How to Know When to Quit

By Ali Luke

October 27, 2010   •   Fact checked by Dumb Little Man

How would you feel if someone called you a “quitter”?

My guess is – not good. You might feel hurt, guilty or upset. You almost certainly wouldn’t feel proud of yourself.

Quitting gets a bad rap. We’re often encouraged, from an early age, to stick with our projects at all costs – even when we’re totally fed up. You might have come across quotes like Napoleon Hill’s “A quitter never wins and a winner never quits.”

Frankly, that’s nonsense. Lots of successful people achieve their real goals by knowing when to quit. You could waste years of your life beating your head against a brick wall – when the real way forwards was to quit, and start something new.

I like the way W.C. Fields puts it:


If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Then quit. There’s no use being a damn fool about it.

So how do you know when to try again – and when to quit? Here are four warning signs that make quitting a perfectly valid option.

You Just Wish It Was Over
Maybe you’re engaged in a long project – like studying for a degree, or working in a particular career. If all you can think about is the day when you’ll finally graduate from college, or finally retire, then it’s worth thinking about whether this is the right course for you.

Almost every project we undertake will have some less-than-fun moments. But if you’re working towards your real goals, the process will generally feel worthwhile and interesting.

There’s No End in Sight
Do you feel as though you’re going round in circles? Perhaps you’re slogging away in a particular job, but it’s become clear that you’re not going to get that promotion you hoped for. Maybe you’ve been working on a novel for the past five years, but you’re not really getting anywhere nearer to “finished”.

Of course, not everything we do has an end point – and that’s fine, so long as you enjoy what you’re doing. But if you’re thoroughly fed up, think about whether there’s an end point which you can reach or not. It’s probably worth sticking out your final year in high school so that you can graduate – but it’s not worth staying in a job you hate if there’s no route forwards.

You’re Not Gaining Anything New
If you’ve been engaged in one particular project for a while, are you still getting anything out of it – or has it just become a habit? I’ve given up a magazine subscription that I used to enjoy, because I was finding that the articles were very beginner-focused – and I’d moved on from that stage.

You might consider quitting:

  • Particular groups or classes where there’s nothing new to learn
  • Hobbies which you used to enjoy but have lost interest in
  • A job which was once exciting but now feels stale

Your Priorities Have Radically Changed
What was right for you five years ago – or even one year ago – might not be a good fit now. Various life events may have seen your priorities change: perhaps you’ve started a family – or your kids have left home.

If you took on a particular project, goal or hobby in the past, it’s worth considering whether it’s still something that you want as part of your life. You might, for instance, quit an expensive hobby so that you have more money to spend on your growing family – or you might leave a hectic job in order to have more time with your aging parents.

There is absolutely no shame in quitting. In fact, it can take a lot of maturity and bravery to stand up and say “I quit”.

If there’s something in your life that’s holding you back, what’s your first step towards quitting it?

Written on 10/27/2010 by Ali Hale. Ali writes a blog, Aliventures, about leading a productive and purposeful life (get the RSS feed here). As well as blogging, she writes fiction, and is studying for an MA in Creative Writing. Photo Credit: bark
Ali Luke

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