Knowing When to Quit and When to Push Through

It might sound funny, even crazy, but I really think that there is an art to quitting and it’s something I have a real talent for. What brought this up was reading a review of Seth Godin’s book called The Dip. Everyone experiences the Dip, that time when things get hard, really hard. Those times where the fun has evaporated and it becomes hard to see a reason for our efforts. A Dip can last for minutes, hours, days or even weeks or months by which time it’s probably become something else altogether. Many quit at the first sign of difficulty, not realising that the dip is just a normal part of the journey. As Seth might say, they quit when they shouldn’t, when the winner would have pushed through.

In my late teens and early twenties I became an expert quitter. After three months of a Science degree I quit. After a year of Art School I quit. After three months of a stone masonry job I used the mass redundancy from the site we were working on as an opportunity to quit. I’ve quit good administration jobs and I’ve quit whole ‘scenes’ – you know, where you just accept that you don’t like the culture that you’re in. There have been countless other examples. I’ve quit for a variety of reasons. Sometimes I’ve just realised that I was simply taking someone else’s path rather than my own. Most often it was just because my heart wasn’t in it, even if I was very good at it. In my experience being good at something is no guarantee that it’s the best way forward. It can be, but not necessarily.

One aspect of all this quitting was that I got to try out different ideas, road test them. Sometimes it’s the only way to know what something is really like and to remove romantic illusions. Over time I was able to sample and weed out different options until I found things that really excited me. I did eventually find what I was passionate about, ‘my bliss’ as Joseph Campbell would have said, and this only happened because I was never prepared to settle for something when my heart wasn’t in it.

It’s only when the hard times come that our passion is tested and when there is real passion there, when we are motivated by our most deeply held values, we will push through the dip. The hard times can still be really tough, we might come close to quitting but in our heart of hearts we know we have to go on, to do what it takes.

Also from the Louvre, the winged Victory, or Nike, from Samothrace.

So don’t just quit because something is difficult. Life is always going to have a good mix of tough days alongside the easy ones. But if your heart isn’t in it, don’t settle. Life is too special. Even more than that, your life is too special not to live in a way that honours the needs of your spirit.

I know this is a different approach to that advocated by a lot of people. I also had many critics during my years of searching, sampling and quitting, people who wanted me to finish things just for the sake of it. But it’s not about them, it never was. It’s about following our hearts and living authentically – with integrity, this can require lots of courage, but when you find your passion you’ll find all the courage and strength you need, and more besides.

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17 thoughts on “Knowing When to Quit and When to Push Through

  1. This post felt uncannily like reading my own mind out. A subtle difference being, I am still searching for my bliss while you are living it. Thank you for the wonderful post, James.

  2. I had this problem, too when I was much younger. You are probably very intelligent and curious. Don’t think of it as quitting, think of it as reinventing yourself.

    In college, I majored in art, then psychology, then early childhood eduation before finally getting a degree in computer programming and another one in business.

    In reality, however you do need to find something that you can stick with in order to earn an income. The good news is that you can change careers and reinvent yourself as often as you like.

    Don’t worry, you will find your passion.

    • Thank you very much for your comments. I’m not sure that you got the full gist of the piece though. As I mentioned in the middle of the post I did settle into an area of research 15 years ago which has continued to inspire me to push through the hardest of times to succeed as an academic and in the way I approach life generally. There’s no easy road to the PhD, nor is there for strong longterm relationships. So I’m really playing with the language around quitting because it’s so commonly misused. In fact, what I’m saying is that if your heart isn’t in it, it’s not really quitting at all, at least not in the negative sense – in fact it’s just having the wisdom to recognise that it was not the path after all. JS

  3. I wish I had known this stuff years ago as I went through a few quits before I landed on my mark. I have known many people who have stuck to something early on only to arrive at middle age and realize they were unhappy. Better to move on till you find something that really sticks.

    • Tell me about it. It would have been useful to me in my twenties especially and even sometimes now. I’ve always lived by this but it hasn’t been easy to say the least. Thanks for dropping by. JS

  4. I particularly like when you said that “if your heart isn’t in it, don’t settle.” So true. Just because we start something, doesn’t mean we need to see it through its completion. Yes, we may be stronlgy drawn to do something, thinking or believing it’s for us, only to find out once we actually do it, that it isn’t. It doesn’t mean we made a mistake or we failed. It’s all part of the journey, of the discovery…Thanks for this timely reminder James. Blessings and love & light!!! Nadine Marie

    • Thanks for your comments Nadine. That’s it exactly. What I might have added to this post was that I think we can use these false starts to learn so that we make better choices – better in that they are more authentically aligned with our own spirit and passions. JS

  5. “I was never prepared to settle for something when my heart wasn’t in it.”
    …….therein lies the secret ….<3
    I second the motion… if my heart is not in it …therefore struggle and when i struggle …i know it is not for me… I don't want to be a people pleaser ,,,I am only sure when have a eace that surpasseth all understanding … Thank you for another great note ..

  6. It’s definitely easier for me to quit if I don’t have an emotional connection to it. Connecting with my passion – sometimes over and over again is what it is about for me. I agree – sometimes – it’s okay to step out of something and let it go.

    • Thanks for your comments. The emotional connection is key. Sometimes we do have to make a special effort to reconnect with our passions and stick with it, but not if it is truly somewhere else.

  7. I like this posting very much. Especially this one “……………It’s about following our hearts and living authentically – with integrity, this can require lots of courage, but when you find your passion you’ll find all the courage and strength you need, and more besides.” living authentically – with integrity. It’s so true. It’s not easy needs a lot of courage.

  8. Pingback: Knowing When to Quit and When to Push Through « Beyond the Call « The Edge of the Wedge

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