Penny Schaffer
Apr 8, 2016 · 8 min read

When is it time to get out?

“Quitters never win,” “don’t be a quitter,” “no one likes a quitter.” We’ve all heard these things before. In our society, “quitter” is a put-down; it bears an implication of morally inferiority, and a warning that future success is dependent on avoiding being perceived as a quitter at all costs. This term is used solely to cast judgement upon others — does anyone self-identify as a quitter? People can be very honest about themselves: I’m am addict, I’m an abuser, I’m a liar, I’m selfish. Who has said, I’m a quitter?

I have quit. This does not mean that I am a quitter; in fact, quitting has been among the best things I have done for myself. Quitting does not mean giving up, it means getting out. Getting out, on your own terms, with knowledge of your choice, is empowering.

When a situation is past the point of salvaging, it’s time to get out. I have experienced this in many ways: a job where my co-workers were duplicitous — kind to me in person, but spreading rumors and insinuations behind my back; a job where my boss believed I was not a team player; a workshop where I was singled out in a negative way; a family event where I was similarly singled out.

Everyone has their own jumping off point, but too often we ignore it. When our boss thinks we can do nothing right and treats us similarly, we stick it out — it’s a character-building experience, it shows commitment, eventually they’ll see that they were wrong and appreciate us. When our family publicly humiliates us in the name of “caring” or “helping,” we don’t walk away — it’s rude, they’re just trying to help, they mean well. In public avenues, it’s embarrassing and often difficult to admit when we’re being bullied, and that much more difficult to do anything about it.

Most of the time when we get to this natural getting off point, we say, “It’s a challenge,” grit our teeth, dig our heels in, and determine to stick to it. Why? Because we don’t want to be that guy that quits when the going get rough.

So what is that point? It is different for everyone, like all things human, but there are some strong indicators which can guide you.

  1. How do you feel? — If you feel beaten up, run down, worthless, depressed, bullied, or persistently angry, maybe it’s time to jump off the carousel. No person, no job, should have that kind of influence in your life.
  2. Are you acting/thinking differently? — Are you more negative? Did you stop doing things you normally enjoy? Have you taken up new hobbies because you needed the outlet? Are you more rude, snippy, or aggressive at work, or do you contribute less often to conversations? Are you suspicious for no reason, or paranoid? These are some indicators of sustained stress, and a warning sign that something needs to change.
  3. Do you feel out of balance? — I think of this like when a washing machine gets out of balance: it starts off with a little wobbling, then it’s shaking, then it’s thunk-a-thunk-a-thunk-a-thunk and sounds like it’s going to fall apart. When I start to feel the wobble within me — going back and forth between liking/disliking something, or wanting to go to work/disliking work, or wanting parental approval/avoiding parents — I know that I’m in the first stages and I need to change something. If I can’t make that change, I get progressively more out of balance, and I feel like I can’t trust myself and my feelings because they keep changing. Then, finally, I hit the end stage, where everything feels like it’s about to fall apart, and I feel a little “crazy” because it seems to only affect me.

I suggest we take a second look at this learned behavior to stick it out at all costs. There are benefits to getting out when it’s time, and not later.

That being said, I’m not advocating giving up, throwing in the towel early, or just sitting back and damning the consequences. Deciding to get out should be an active decision, not a lack of action or frisson of emotion. Kicking back and letting the fallout happen, while watching and preparing to gloat, is petty; venting emotions on other people lacks maturity. Freeing yourself from these dysfunctional situations can be handled professionally.

So why not stick around and gain some moral fiber?

  1. You will be happier and less stressed — happier, less stressed people make better decisions, can handle the things that come up in life more easily, along with a host of other mental and physical health benefits.
  2. You will respect yourself more — this sounds counter-intuitive, but it is a powerful feeling to know that you got yourself out of a tough place and into a better situation all by yourself, despite the naysayers around you.
  3. You leave from a place of power — if you have actively made the decision to get out of a job, for instance, you are more appealing to employers; part of this is because they will be hiring you away from someone else (and the grass is always greener…), and part of it is because you present yourself with more confidence and authority when you come from a position of holding a job but empowering yourself to get out (this also can equate to increased salary…). If you’re leaving a family event or other non-job situation, you can walk out with your head held high, knowing that you prevented yourself from being dragged through the muck.
  4. You feel in control — taking responsibility for your life, owning your feelings, and seeking to change them, puts the power over yourself and your feelings squaring in your own hands, not in your employer’s or your family’s. As long as you are sitting in a bad situation, it’s easy to feel helpless or play the victim.

Getting out is important, but it’s equally important how you go about getting out. I once heard the following:

You win at relationships if you end them when the other party wants the relationship more than you do.

While this was a sad thing to hear, it’s very applicable in this case. You want the other party to want you to stay when you leave.

If your boss undermines you to your co-workers, take the time while you’re looking for a job to try and turn his opinion of you around. Have an honest conversation with him, and ask what he thinks of your, and what it would take to show him your value. What do you have to lose? Once his opinion turns around, everyone else will follow.

If it’s your family dragging you down, gently but firmly decline those invitations to events where you’re going to be put on that awkward pedestal, or end the phone call when the nagging starts. Oh, something just came up, I have to go. They want your presence more than you want theirs.

The best way to leave is without burning bridges. Not because you have any plans to recross them, but because you have no idea what burning that bridge will result in in the future. You may get denied for a job years from now because someone heard a story about how you degraded and became sensitive and emotional before quitting out of nowhere.

I heard about a fiction writer who had submitted a piece to two literary magazines, and when they both accepted, informed the “less important” one that he had been accepted elsewhere. This was quite taboo at the time. The editor of that magazine still remembers him, and at every magazine he has worked for (six or seven of the top lit magazines in the US) he has rejected submissions from that author out-of-hand, regardless of their merit, because of this one unprofessional act.

It’s also quite satisfying to show other people that they were wrong about you before you move on to better things.

If you’re getting out of your job, you definitely want another one lined up. But take some time off in between — a week or more preferably, but as much time as you need and can afford. It’s important to not start the new job with baggage and exhaustion from the old one. That’s just setting yourself up for failure, or worse: a repetition of the old problems. You want to be rested and genuinely enthusiastic when you start your new position.

For families, getting out is much more difficult. You may want to cut ties entirely, but often this extreme measure is not necessary. It’s important to set boundaries and to enforce them — when someone is cruel, thoughtless, mean, or rude, regardless of whether it was intended, you owe it to yourself to speak up and act on it.

My mother used to call me nine to eleven times on Saturday mornings before I woke up; for a long time I let it slide — oh she doesn’t understand that I need a little more sleep on the weekends, she doesn’t mean any harm. The fact of the matter was that she was harassing me every Saturday morning, by letting my phone ring from 6am until whenever I got up — because she well knew that the phone woke me up. She would leave long, loud messages about how important it was that I called her, knowing full well that I could hear them as she left them. She didn’t need to understand why it was important that I slept in on Saturdays, she only needed to respect it, and respect me enough to allow me that time undisturbed. I finally had that difficult conversation with her, asked her to stop, and said if she did it again I was going to turn the ringer off. Sure enough, the next Saturday, she started calling me at six, again. When the phone rang the second time, I turned the ringer off. I did not call her back the entire weekend; when I talked to her the next weekend, she was angry, but I reminded her of our conversation and that I had done what I said I would. To this day, I turn my ringer off on the weekends and only call her on my own terms, because she has proven that she cannot be trusted to respect my wishes.

It was difficult to stand up to her in this way, and I felt like a bully and a terrible person, but I have slept so much better and when I wake up on the weekend it’s now when I feel rested and recuperated, instead of when I feel stressed and harried enough to get out of bed.

Getting out of these diminishing situations can be refreshing and increase the joy you take in life. Taking care of yourself, looking out for your own best interests, is a mature, responsible thing to do. It is not quitting or giving up, and it doesn’t mean you’re a “quitter” — if anyone says different, GET OUT of that conversation; you don’t need or deserve their judgement.

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