When Quitting or Persevering Aren’t Options, You Can Aways Step Away

Declan Wilson

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Photo: Kyaw Tun/Unsplash

It feels sacrosanct to say — especially in a culture that worships grit and productivity — but you’re allowed to take a break.

When you do something you love for a long period of time, it becomes routine. Sometimes even a bit drab.

When your former passion feels more like pulling your nails out and you’re stuck deciding whether to quit or persevere, you do have a third option: Walk away, you can always come back later.

Yes, this flys in the face of all the “push through” and “just show up every day and hustle” advice articles you’re used to seeing.

But I’m not here to make friends with all the grit-and-bear-it gurus.

That one time I quit

In 2018, I set off to record every day of my life on YouTube. On my 28th birthday, I picked up a camera, documented, edited, and published a video. I did the same thing the next day and the day after that.

I didn’t stop. Even when my son was born. Even when I felt anxious and overwhelmed. Even when my business was falling apart. I kept pushing through.

I woke up on day 280 of the experiment and a calmness came over me. I don’t want to do this anymore, I thought to myself.

And so I quit.

When your creativity and innovativeness just aren’t there anymore, forcing output is the fastest path to burnout. That’s exactly what happened to me. I burned out.

What happened after, however, is even more important.

I quit YouTube and spent what I thought was going to be two weeks figuring out what I wanted to do next. Two weeks stretched into a month, a month stretched into a year.

I spent an entire year filling up my metaphorical tank. I read books. I cooked. I even moved to a new city. I did everything besides creating things until one day, I felt ready. So I sat down at my computer, opened up a blank page, and wrote:

I can’t be the only 29 year old feeling this way.

They were the first words I had penned in nearly two years. Ten months later, I’m still writing. Every day I write. And when I’ve written enough or am tired of writing, I step away and come back when I’m ready.

And I’m always ready to return.

The life skill no one talks about

I bet you’ve seen this comic before:

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The miner on the bottom is supposed to represent those who quit too soon. Inches from riches, he gave up instead of pushing through.

The problem with this image — besides the lack of support beams — is that life doesn’t have vast diamond deposits just waiting to be stumbled upon.

If we’re lucky, we dig until we find a gem and dig a little more until we find another. Sometimes we go on long digging stretches to no avail.

Eventually, we ask ourselves, Do I really want to keep digging or do I want to cash in and see what else I can do?

Maybe the bottom miner needs a break. Maybe he needs a breath of fresh air. Maybe he wants to kiss his wife and hug his kids.

Maybe he’ll come back another day and see his progress in a new light.

This is the life skill I wished was talked about more often: Knowing when to quit, when to walk away, and when to persevere.

There isn’t a general rule of thumb for each scenario — if there was we’d all be rich and happy. But we aren’t. We’re miserable because we keep persevering when we should have quit, we’ve quit when we could have just walked away, and we’ve walked away when we should have persevered.

And the entire time we’re trying to decide, Do I set down my pickax or take another swing?

You can always come back

Quitting doesn’t have to be permanent.

It’s not like you’ve decided to quit climbing a mountain by cutting your tether and free-falling to the jagged rocks below. Just climb back down.

You can always climb again.

When ideas aren’t clicking, when creativity is running dry, when you don’t have it in you anymore, just step away. Take a beat. Recharge and come back if you want to.

The decision doesn’t have to be final. If you want to come back, come back. If you find something else, do that.

No, there isn’t a general rule of thumb that makes this decision any easier. But as someone who’s stepped away from many things over the past few years, I can offer this advice: The thing you’re most scared about isn’t giving up too soon, it’s that other people will think of you as a quitter.

Surprisingly, I’ll turn to Alexis from Schitt’s Creek to answer this one:

Trust me, no one is thinking about you the way that you’re thinking about you.

Step away, you need it.

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Stay-at-home dad. 9-to-5 escapee. Aldi aficionado.

Baltimore, MD
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