Learning how to quit well is an essential life skill as in life you will inevitably find yourself in a situation you want to walk away from. This could be project, a job, a partner, or an identity or way of life which has become normal for you and you are not happy with.
This article details a 9- step plan on how to quit things, which is based on my experience of quitting.
Why ‘How To Quit’?
I am writing this article because I have had many conversations with friends and colleagues recently who are thinking of quitting a certain job or identity in favour of something new, or who have already quit and are exploring new horizons. Of course, Covid-19 speeds the decision-making process of ‘what do I really want from my life’ up, as we are all forced to face our own mortality and sit in our heads for months on end. I found myself advising friends and colleagues who are thinking of quitting and thought to put my advice here so that other people can benefit from it.
The first thing I would like to establish is that quitting is good if it is done in the right manner. To quit something because it is not right for you is an act of self-respect; to quit because ‘it’s too much like hard work’ is an act of self- destruction.
The myth that ‘quitting is bad’ via the education factory
As a child, I was told ‘not to quit’ as ‘only failures quit’ and that if you keep on going at something you will ultimately succeed at it – you just need to put in the effort! Growing up I learned that, indeed, I could succeed if I tried harder: studying for longer got me better grades, for example. However, the problem with school is that your progression is limited by your age and you progress in a linear fashion year on year. You are only exposed to more challenges and the next level of difficulty when you age a year. There is no way of shortcutting that progression of time.
However, as an adult outside of the school constrained environment, quitting is necessary. Quitting one situation in favour of another is an effective way of learning and growing, as you are putting yourself in a lot of new and different situations. Through quitting, we sort through many possibilities, opportunities, and identities quickly and work out which ones are the right fit for us in the long run.
Things I am proud to have quit
· A career path I was seriously working towards in my teens/ early 20s
· My university degree
· Three jobs
· Unhealthy habits
· Several creative projects
How to quit – 9 steps
Please note, this advocates the ‘cold turkey’ method of quitting.
Step 1 – Understand what you want and what you do not want, and how the thing you are thinking about quitting fits into these goals.
Perhaps you want to earn a lot of money, but the salaries are low in the organisation you are currently in. You want to work productively in the mornings, but your current habits of late-night Netflix are preventing that early start. Your partner is nice, and attractive, but just not quite what you are looking for in the long term. This is scoping – what exactly is it you want to quit and why? Identify, as specifically as possible, what is not working for you. Close your eyes and visualise how things could be better. Do this now.
Step 2 – Understand from your visualisation how things could be better. What specifically about your current situation needs changing?
Firstly, is there a way that you can pivot within your current situation to make it better, rather than quitting? For example, can you ask to be transferred to a different department within your current company? Pivoting is much easier than quitting. If there are multiple things which need changing in your life, such as you want a new career, new relationship, and a new attitude all at the same time, it may be easier to quit one thing at a time than everything at once. Ideally tackle the most challenging thing first as then you will not put it off and procrastinate.
Step 3 – Explore pivoting fully, as pivoting is easier than quitting.
Once you have explored pivoting fully and eliminated the fact that a pivot will not work for you, understand that you need to quit.
Step 4 – Visualise how you will quit. Do it, now.
Close your eyes and imagine yourself walking away from the situation which is not working for you. Imagine what you will say to the people who you need to say ‘I’m not doing this anymore’ to. Imagine the power of saying no and walking away. If you have not quit anything high stakes before, imagining this could be very emotionally challenging. To go through with quitting, you will need to have a strong image in your mind about how your life can be better, so you know why you are acting. Cultivate this image in your mind.
Step 5 – Start to gather the resources you need to quit and set a realistic timeline for quitting.
For example, you may need to save up a several months of expenditure to quit your job and go freelance, or you may need to read motivational books to focus your own mindset on what you want, or you may need to develop an emotional support network of friends and family who will help you through a transition period in your life. Setting your timeline and letting others know about your timeline is important as it will keep you accountable. Allow your timeline to be realistic, so as not to set yourself up for inevitable failure. For example, you can set yourself the goal of ‘I will quit my current job within a year and go freelance’. Once you set this goal, you have starting the quitting process.
Step 6 – Quit.
This will almost inevitably involve a difficult conversation, for example handing in your notice, breaking up with a partner, or telling a friend you cannot come out to party as you are focussing on work or studying (or that you cannot work or study as you are going out to party!) This will be a behaviour change from your norm, and therefore may be met with resistance from those who are part of the thing you are quitting. This experience will be temporarily unpleasant but hold in your power of saying no. Then, once you have said the words you need to say, move forward quickly towards your new goals, and do not look back. You have quit and are on the other side of the decision now – there is no turning back so there is no point regretting it.
Step 7 – Move straight on.
Take a moment to congratulate yourself for quitting (once after I quit something big I bought myself a handbag) and then move straight on, using the resources you gathered in Step 5 to make progress on what is next, regardless of whether you have made a 42-page plan for your alternative option, or just have a vague idea about what you want.
Step 8 – Do not allow self- doubt to creep in.
Once you have quit, you need to continue to propel yourself forward, away from the thing you have quit. No looking back now! Start to build your new to do list which will propel you towards the things you imagined in the early visualisation exercises. You will now have a brand-new set of things to think about so no time to ruminate over your decisions.
Step 9 – Repeat all these steps until you have quit all the things you need to quit.
Of course, life is a series of saying ‘yes’ and ‘no’ to options, and every time we say ‘no’ we remove ourselves or ‘quit’ from that path. So, every day can be a series of small quits. If you are quitting many things in life and forming a new identity, quitting things one by one could be more manageable than quitting everything at once.
In summary, I wrote this because quitting for the right reasons is a sign of strength rather than weakness, and I would like to create a rough framework around how to quit which may help you take steps to leave something which is not serving you.
I understand some things are harder to quit than others. This article is mostly aimed at professional situations (quitting jobs, professional identities, deals), and in general, the higher the stakes the harder it will be to quit. The article also touches on the personal, and I understand that quitting a long-term relationship could be much more challenging than quitting a short-term relationship. Again, because it is higher stakes. And of course, quitting any addiction (drugs, alcohol, sugar) is its own challenge. However, I wanted to write in general terms to help as many people as possible. My ‘cold turkey’ formula works for me, but may not for others where a gentle or more stepped approach could work.
I end the article with a quote via one of my friends, who inspired me to write this.
“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favour all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.” - William Hutchinson Murray paraphrasing Goethe
BBC Worklife ‘Why You Sometimes Have To Quit To Win’