When It’s Time To Quit [Yes — There IS A Time]
Never give up!
Quitters never win, and winners never quit.
Finish what you start.
You’re gonna QUIT???
You’ve heard all these sayings about sticking with things (and many others), from me and everyone else. They’ve been drilled into us since childhood. The act of quitting is a stain on our life and our very value as a human, a human who apparently can’t complete things and is too weak to stick it out in tough situations.
Because of this, when the time comes that we know we actually need to walk away from something — a relationship, job, sport — we hesitate.
We think of (and often execute) all the ways we can try to make it better and repair the broken circumstances.
And on the surface it all looks great. But, as our subconscious minds have already told us what the verdict is, we do all this salvation work whole feeling f***ing miserable on the inside.
Because we know we don’t belong there.
Because we know we should’ve walked away a long time ago.
Because we don’t see a happy ending: A) Endure something we don’t want to endure, or B) have the world label us a quitter.
Because we think of all the opportunity were missing out on trying to prove — to ourselves, the world, and lord know who else — that we won’t wear the despised quitter label.
That’s what we know on the inside. But what do we actually show?
It’s time you were comfortable expressing that on the outside, and I don’t mean by giving a speech. I mean, by knowing that it is/was time to quit not only in your heart and emotionally, but by also being able to make sense of it logically — and ACT on it.
What follows is the “how to know.” Each of the below points is a number in your combination lock: Get all three, and you’ll know for sure that it’s time to walk away in strength.
One: You No Longer See The Vision You Once Saw
Vision is the seedling of hope. Vision is also the soil, the sun and the water that helps the seed grow into a flower or a tree.
Leadership is all about vision. When Christopher Columbus went on his legendary voyage, it was quickly obvious that Columbus knew very little about navigation and map-reading. He made mistakes plotting latitudes and longitudes, and treated his crew badly. At one point the voyage seemed a lost cause, and the only reason the crew of sailors didn’t kill Columbus was because he was the one with the vision: Columbus was the only person who believed the voyage would find land and everyone wouldn’t die at sea.
When you lose the vision, the game is over.
As a 16-year-old high school junior, I tried out for — and was cut from — my school’s varsity basketball team for the third consecutive year. Amidst the disappointment of another year not being on the team and the embarrassment of having to explain to everyone how I wasn’t playing varsity— again — plus how badly I had played at tryouts, I considered giving up basketball.
For the next week or two, I tried mentally reconstructing myself. I say tried, because I was hard at work figuring what my life — and my vision for my future — would be, since it was clearly not going to be basketball. The problem was, no matter how hard I tried, basketball was the only vision I could come up with. So I gave it another shot, finally made the varsity as a senior and went on to become a professional player just five years later.
Because I’d maintained kept have the same vision of making basketball work, despite my setbacks, I knew I should keep trying. If I’d not had that vision anymore, and couldn’t see myself succeeding, that would be entering the first number in the combination lock of quitting.
Two: The Hard Days (Or Their Expected Payoff) Aren’t Motivating Nor Worth It
No matter how good you are, and sometimes because of your good-ness, there will be long days of work at any job.
Tough opponents, bad luck, endless meetings, growing pains. This is all expected as part of improvement and progress, especially when you’re doing something that matters. While you may not think much about it in the moment, these long days will pay off in the future.
If so, you should know how, and be able to articulate that “how” to yourself.
As an athlete, I knew (or at least believed) my long outdoor workouts in the heat and humidity of the Miami summer would pay off in energy and a lack of fatigue in the fourth quarter of games in the upcoming basketball season.
Your hours of study pay off in new knowledge, which you demonstrate on the job or in your exams.
The days a charity workers spends dialing for dollars, getting hung up on and turned down when asking for donations, pay off in the lives she gets to change with the monies she does generate.
Anyone who’s having long, hard days at work needs to know why these long hard days are worth having. If you don’t know why they are worth having, why keep having them?
A few years ago whole still playing pro basketball, I decided to take a week off from my normal training schedule. After years of twice- and thrice-daily training, I’d felt burnt out for the first time. I wasn’t excited about going to the gym and working on my game, lifting weights or running on the beach. I knew I’d eventually have a life of working out only once per day (or even not working out at all), so I considered this week to be a trial run of sorts for the rest of my life.
It would also be a litmus test of my desire: how much would I miss training while I was away? Would I even make it the whole week? Heck, maybe I’d go mad, unable to stay away from exercise, and break down the doors of my gym just to get a sweat going.
I made it through the week easily, with no workouts. With that, I knew my days as a professional athlete needed to end, and soon.
The way my brain works (and maybe yours, too) was that the hard days had motivated me. I was excited to practice and train alone with no fanfare, because I knew the effort would show itself in my next game. Seeing that I’d started to lose that desire to train and have my game fully on-point, I didn’t even want to play in games anymore: I’d be presenting something less than my best.
Knowing that I wouldn’t be my best also meant a diminishing of the vision: I could not expect to dominate without putting the work in. This second number in the combination lock connected directly to the first. That was enough to know, even without the third number in place, that it was time for me to move on from hoops.
But there’s still one more number in the lock…
Three: You’re Struggling To Reach Mediocrity
Before basketball, I’d played baseball for 5 years. My father coached the team; all my friends played. I was fast, which made me pretty good at running the bases — but that’s about all I could do well in baseball.
I couldn’t hit, field, or slide. My throwing arm was just OK. As a batter, I was scared of being hit by the ball. I simply wasn’t good at baseball. As my body grew, and my baseball-playing opponents got older and better, I knew I needed to make a change before the game of baseball left me even further behind. I started spending more time with basketball, and eventually, basketball was the only sport I came to the park for.
While I was no child star on the basketball court, I was tall, athletic, and Black, so I had a head start. In baseball, I was merely struggling to reach mediocrity and nothing more.
This third number of the lock — you’re struggling to be mediocre — is the hardest one for any of us to get to, a tough pill to swallow when looking in the mirror. It’s someone, hopefully you, telling you that all the hard work you’ve been doing has produced a paltry result that isn’t even worth fussing or prolonging your efforts over. If you’re a hard working individual, that’s a slap in the face — which is why you need to be confident and disciplined enough in yourself to have the conversation, instead of someone needed to tell it to you. If I hadn’t had that conversation with myself, I might still be struggling to hit a baseball.
Walking away from something — quitting — doesn’t mean you did anything wrong. There are thousands, if not millions of people, who need to quit something today, who simply don’t have the heart to do it. And that’s a damn shame, since they’re getting no personal fulfillment from the situation, and they’re not helping anyone else with their mediocre, unfulfilled presence (though they lie to themselves that they are).
As they say in The Go-Giver, the best gift you have to offer the word is yourself. You best help the world by helping yourself first.
If it’s over, be smart enough and strong enough to walk away. You know it’s time.