There is a reason why parents instruct their children to “stick it out,” to “never give up”, to “keep at it.” Endurance is an important skill, and frankly, kids have a tendency to quit things for less-than-legitimate reasons. Case in point, when I was eight-years-old, I remember desperately wanting to quit softball because my uniform was itchy (FYI, in case you’re wondering, that’s not the best justification for abandoning a softball team midseason).
We spend so much of our lives learning how to keep our commitments, but we are often ill prepared to know when it’s okay to quit. On a very basic level, we are taught that persistence means success and quitting means failure. We are taught that moving forward is progress and stopping is defeat. The truth, however, is a bit more nuanced.
Whether it’s a job, a relationship, a project – whatever it is, there are perfectly valid reasons for why you may want to quit. In fact, perhaps we should throw out this notion that quitting is an entirely bad thing. We aren’t kids anymore. We aren’t eight-year-olds grumbling about our itchy softball uniforms. We are adults, people with a wealth of experience, and if we have an instinct to withdraw, it’s likely that it’s for a good reason.
Of course, there are no hard-and-fast rules. It varies from situation-to-situation, person-to-person. But if you are thinking about moving on, particularly in your job or your professional path, here are a few ways of knowing when it’s okay to quit.
You just don’t care
Let’s set a clear distinction here between boredom and total, soul-crushing apathy. Boredom is a state that can be remedied by a simple shift in perspective – maybe a walk around the office, a brainstorming session, or even just a cup of coffee. Apathy, on the other hand, is far more deadly. It’s that inconsolable, painful state of disinterest. When your work feels totally void of meaning, it may mean that it’s time to find something new. That being said, it’s important to really evaluate the situation. Only you can decide whether you’re simply in a rut or past the point of no return.
You care way too much
This is otherwise known as “addiction.” Signs of addiction may be thinking obsessively about work, sacrificing time with family and friends, constantly checking your email, never feeling at rest, etc. If your life is completely overrun by work, perhaps it’s time to set some boundaries. This doesn’t necessarily mean quitting your job (though it could), but rather, quitting the idea that your value is dependent on how busy you are. It’s simply not.
The environment is toxic
Perhaps you’ve heard these famous words from motivational speaker Jim Rohn: “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” In hearing this, it seems sensible to create a list of our closest friends and loved ones. But if you work a full-time job, the strong likelihood is that the five people with whom you spend the majority of your time may actually be your coworkers. If yours is a particularly negative work environment, then not only is your outlook being affected, but you are as well. Consider the people around you, and think about what can be done to improve the situation. If the answer is unequivocally nothing, then perhaps it’s time to leave.
You are totally out-of-place
This is that fish-out-of-water feeling. It’s that sensation of looking around the landscape of your office/industry and realizing that not only do you hate your job, but you wouldn’t want anyone else’s either. Not your boss’s job, not someone’s job in a different department – no one’s. When you are discontented professionally, there is always that hope that if you just push a bit harder, you will get to something good. But if you are on the wrong path altogether, then persistence likely won’t make much of a difference.
However, this is not the same as simply feeling uncomfortable. There are plenty of reasons why you might feel discomfort in your work, and not all of them mean that quitting is the answer. Again, it’s up to you to really decipher what is actually going on, whether you need to keep moving or whether you’ve got to get on a new path.