Knowing when to walk away

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
Were often told the best approach to life is to "never give up". We can have anything we want and be anything we choose. While I wholeheartedly support encouraging people to do what fulfills them, we may not be able to do, become or achieve everything we want, writes life coach Jan Aitken.

And while perseverance and "grit" are essential to success, so too is knowing when to walk away.

I believe there are two types of grit (or perseverance) - smart grit and stupid grit (see "True Grit", The Weekend Mix, August 2017).

Used well, smart grit can help fuel and motivate us to achieve things that are important to us. However, when grit becomes obsession and stubbornness, the "I will achieve this no matter what the cost!" attitude morphs into stupid grit! Stupid grit does not know when to pull the plug and walk away.

This is where "strategic quitting" comes in. Strategic quitting is quitting before something breaks you, or your important relationships - physically, emotionally and/or financially. The strategic quit keeps your grit smart.

There will be times when we need to quit. However, many of us don't make a conscious, intentional decision to quit, we wait for something to stop us so we have a valid "reason" to give up. Maybe the new job doesn't leave us as much time, saving for the trip takes up all our spare cash. It's as though by choosing to quit we fear letting others down or looking/feeling like a failure. If there's a "reason" to quit, well that,s different. The irony is, by not quitting unproductive things ASAP we are missing the opportunity to do more of what matters or to find other things that might. Choosing to consciously quit also gives us control of our life and that's very empowering. Strategic quitting does not equate with failure!

Getty Images
Getty Images
So, when should we quit something?

Good question. The simple answer is before you burn out and start to regret/really dislike doing it. Sometimes though, it's not quite that clear. We can sit on the fence and depending on how we're feeling, how much sleep we've had, the weather or any other number of factors, we find ourselves swaying between quitting and digging in. It has been said there's an art to knowing when to quit, so let,s put some guidelines around it to help you know when to pull the plug.


This is something that comes up time and again. If you're clear on your core values then you make better decisions. If what you do aligns with your values then you're on the right track. If there's a rub or disconnect between your actions and your values then you're making life hard for yourself and possibly those around you.

Quit the things that do not align with your values.


Why did you pursue this in the first place?

There will be reasons you initially took up the commitment. Are those reasons still valid? Does your "why" still stack up. If it doesn't, strategically quitting may be the smarter decision.


How have you quit things in the past?

Be brutally honest with yourself here. When you look back on your life jobs, relationships, committees, projects, clubs etc how did you decide to quit and move on? Did you tend to stay too long? Were you a bit impulsive or hot headed over things? Did you not stay long enough? These patterns will help you recognise where you might have made better decisions in the past and how you might make better decisions in the future. Challenge your thinking - is it time to do things differently?


Life is about opportunities and costs. Nothing is free, there is always a cost - financially, time or energy wise. Choosing to do one thing usually means you don't do something else. But by quitting the things that don't match your values and stack up against your "why" you free up time, energy and possibly money to concentrate on what does matter.

Potentially there is a lot to gain by strategically quitting.


Yep, regret, expect it! Just when you've made a decision to strategically quit, you take the appropriate steps and the initial flush of relief and accomplishment is fading in creep the doubts, "What if I had tried harder?", "Maybe I should've just stuck it out", "I'm sure it would've gotten better".

Take out your list of values and "whys" and remind yourself why you quit. It's entirely natural to have doubts, change can be scary and your brain might try to tell you that the status quo is better than change. The status quo is likely a long, slow, lingering decline. Be aware your thinking can sometimes come with a set of rose-tinted glasses.

A bit of courage and faith can be required when you make changes.

To strategically quit before you burn out is a smart move - life is short, do the things that really count.

Jan Aitken is a Dunedin-based life coach. For more go to



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