America doesn’t like quitters.  The legendary coach of the Green Bay Packers, Vince Lombardi, used to say, “Winners never quit and Quitters never win.” But , is that necessarily true?

Of course, it is important in life not to give up. We all know the inspiring story of Thomas Edison who failed over a 1000 times before he discovered that  tungsten was the right filament for the electric light bulb.  Often,  perseverance is a virtue and defeats can ultimately lead to success.

That said, there are times and situations where continuing to do the same thing , over and over, only to be met with frustration and failure is harmful and expresses an inability to accept an unwanted reality.  So then the question arises: How can one tell if it is time to quit and change course ?

This calculation is especially difficult in a culture which stigmatizes change with the pejorative label of being a quitter.  Prejudice can condemn individuals into staying in jobs and marriages which are simply not working and have no chance of improving.  Worst of all, these negative attitudes can have the greatest impact on the aged and those who are terminally ill when it comes to end-of-life decisions. Prejudice against quitting can degrade the integrity of those who authentically wish to die but are told that the must fight on until the end.

An alternative to the must fight-on and never-say-die attitude is a liberating point of view which acknowledges that, sometimes, significant changes are necessary. Letting go of the struggle to overcome the impossible can provide peace and serenity and lead to great personal satisfaction. For every Edison example, I suspect that there are many more examples where people have made radical changes which lead to great happiness and accomplishment. Personally, I gave up on and quit an academic program in theology to become a therapist and it (except for marrying my wife) was the best decision I ever made.

These two perspectives are expressed in the Serenity Prayer which acknowledges that in life some things need to be changed and other needs to be accepted . Finding the wisdom to tell which ones are which is the challenge.  Here are some questions to help you figure out if your struggle is in vain and it’s time to hang it up or if a little more persistence and faith is needed to see things through.

  • Do you feel guilty or ashamed at the thought of quitting or changing course ?

If you are stuck and trying to decide whether you should quit and change course, one of the first questions to consider is whether or not feelings of guilt or shame are holding you back.  Sometimes we feel legitimate guilt for breaking a promise or betraying a commitment.  At other times, we experience a false guilt for not living up to the expectations imposed on us from the outside. The decision to continue in a situation or to make a change is yours and your alone. Others may have an opinion but, ultimately, this call is up to you.

  • Does your opinion about what to do change depending on your mood or if you are upset ?

Sometimes, we are tempted to reach a decision in the “heat of battle”. Making important decisions when we are frustrated or angry, discouraged or in despair is not a good idea.  When emotions are high, our judgment is often not sound. In fact, we may be blocked from accessing that part of our brain which allows us to see the situation in a wide and helpful perspective. In those moments, we may be vulnerable to emotionally charged impulses which are not mindful of longer term consequences.  A calm and non-agitated mood usually helps one to make good decisions.

  • How long has your frustrating situation being going on ?

Impulses to quit often arise in the wake of immediate frustrations where one has reached the end of his/her rope. It takes time and perspective to accurately assess whether a situation requires a small adjustment or a radical change.  Thus, as frustrating as it is, good decisions are reached only after an assessment about whether the situation is transient or permanent has been reached.

  • Is the advice that you have received been consistent or mixed ?

When considering changes, it is generally a good idea to consider input from other people and sources. When you are thinking about quitting, what are other folks saying to you?  Is there a consensus of opinion or is the advice you’re getting conflicted ?  If there is a solid consensus among folks you trust, this feedback needs to be seriously considered.

  • Have you asked yourself what you really want to do ?

There are times when changes are needed but the facts or logic don’t line up.  Sometimes we know with our “gut” and it is important for any important consideration to be in touch with what your gut is telling you. A forced decision is usually not a good one.

The moral of this story is two-fold: 1) There is no shame in quitting. It is a legitimate option.                                                                                          2) What is most important in facing crucial decision is not so much what you decided but how you you came to the decision.

Deciding whether to continue on a path that has not been rewarding or to change and go a different way is difficult . In order to make  good decisions you need to trust your intelligence and judgment.  In order to do that you must clear out corrupting elements such as guilt and over-heated emotion.  Even then you may have conflicting feelings about what to do. Every decision involves a risk and that is okay.  There is no magic formula which can guarantee that you will make the perfect decision but these tips can make sure that you are neither paralyzed and unable to chose or reckless and act impulsively.

One last thought.  You don’t have to be perfect. You are allowed to make mistakes just like everyone else. In fact we learn more from our mistakes than our successes. Therefore chose wisely but don’t be afraid to chose.

Rev. Michael Heath, LMHC , Fellow AAPC             5/ 11 2019

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