The Joy of Quitting

Searching through my files for something of interest this morning, I found one of my favorite articles from 1999, called "The Joy of Quitting," by Michael Lewis. I used it for a class I taught in 2000 on "Creating Health."
Quitting healthy? What? Aren't I the one who's always talking about "doing whatever it takes?" Didn't I extol the virtues of the Giants in the Superbowl recently for not giving up with only seconds left? Well, yes, but sometimes doing whatever it takes can mean not only perservering where there's hope and potential, but also leaving a situation that has genuinely run out of juice.
Everyone knows the Serenity Prayer: "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference." And then there's Kenny Rogers: "You got to know when to hold up, know when to fold up, know when to walk away..." Right. That's the difference between a professional gambler and a compulsive gambler. There's perserverance, with courage and wisdom, and then there's stubbornness and masochism, which inevitably exact a high price for little or no return. Sometimes, the healthy choice in life at any given moment is to leave that job or relationship... or political campaign, as the case may be today. (If I hadn't dropped my first major and quit my first college, I'd be an accountant today instead of a shrink who's desperately trying to become a writer.)
Leaving a situation that you once were committed to can be hard, no doubt, even though you may clearly know said situation can't be "fixed." Human beings thrive on change, but they also cling to the familiar. And unfortunately, because of the prohibitions, inner and outer, against quitting, many people only leave a job or relationship when they're really angry and there's been a lot of toxic build up, or when their performance level has deteriorated. How many once great sports figures played one too many games, or fought one too many fights? How many legendary rock stars gave (and are still giving) one too many concerts?
It always comes down to the same thing, doesn't it? Letting go. So much of what makes living in harmony possible is about letting go. Okay.

Here's an excerpt from Lewis' essay:

"Starting with 'The Little Engine That Could,' and trudging relentlessly on from there, the propaganda of childhood is drenched with the message that good things come only to those who persevere. Man's desire to quit what he has started must be very great -- at least to judge from the force with which the message not to do so is hammered into young minds. Perseverance, like honesty, is one of those values that wind up being overrated because no one likes to be seen making the case against them. But people cause themselves a lot of unnecessary grief by caving in to the shame they feel -- or others cause them to feel -- about quitting. There is an undeniable pleasure in ceasing to perform an onerous task. We deny ourselves unnecessarily too much of that pleasure, out of some abstract sense that quitting is bad. The problem with this unthinking bias is simple: finishing what you started is a useful course of action only if what you started is worth finishing. And often you do not know whether it is worth finishing until after you've started it."

You can find the whole essay at:

A related blog posting by me, "The End of the Job," can be found at:

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