Are You Quitting or Letting Go?
Can you walk away from a difficult situation, or does that feel like giving up? If it makes you think of yourself as a quitter or a loser, you may not be perceiving the situation accurately. Worse, it may be draining your confidence and productivity.
If you never quit, you may believe you are getting what you want. The truth is, if it’s time to walk away, staying takes a high energetic and emotional toll that leads to unhealthy relationships with yourself and others.
Not everything in your career, organization or life is meant to carry on indefinitely—even when the ego keeps whispering “don’t quit, don’t be a loser!” So how do we know whether to move on from an unhealthy situation or not, without feeling horrible? Let’s follow our Planting the Seeds of Change process to create a healthy change.
Step 1: Find the Pattern
Our first step is preparation and research. It can be helpful to see what drives you to avoid quitting. Where did this pattern come from? It is hardest to let go of the things we are emotionally attached to, and, often, we learned to never quit because it was modeled for us early in life.
My mom survived, for example, by pushing through and never quitting. For three decades, I did the same, improving myself, working harder and harder, pushing myself to the limits to achieve success. It worked—I did well—but it was exhausting. Now I can choose a different path.
For aspiring professionals, growth and recognition often come from tenacity and hard work—putting in the hours. We learn to push push push ourselves and others. We fit round pegs into square holes because we refuse to quit! As an executive coach, I see the high cost and unhappiness that comes from this approach. So many of my clients have worked hard to achieve that didn’t, ultimately, bring fulfillment.
Additionally, most of us can only perform to our max for so long before we burn out. In my mid-20s, pushing hard to land a new client, make a partnership successful or acquire a bigger home was fun and exciting. By my late 30s, however, it had become stressful. While stress can be beneficial, the accumulation of stress and repeating situations you have grown beyond requires a different choice: letting go.
A few years ago, I had to learn this lesson. For the first time, I decided to stop trying and to let go of a business partner. It was scary and uncomfortable. Like many of my clients, I experienced constant negative self-talk. Was this the right decision? Am I too weak? What will others think of me?
I was not weak, and neither are you. I chose to improve my life by removing something that wasn’t working. At the time, I saw how different letting go is from quitting. This choice moved me forward. In letting go, I was the winner, not the loser.
Step 2: Reframe Your Outlook
When you reframe quitting into the healthy step of letting go, it becomes easier to eliminate situations that are holding you back. Can you think of a negative or difficult situation in the past that you now consider a learning experience? Now identify a current challenge that you refuse to walk away from. How might shifting your perception here help you to finally let it go, without feeling like you’re quitting?
Reframing to the letting-go perspective allows your thoughts and self-talk to change. Emotions shift and it leads to new responses that will support your decision to walk away. You can stop second-guessing yourself.
For example, suppose the company you have been with for over 10 years is implementing its third reorganization. You’re proud of your work in the last two reorgs, pushing hard to manage your team, keeping your focus on client satisfaction and being a supportive asset, even when the changes were not well thought out. But you aren’t interested in a third one. It’s not exciting any more.
That’s ok. This is not quitting. It’s letting go of something you have mastered and moving on.
I understand it can be difficult to see an ending as letting go instead of quitting. Walking away gives the ego less credit and importance. Yet letting go often opens your options. It creates empty space in which something more meaningful can transpire.
Step 3: Decide to Let Go or Stick with It
The next time you want to push a square into a circle instead of quitting, evaluate this: which option will truly serve you best in the long run? These three tips will help you make this assessment and decision.
1. Describe Each Scenario.
In your situation, what does quitting and what does letting go look like? How about staying? Write out descriptions or lists of what each will be like. Fully understanding all options gives you the fuel to see whether letting go is truly the best course of action or not.
2. Do a Cost/Benefit Analysis.
List the physical, mental and emotional cost or gain for each scenario. If one is costing you too much with little gain, it’s time to choose another. Remember that loyalty or what happened in the past does not require you to stay in a situation that doesn’t benefit you.
Finally, make a conscious decision to let go or to push through. The first two steps gave you the power to choose cleanly and firmly, shifting your energy and showing you the way forward.
Most of the time that shift—from perceiving yourself as quitting or giving up to seeing you are letting go and moving on—feels like a great relief. Becoming aware of the truth of your situation and choosing consciously supports your self-esteem and empowers you. Even in letting go, you can continue to make great decisions, grow and expand.
This process works in marriage and other relationships, too. Ending a long-term relationship may not be quitting, but an opportunity to create happiness and energy for you (and your spouse)—separately.
When ending a situation is the best course of action, when it’s time to release yourself from the self-limitations and negative energy that are draining you and making you unproductive, then it’s time to let go. When you can do this with grace and benefits all around, your choice to change becomes an admirable strength, not a weakness.
I hope it’s been helpful to consider quitting v. letting go. The goal of my podcasts, blog and coaching is to help you assess what is serving you in your life and how to change what’s not. If you would like help reevaluating your situation and making a decision that will empower you to be the person you want to be, performing at the level you want to perform at, drop me a note.