How many times have you been told, “Never give up!” or “No one likes a quitter!”? How many times have you heard inspirational stories that go something like this: “So-and-So faced countless setbacks, but she kept fighting all along” or “Mr. A and Mrs. B had their troubles, but they never gave up on their relationship, even when life got rough”? I assume your answer is along the lines of “More times than I can possibly remember.” Our culture romanticizes perseverance, and for good reason: Perseverance is a great quality. A lot of amazing things in our world would never have been invented, and a lot of great people would never have found success, if they hadn’t kept getting up every time they got knocked down.
But you know what? Sometimes giving up is exactly what we should do. We’re taught to persevere, no matter what, but sometimes that perseverance — that unwillingness or inability to let go — keeps us from moving forward, from finding happiness, from adapting to the curve balls that life throws our way. We will all face many different life situations that demand that we choose to keep trying or give up: professional goals, artistic dreams, romantic relationships, relationships with family and friends, the desire to have children — the list goes on and on. Sometimes, continuing to strive will be the right decision. But other times it won’t be. Giving up doesn’t always make you a bad person, or failure, or a deserter, or whatever bad thing you’ve been telling yourself. Sometimes giving up means that you are someone who is mature enough to know when to cut her losses and move on, someone who has the bravery to protect her mental health, someone who is willing to take the risk of changing course.
Only you can ask yourself the tough questions about your current life path, but, for starters, here are 8 times it is absolutely OK to be a quitter:
1. When you know in your heart that it’s not going to work out.
The painful truth is that some dreams don’t come true. Some relationships will never be healthy. Some people will never love you the way you need to be loved. That’s life. Ask yourself, honestly and seriously, “Is this a goal that can possibly work out?” If, for example, you’re questioning whether you should try to sustain a romantic relationship that’s going through a rough patch, think about whether your partner — as he or she is — will ever be able to give you what you want. If your response is “This relationship will be great, once my partner has a complete personality transplant,” then it’s time to let go and find someone else.
2. When you don’t want that thing (or person) anymore.
We can come to be so defined by our goals that it’s easy to take them for granted, to simply think, “Well, of course, I want that because I’ve always wanted that.” Take some time to think about yourself now. Is that dream something that still speaks to you in a deep way? Or are you simply going through the motions?
3. When pursuing your goal is making you really, really unhappy.
Dreams are wonderful, but we shouldn’t sacrifice our day-to-day happiness for the hope of happiness in some distant future. Are you happy as you pursue your goal? If, for example, you’re a fledgling artist, trying to make a living, think about whether the process itself — the work you’re doing in pursuit of your goal — is fulfilling in its own right. If it is, keep going. But if it’s not, you need to think about what you actually want. There are a lot of clichés out there that say “It’s about the journey, not the destination,” and they are clichés for a reason. If your journey is making you miserable, the destination isn’t worth it.
4. When the only reason you haven’t quit already is because you’re worried about what other people will think.
When you find yourself shying away from the idea of quitting, what is it that scares you? Are you chiefly worried that you’ll let other people down? You can’t sacrifice your life to make other people happy. Let other people take care of themselves, and do whatever you need to do to find happiness.
5. When the only reason you’re sticking with it is because you don’t know who you are with out it (or him or her).
When you’ve been striving for a dream or working to sustain a relationship for years and years, it’s easy to lose sight of who you are outside of that pursuit or that relationship. The idea of giving up on something you’ve held so close to you can be terrifying. After all, who are you if you’re not with that person? Or if you’re not pursuing that ambition? But you have to remind yourself that you are a full person, no matter what decisions you make. If you give up, you will feel a loss at first, but, eventually, new desires and new relationships will come in to fill that empty space.
6. When pursuing this path, or staying with this person, is preventing you from going down a road that would make you happier.
Life is a strange, twisty thing, full of possibility and change. If sticking to your guns is keeping you from being open to all of the possibilities that life has to offer, then maybe it’s time to … unstick. Even if your original goal is a good goal, it’s not the only one there is. If you can envision happiness by going in a different direction, it’s OK to make that change.
7. When your inability to accomplish your goal is making you hate yourself.
Following a long-term dream isn’t going to be hearts and roses all the time, but it shouldn’t shred your sense of self. If trying to accomplish your dream makes you feel like a failure, or fills you with shame because you can’t make it happen, then it’s time to stop. Recognize that you're only human, and you don't have the power to bend the world to your will or to change other people. Let yourself move on and find something that fulfills you, rather than tears you apart.
8. When the idea of giving up floods you with relief.
Is the very first feeling you have when you contemplate quitting your job, leaving your relationship, or giving up on a dream is a profound sense of relief? Take that response seriously. If, after stripping away all of the worry and anxiety that comes with any major life change, all that you feel is an enormous weight lifting off your shoulders, there’s your answer. Be a quitter and wear the name proudly. Sometimes it’s the best life decision you can make.