Notes from a Floating Life Thoughts about productivity, digital living, and leading a simpler life

Knowing When to Quit

Quit. It’s a four-letter word, but it’s not a bad one. But in our society, quitting (like failing) is treated as being akin to a crime. The way some people talk, giving up on something shows a lack of moral fibre, a lack of determination, a lack of courage.

I disagree.

Quitting is none of that.

Quitting is a realization. A realization that you’re not enjoying what you do. That you’re not challenged anymore. That maybe you’re too comfortable with a job or a situation or a way of doing things. That you’re doing something that you never liked or aren’t even good at, or something that you no longer have a passion for.

Quitting is simply knowing that you’ve had enough of something and you need to move on.

Quitting is chance for growth. For change. You just need to muster the courage to take that chance, to make that change.

But prodded by pride, stubbornness, the fear of being branded a failure, or the expectations of others, many people carry on in situations and circumstances and jobs that are aren’t right for them. That saps their time, energy, and enthusiasm. Time, energy, and enthusiasm that can be better directed elsewhere.

The problem is that most people don’t know when to quit. I was one of those people. Over the years, I learned when to quit. And the signs the told me that time to quit was nigh.

Let’s look at those four signs.

You’re not improving

Hitting a wall. Reaching a plateau. Coming to a dead end. No matter what you call it, you reach a point where your efforts aren’t producing any gains. Where you’re up against diminishing returns. No matter how hard you try to push through, no matter how you change tack or tactics, you don’t make any headway.

Over the years, I tried and failed to learn three languages. While I quickly picked up the basics, I hit what amounted to an insurmountable barrier at one point or another. A point at which I was nowhere near the place I needed or wanted to be with that language. I tried switching up materials, trying different methods of and approaches to learning. All to no avail.

Failing to realize that I was going nowhere meant I wasted time, money, and effort that I could have used to further another ambition.

You’re not learning

Maybe you’re working at a job where your opportunities to learn are limited. Maybe you’re even blocked from doing that. Or, maybe the people teaching you or the people around you are more interested in getting to the weekend or collecting their pay packet than they are at expanding their professional and intellectual horizons. It’s easy to get sucked into a pit of inaction in that kind of environment. The worst part is that it drains you of mental and emotional energy, which you’d use to learn on your own time.

At the turn of the millennium, I worked at The Company That Shall Not Be Named. It was a large, multinational firm which, for whatever reason, didn’t seem to have a training budget. Well, at least not for the department I was it. Combine that with several co-workers who were more than happy to go through the motions and collect a pay cheque and you can understand the situation I was in. I really didn’t learn much for two of the three years that I was there. During the last year, I pulled myself out of my funk and did a lot of learning on my own.

And the decision to quit that job was the best one I’d made during that time of my life.

You’re not engaged

The passion you had for something is gone. It’s that simple. You’re not motivated. You’re not driven. Whatever it is you’re doing has lost its hold on you. Maybe it’s the situation. Maybe you’ve come as far as you can. But losing your former level of engagement is a sure sign that you need to quit.

This is the situation I’m coming up against in my career. Or, at least, the day job part of it. For a variety of reason, the job doesn’t hold my interest in the way it did even three years ago. I’m, in the words of a song by guitarist Steve Howe, mentally detached from the people around me. Even though I am learning, I no longer get a thrill from what I’m doing. I’m not as deeply engaged in what I’m doing — especially when it comes to speaking and writing about that profession. I’m not thinking like a technical writer anymore.

It’s time to move on, and I’m just plotting how.

You’re not having fun

This is the big one. You have to push yourself to get motivated. You have to push yourself to do something. And when you do it, you’re going through the motions. The joy you started out with has gone and you’re doing something, or involved with something, just for the sake of doing it.

Quite a few years ago, I took up fencing. It wasn’t anything serious — one class each Friday evening. It was, however, a good reason to get out and a way to unwind at the end of a week where I was usually working 12 to 15 hour days. I was never a very good fencer, but I was enjoying it. While most of the coaches were great, there was one who was a real jerk. And, for whatever reason, I kept getting put into his group. I rapidly stopped enjoying the fencing classes. That, plus having to leave class under a bit of a cloud because of something that happened between us, killed my enthusiasm for fencing. I’ve never gone back to it.

Quitting isn’t easy. But once you get out of the mindset that it’s a bad thing, you should be able to recognize the signs that ti’s time to pack it in. The only problem is making a habit out of quitting when things start to get tough. More on that in a future post.

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