On quitting





But I’ve tried to get good at it.

I’ve quit a lot of things in 60 years on this planet. I quit graduate school. I quit a marriage. I quit as CEO of a nonprofit and as founder and leader of a huge user group. I quit four jobs and one startup and a bunch of romantic relationships. And I quit a few bad habits (including some of the romances).

That might sound like I quit a lot but, but I bet my quit rate is below average. I’ve been doing this for a while.

Here are a few things I learned about quitting.

First, try not to. Persist. If you start something hard and worth doing, give it all you have. Half-assing it and giving up won’t relieve your pain, and it will leave you feeling guilty, and like a failure.

Learn. Adjust. Figure out where the problem is and fix it. Boss is difficult? Learn to get around that and do a good job anyway. Pay too low? Figure out how to get a raise. Mate won’t listen? Be creative or get counseling. If you are rigid, you will fail.

If you are adjusting, you will learn something. You’ll spend years learning things and doing work that feels rewarding. Just because everything eventually ends doesn’t mean you won’t get a lot out it while you’re in it.

The flip side of persistence, of course, is stubbornness. You need to know what is the irreducible core of who you are. For example, I won’t be dishonest. I won’t cheat people. I won’t be repeatedly humiliated. You need to know where your red line is so you know when you or the people you are interacting with are crossing it.

I don’t quit in haste. I scheme. I develop backup plans. If things are going badly, I figure out what I’ll do next if things go wrong. Even if they’re going well, I think about it. I stockpile resources.

The trick is to do this while persisting. Whether or not you think you might quit, you still get what you can out of the job, or whatever it is you’re investing your time in.

I like reinvention. I worked at Forrester Research for 20 years because I reinvented the job every few years.

Marriage, when it works, is a continual reinvention. I’ve been married to the same person for 29 years. We’ve gone through houses, child-raising, illnesses and crises and challenges. We’re not the same, and the marriage is not the same, but the love is.

How to quit

After all that thinking and considering and adjusting, you may have to give up.

Pick a time. Think about what you are going to say.

Be private about it. Don’t humiliate people. Don’t burn bridges.

Explain what you need and that you’re not getting it. Then quit.

This is not a negotiation. If you’ve been honest and persistent, you’ve already been negotiating for a long time. This is your moment to declare your intentions and move on. Do not be persuaded by promises from the other party that they should have acted on long ago.

If you’re in a job, leave quickly. Give two weeks notice, or perhaps a month if you are in a senior position, then leave.

What about the emotional side? You’ve probably been building up resentment for a while.

Stuff it down. Be logical. While it is emotionally satisfying to tell someone they’re awful or abusive, it doesn’t really accomplish anything. This is not a movie.

(I recognize that this style is not for everyone, but it is right for me. I think if you can do things this way, you should.)

So where does the emotional satisfaction come from?

Well, if you’ve planned properly, you will end up doing something much better, or being with someone much better, pretty soon.

The best revenge is living well.

What about afterwards? I have done consulting for many of the companies and organizations I left. Not burning bridges makes this possible. By the time these opportunities come up, the emotional elements have dissipated, and what’s left is the remainder of the relationship that was still healthy.

(I’d be friends with my exes, too, if they were willing. Most weren’t.)


Looking back on all that quitting, do I regret anything?

Not really. At least not for the last 40 years.

The way I quit means I gave things more than a fair chance. I left knowing it was the right thing to do. I moved on and never looked back.

In fact, I think quitting has been great for me. Leaving graduate school was a great decision. Leaving that first marriage was the right thing to do. Every job I have quit has given me an opportunity to do something better.

This only happens if you quit thoughtfully and plan for what comes next. Getting to this point with so few regrets is a blessing.

If you are getting ready to quit something, learn from this. Give it a fair shake. Try harder. Figure out what else you could be doing. Leave without fanfare. Move on. And spend as little time as possible on regret.

Let me know how it comes out.

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  1. There’s when you quit something else. Then there’s when something else quits you. The first you can scheme, plan and stockpile for. The latter you can take measures, but you may be caught off balance.

  2. Sage words to be sure.

    I quit a job in 2002 without an adequate backup and soon regretted the timing of the decision—if not the decision itself. I haven’t made that mistake since.

  3. Josh, probably my favourite blog you have written. You have a very similar approach to me but I would never have been able to write it down so clearly.