being in the pause quadrant is a bit like hitting the reset button with any type of activity. It requires being mindful and reflective about how you treat your mind and your body. This is the Simone Biles quadrant—taking the necessary break from things to ensure you can perform at your fullest potential.
The activity is unhealthy and a nuisance. In this quadrant, there’s no room for negotiation. The answer here is obvious. If an activity is unhealthy and causing you emotional distress, then why should you continue? As I’ve matured, I’ve realized that several friendships needed to be placed into this quadrant. Sometimes these relationships made me feel bad, anxious, and disrespected. There should be no tolerance for that in your life. Many across the country are quitting their jobs based on the new realities of what it means to be an employee in 2022—to have the ability to work from home or from an office, to have paid parental leave, to have the opportunity to build new skills, etc. When you quit an activity in this quadrant, you feel free. It’s like that feeling of finishing your last exam before break starts—the stress just starts pouring off of you.
This grid ignores dependencies. Some things in life you have to do because people depend on you to do them. Often when I go to my parents house, I shed the “son” title and don the title of “IT repairman.” While it’s not particularly enjoyable—it’s not something I plan on stopping because my folks need the help sometimes. While (hopefully) these required activities aren’t unhealthy, they may force you to operate in the Continue quadrant rather Refocus.
This grid ignores external judgment. How other people interpret your decision to stop or continue doing something should have no impact on your decision. The moment you start living out of fear or appeasement, is the moment you know you’ve made a severe wrong turn.
As the new year kicks off, let 2022 be full of meaningful activities, habits, and friendships. When something no longer serves you, cut it out of your life. Let this year be the year where you trust your gut, not your friend, parent, or manager’s opinion. Be ruthless in your prioritization. If you need any help, feel free to reach out—I’m always happy to help.
Life’s only as confusing as you let it be,
Amazing piece, Ross! This is a wonderful framework and one I plan to refer back to.
Glad to see Gridology back in my Inbox on Sunday morning!! Not so glad to see me as an example more than Once in the piece!! Lol