Successful People are the Best Quitters
Can a highly successful person be a quitter? The short answer, in my opinion: they’re probably the best quitters.
Quitting has some pretty negative connotations. Quitters are lazy, losers, unreliable and anything but successful. Those can definitely be true.
But quitting can also be really powerful. Much like saying no, quitting can be a means to editing life, something we all know needs a little downsizing once in a while.
Certainly there’s a time for quitting and a time for persevering. Sometimes it makes sense to power through an uncomfortable or less than desirable situation. Despite its negative connotation, however, quitting can be a helpful and effective tool to success. Much is said for the importance of saying “no” at times, and in essence, quitting is exactly that. Quitting might not feel like an up front “no” but it’s certainly a “no, not any more.”
I’d argue highly successful people are probably some of the best at knowing when it’s the right time to be a quitter. They recognize when an endeavor or relationship or project has outlived its welcome, when it’s time to try something new and head in a different direction. Instead of mulling away their precious time, energy and resources on a project that’s run its course, they pull back, reassess and redeploy all those resources on something new.
Edit Life Intentionally by Quitting
Quitting doesn’t mean you have nothing, it’s about better understanding what you have and prioritizing what matters most. Long story short, quitting at the right time and under the right circumstances gives us more control over our own lives and makes time for the things that are most important.
Quitting doesn’t necessarily mean failure; quite the contrary. An endeavor may have been rather successful for quite some time but wore out its welcome. More likely, other surrounding circumstances changed resulting in the specific project now being part of a vastly different overall life and existence than the one in which it was created or born.
Like I suspect many of you have experienced, I’ve had some large and small points at which I’ve called it quits that were, undoubtedly, great decisions for me and my family. They were anything but failure.
When Quitting is Winning
Since having children, I quit playing on competitive tennis teams. In fact, I’ve nearly quit playing tennis altogether. While I’m sure I’ll pick up a racquet in the future, too many competing priorities meant that tennis took a back seat to some new and important components of my life, like my babies.
For now, I rarely even dig out my racquets from the closet and, honestly, I don’t really miss it. I know that now isn’t the right time for significant commitments to court time. I feel happier and less stressed not even attempting to pretend I can bring my best game to the match.
Since becoming pregnant with my second child (who’s fifteen months now), I basically quit attending networking events for work. I enjoyed the social after-work events before my boys were born. With just one child, M managed at home just fine while I was out. Some expecting moms may not agree, but I hated attending events filled wall to wall with tall middle-aged men (nearly all of the industry in which I worked) while being pregnant. I felt so uncomfortable. After my second baby was born, I dreaded getting home late after a long night of schmoozing. M hated it even more.
Attending formal evening networking events became annoying obligations that I enjoyed so little I’d regularly sign up for events and then not show up. I rationalized not attending for just about any reason that seemed remotely viable (even if only in my own head). To be sure, this happened only a handful of times before I recognized the pattern and just stopped signing up to attend.
Despite the efforts I’d put forth in prior years and promise I’d shown at growing my business development skills in my career, I quit pursuing that aspect of my career. I don’t do much out of obligation, and this obligatory component of my job got the ax.
It’s Perfect Only on Paper
As you might expect, nixing the networking events and quitting an increasingly important part of my job proved to foreshadow the next significant change I took on my career path. I’ve mentioned briefly that I took a new job within my company but haven’t shared much about the details. Long story short, I quit a promising path that was likely to land me an opportunity to make partner.
For ten years, I worked hard toward and traveled down a path in pursuit of being a client service partner in my public accounting firm. Without gloating, I did my job quite well. I wasn’t the best in my firm by any means but certainly a high enough performer to suggest an ultimate promotion to partner was a likely outcome. Before jumping ship, I was just one promotion away from the coveted role.
After having my first son, I returned to work part time and knew this would slightly slow my advancement but appreciated the time with my family in exchange for the slower track to promotion. With the addition of my second son in conjunction with more “partner-like” responsibilities at the office, I began to wonder if I really wanted the day-to-day responsibilities and lifestyle I anticipated a partner experienced.
And Then I Called It Quits
In January 2014, I approached my boss to tell him that I’d decided a client service partner role wasn’t for me. I really liked my firm and appreciated how well they had treated me for the past (almost) ten years. But continuing on this career path, that on paper looked so perfect and like smooth-sailing to professional and financial success, wasn’t for me. I came to understand that the widespread goal of so many in my firm wasn’t mine. After a ten year journey, I effectively quit.
As I uncomfortably shared this news with him over lunch, I reiterated how much I liked the firm and hoped to find a new role, if possible, outside of client service but still within the firm. To be honest, I’ve worked with him for years and wasn’t the least bit surprised at how supportive and helpful he was in connecting me to others who could potentially help me find a new path internally. That’s a testament both to him and to the flexibility and commitment of my firm to employees’ satisfaction and professional development.
Quitting was a Product of Success and Intention
In a matter of weeks, I found a new role that seems to be a really great fit with my personal and professional plans. Things have worked out quite well, and I’m so happy with my new set of responsibilities, it’s almost serendipitous. But it’s not just great luck.
I spent about six months leading up to that January conversation having conversations with family and friends and deeply contemplating whether or not to step away from the prosperous and “perfect on paper” client service role I ultimately relinquished. After much consideration, I thoughtfully and conscientiously recognized that it was time to quit.
The ten years of work I did leading up to this new role are anything but failure. They’ve prepared me in so many ways to (hopefully) succeed in my new position. To be honest, I actually think my professional experience to date makes me a pretty darn good candidate for the role I have now, but I’m obviously biased. 🙂 And for clarity, I’m not being arrogant. I just have significant experience in areas very relevant to my new yet decisively different role.
Quit the Old, Embrace the New
Against the grain, I quit. I believe I did it with grace and know it was anything but a lazy failure. I let go of something that used to be right and no longer seemed the perfect fit. With two young boys, I created an opportunity to follow a new career path that offers more flexibility and space for family without sacrificing my professional satisfaction. I call that Quit a Win.
Quitting isn’t always losing or being lazy or irresponsible. Quite the contrary, quitting the right things at the right times can be thoughtful, helpful and effective. When that does happen, it doesn’t make the time and effort spent pursuing the former goal a loss. Presumably, much was gained on that path that ultimately pivoted. Lessons learned are carried forward and become building blocks for future success.
Many of us probably don’t contend to lead perfect lives. They may be great and may even look perfect on paper, but something could probably be better. Don’t we all strive for continuous improvement? Take a look around your life, your calendar, and your email inbox, and consider if it’s time to quit. We have to pay bills and buy grocery and lead lives, so I’m not proposing we quit everything to throw away all past success. But is there one thing, or maybe two, that feel ripe for quitting? Take a hard look and be honest with yourself.
Quitting one thing is really only creating time for something else. What can you quit to make space for something better?
FYI: I’ve been thinking about the substance of this post a lot recently. Listening to Episode 63 of Elise Gets Crafty, one of the regular podcasts to which I subscribe and listen each week, helped me articulate my thoughts on my job transition as an example of the importance of quitting. Stop by to check out her podcast about, in her words, “blogging, business, creativity, inspiration and motivation.” Thanks Elise for the inspiration from a long-time fan!