Thursday, December 10, 2009

Knowing When to Quit

One of the things I've always been really, really, really bad at is knowing when to quit. There are many times in my life when I've been the 'last man standing': not in the sense of a caged wrestling match, but in the sense of the last person believing that whatever we were working on could still work. Long after everyone had given up and gone home, I'd still be at it.

Now, this would be fine if, in the end, I had always failed. But unfortunately I've found that irrational and insanely optimistic perseverance can work. It doesn't work all the time, nor most of the time, nor lots of times. In fact, it barely works some of the time. But even that is enough for me to continue.

If only perseverance beyond reason never worked, then I wouldn't have this challenge.

Why is it a challenge? Well, it's a challenge because everything we do, every person we invest in, every hour we spend on a given project, is something else that we haven't done, some other person in whom we haven't invested, some project on which we haven't spent an hour. It's a "zero-sum game", so to speak. So, knowing when to drop one thing and pick up another is kind of important.

Don't be a Quitter!
My problem in particular has to do with judgments I hold around "quitting" or "giving up" or "surrendering". I grew up with a mom who taught me that, as long as there's something more you can do, then you should do it. To a large extent, I still buy into that belief.

I see so many people who make half-hearted efforts at something and then claim that they've done all that they can, and I judge them. I think to myself, "They've done all they can? That's patently untrue! I can think of twenty things that they haven't yet tried! They're lying! They're quitters!"

In fact, I've never encountered a situation in which I couldn't think of something else that might work. Just never happens. Moreover, my creativity and tenacity seems to be proportionate to the degree of challenge; the harder the problem, the more creative and persistent I become.

Sigh... So the question is, "When do you give up?"

Collecting the Last Toll
I have a friend who once, observing my frustration with my tenacity and perseverance said, "Imagine that you're a toll collector working on the Mass Pike. Hour after hour there are cars coming your way. You're getting tired, but you're determined that you won't quit until you've collected the last toll!"

As I considered his statement, everything I was doing seemed a bit silly. Obviously, you can always collect just one more toll before going home, and then another, and then another, and then another. Going on simply because you can seems a bit silly.

You get tired. You go home. You come back the next day. Seems simple.

But what about decisions where you don't come back the next day?

Breaking Up is Hard to Do
Tonight, I was talking with a friend who'd recently ended a relationship. He'd really poured himself into it, giving everything he had. He really loved the woman he was with, but she had so many challenges with accepting that he loved her, so many issues with jealously and anger, that he saw now path through. In the end, he decided that they weren't going to get to a place where he and she would both be happy. So he ended it.

As we talked, he would wonder aloud regarding what else he might have done. Because he's creative and smart, he could come up with at least five potential solutions for every challenge. It's endless.

How You Know When?
So how do you decide when enough is enough? When is it time to throw in the towel, to move on, to try something new? Do you convince yourself that you've done all you can? If so, is that really ever true? In a relationship, do you decide that the other person will never change? Perhaps you never try in the first place? Are you an "it'll never work" type?

Of course, the obvious answer to knowing when to quit is, "When I want to!" However, my guess is that most of us would never answer "Why did you quit" with "I quit simply because I wanted to."

When it comes to quitting, it seems that we need to justify our actions and decisions. Isn't it bizarre?

So, what's your process? What's your algorithm? How do you know? I'd love to hear from you.

Relentlessly, Teflon


  1. hmmm good question. I think I quit when I want to do something else more than the current thing. That is hard to admit because I too judge quitting in others, and so much in myself.

  2. Faith, that's a good one that I think I use as well. Let's call it the "quitting by displacement" mode of quitting, a mode that I've seen frequently used in jobs and intimate relationships, but which could also be used in any number of situations.

    The problem with (or maybe it's just a feature of) the displacement model is that it often leaves you with one foot on one log and one foot on another. Quitting occurs when the logs are far enough apart that you can no longer straddle them.

  3. BenevolentWarrior said... Stimulating. In relationships, to me its all about choice. To stick with and remain invested here, or to 'let go,' allow the other to continue, without ones 'loving interest.' For me, after 3 separations, reconciliations, as did our children, we eventually reconciled to acceptance and to 'letting go.' (with respect) Everyone rightfully can follow whatever alleyway they choose. I 'stuck it out' for the lessons I learned about respecting ones freedom of choice. bw
    She might have awoken from a fearless program, however too busy putting down everything I was about :)

  4. An old saying comes to mind about when does one choose to quit.....when one realizes "the squeeze isn't worth the juice." lol
    Oftentimes I think people end personal relationships out of some aspect of fear. I stuck it out beyond what everyone was telling me because I resisted, and continue to love/appreciate/recognize, and stayed with a person choosing to distress themselves, because I trusted myself, and trusted my partner had the ability to find better answers for how she was choosing to experience her life with me. I stayed, dedicatedly,for my reasons, and grew in the process :)bw

  5. BW, I think that you make some really good points. In particular, it's great to remind ourselves that whether we stay or go, we can learn and grow.

    I love the "squeeze and juice" thought. Iris and I were talking this morning about the blog, and she said that we often stay in a situation long after the reason we entered the situation has ceased to be there. Before you know it, all the reasons we started something are no longer there, and yet, we persist. So, I'm going to refer to that as the squeeze/no juice reason to quite.

    The other one Iris came up with is the, "This ain't what I signed up for" reason, which occurs when you find yourself doing or being involved in activities that you wouldn't choose otherwise.

  6. hopefully you're not going to believe that about hosting this option blog/fest :)


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