Is Quitting Always Such a Bad Thing? Depends...

Jeffrey Keefer

Photo by Harrison Haines from Pexels

I bet you immediately had a reaction when you saw this title, right? I bet your response was also somewhat strong, correct? I even bet your reaction was connected to something you are going through in your own life right now. Eh?

If you are struggling toward something worthwhile for you, perhaps a personal goal or something you believe you must achieve, quitting may not be an option. Quitting may be a terrible idea, something that would not be in your short or long-term best interests.

For you, don't quit!

However, others reading this may be stuck on several levels, such as motivation, focus, or passion. Quitting for you perhaps is not an option either, mainly as you may have never considered it or it somehow has a bad feeling about it. Maybe you see quitting as a sign of failure, one that makes you not quite good enough or even somehow a loser. If this is the case, there is likely lots to unpack here in how you make sense of your condition and how you see or even value yourself.

Before you completely internalize things, let's explore this phenomenon, or at least what about this may have evoked a strong reaction. In many ways, whenever we react to words or phrases strongly, there is likely an opportunity to learn something about ourselves and grow into better visions of ourselves.

Do Winners Never Quit?

You have likely heard the mantra that winners never quit, right? While this can inspire us to new heights and help us get up again when we fall and miss achieving our goals, it can also signal a certain stubbornness or lack of reality factor, depending on the context, of course!

Context is critical, as all things make sense within our own context. Winners never quit when we need and want to move forward, while other times this aggravates us as if we do not win, then we . . . lose!

Ironic, isn't it, that 100 people can compete, and only one will be the winner while the 99 others are losers. Of course, if you came in second, then that is hardly considered a loser. Few people would refer to Silver Medal winners in the Olympics as losers, after all.

However, there are times when we have to attend to our context, especially when what we are trying to accomplish may not be possible . . . or at least not possible right now, in this way.

No does not always mean never, as it can just as easily mean no for now.

Rebuild our plans

I am reminded of one of the earlier self-help writers, Napolean Hill, whose work hit me recently. The one that spoke to my experiences recently was his:

When defeat comes, accept it as a signal that your plans are not sound, rebuild those plans, and set sail once more toward your coveted goal.

When we do not succeed, it may be because we are not doing enough for our personal success, depending on the area we are trying to improve.

Given this, what are our options?

Change tactics. Adjust the approach. Get up earlier. Cut out habits (or even work or people) that hold you back. Isolate yourself from negative thoughts that wear you down. Start small and build a simple, basic, repetitive habit that is so small there is no way you would not do it. Take baby steps, and with each one, you will be closer to your goal.

Yet, sometimes we can be our worst enemy and set our sights on goals that are not possible.

No matter how hard I try, I will never be a star quarterback. I will not be an astronaut. Nor can I be a Russian translator for the U.N. Many things would have been possible at one point in my life, but some things require time and effort that are not realistic or even possible given my current context. It is not too late to exercise and begin playing new sports, nor is it impossible to learn about the stars or even learn a new language. However, to become good enough in them that I would be a top-tier professional is an impossibility for me at this time. Setting a goal for any of those given my current context would be ridiculous, as the goal would be an impossibility.

Blindly setting impossible goals does not set us up for failure; it sets us up for madness.

Think about this in your situation, based on whatever goals you are focusing upon--does that mean you should quit trying? Well, yes and no.

If Yes, quit wasting time trying for something that is not possible. That sets you out for failure before you even begin. If you want to study for the bar exam next week but have not lifted a textbook or paid attention at all in class? Yes, save yourself the failure and reschedule, as that would be so unlikely it would be to the point of being impossible.

If No, keep trying, but adjust the goal for what it means to be successful based on your current context right now. In other words, what can I strive for that will be reachable and thus possible? Goals must be realistic and achievable, though with some serious effort. If they are impossible, then they are not goals; they are failures in the making. Stretch if that can help you, but stop if it can't.

Defeat ≠ Doability

Defeat shows that the initial goal was not doable, so not reaching it was not failure; it was reality.

The failure was not being realistic about what is truly possible. Some are beyond what I can physically do, while others are unrealistic given the time, resources, or interest I have.

Achieving goals involves many elements. While maintaining focus on achieving them is what many focus upon when discussing them, it is useful to remember that the goals need to be both possible (even with great effort) while also being ones I want to reach.

Suppose I spend so much of my time trying to achieve goals that will not make me happy or lead to fulfillment. In that case, it is not quitting when I decide to stop pursuing them; it is intentionally choosing to reorient myself to something that makes more sense for my efforts right now. These are the goals that help me get up in the morning filled with energy to move forward, and few things are sadder with not having these.

Quitting is not a problem when the goals we are striving for are not the right ones for us. When facing the wrong goals, it is both a smart decision and a mark of humility and wisdom that we cease spinning our wheels and let some things go. This helps us reorient ourselves toward those goals we really can achieve.

Why throw good time and energy at things that are not worth them?

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Educator. Writer. Open Knowledge Advocate. Institutional Researcher. I help people navigate their learning needs and take informed action.

New York City, NY

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