Quitting

From the time we’re kids, it’s drilled into our heads to never quit. Ever. Under any circumstances. Don’t quit your soccer team, don’t quit your science fair project, don’t quit working on that puzzle. Not quitting is synonymous with the American Dream. To reach our goals, we must finish everything we ever start.

The famous Winston Churchill quote “Never, never, never give up” is on coffee mugs and motivational pictures everywhere. It’s generally good advice not to quit. If you’re quitting because what you’re doing is getting hard and you want the easy way out, then you should remember this advice.

But sometimes quitting makes sense. What if you get new information? Or realize your plans were flawed from the beginning? Or decide the outcome you’re striving for isn’t even something you still want? Or realize you simply cannot do something no matter how much practice or effort? What if you’re just terrible at soccer and only 7-years old and you’re not even helping your team but actually hurting them? In cases like these, quitting is probably your best option. Quitting allows you to tackle other problems and focus your energy elsewhere. Quitting allows you to evaluate why you started this project in the first place, what went wrong, and how you can be better next time. Quitting can often be the right choice. So is Churchill wrong that we should “Never, never, never give up”?

No. We’re wrong in our recounting of what Churchill said. The above Churchill quote is both inaccurate and incomplete. And the rest of the quote is really important and changes the message completely. Here’s what Churchill actually said:

“Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never–in nothing great or small, large or petty–never give in, except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”

That bold phrase completely changes the meaning of this quote. Never give up, unless it would be dishonorable to continue. Never give up, unless it makes good sense to. Giving up is usually a bad idea, but it can also be a great idea! Sometimes quitting is the best option you’ve got. Churchill says to never give in, but then he cites a few exceptions where it might make sense to do so. Then, the last part of the quote brings it back around again: Never yield to force. Never yield to…the enemy. He bookends his statement with encouragement not to quit, but right there in the middle he leaves a few cases hanging where quitting might just be the right choice.

The point here is that quitting is not a black and white issue like we try to make it out to be. Turns out it’s like just about every single issue we’ll ever encounter in life, and there’s some gray. Sometimes quitting is wise, sometimes it’s unwise. Evaluate your reason for quitting before doing so, and if quitting the right choice, then quit confidently, knowing that you’re moving to something better. And when you quit, know that others will question you and doubt you. Listen to them, evaluate their criticisms for truth, but ultimately the decision is yours, not theirs.

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