Quitting and leaving: The fundamental difference


Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love, it will not lead you astray. -Rumi


For years I have struggled with “finding my path,” because it was ingrained in me that once I find what I’m looking for, the dust will settle everywhere (Bono was my BFF at this point because I too, had not found what I was looking for). So, although looking back I have always been a very determined person, in college I started to doubt my ability to commit. For example, I wanted to move constantly to live different countries; I was not interested in partnerships/marriage, and it seemed like every other week I had an amazing career plan. To say the least, I jumped around a lot, but not in the out-of-wack careless way, but more in the, life is so amazing I want to taste it all, kind of way. It was then that I started to think about what the difference is between quitting something and simply leaving. Ultimately, I have quit very few things in my life, but I have left a lot, mostly to try new experiences, but I have also left people and places that did not contribute to the kind of woman I want to be.

I am a firm believer in not staying in something until you absolutely hate it. This goes for relationships, careers, hobbies, and working out. Now I’m not saying when the going gets tough to just throw in the towel, actually I believe the opposite. When the challenge is there I like to see it through because that’s where the growth happens. HOWEVER, I do think that there is a very big distinction between quitting when it’s tough and choosing to leave when something is no longer effective, helpful, and good for you. Take relationships for example, whether they are partnerships or friendships some things aren’t meant to last forever, and instead of forcing it, my philosophy is “I want you in my life because we enrich one another.” The same can be said for hobbies (positive or not so positive hobbies). So often the relationships that we have or the activities that we do can be damaging. When we think about life and all of the challenges we face, we should want people in our corner and strengths in our skill toolbox that can uplift and encourage us to be the best versions of ourselves. When that is not happening we need to take action, otherwise everything good about this relationship or activity will be swallowed by bitterness and resentment.

The same goes for working out for me. I LOVE running, but I also love many other sports. Just last night I was talking to my friend’s sister who asked me how long I have been running and I told her a few years. I also told her, “Who knows I may be over it next year.” She seemed a little shocked, probably because it’s hard to understand how someone can be so into something but also realistic about how long it would last. The reason I don’t like to confine myself to a box is because what if I did wake up tomorrow and I was over it? Certainly there have been many times when running was the last thing that I wanted to do, so what if that stuck, or even more challenging, what if I am physically no longer capable of doing it? Well, I need to be prepared. I acknowledge that it’s a possibility, and knowing that if the running stops my PASSION will not, so how will I continue to feed that? I need a plan. So I have one. The point is, I am much less committed to the running and much more committed to living my life with purpose, and engaging in that purpose in whatever shape it may take. I know that if one day running no longer feeds my soul or I am forced to leave, I will mindfully and intentionally make room for something better.

So with all of this, what exactly is the difference between quitting and leaving? Keep in mind that there are things in our life that we know we should leave, but can’t for various reasons—i.e. work, as well as times when we are forced to leave an activity due to an injury. I am reminded of this when a few months ago I “quit” a 100-miler at 50 miles. Although for safety reasons I do believe it was the best decision, I also acknowledge it was a combination of quitting and leaving. It took a few weeks until I realized, even with the emotions running high and the spontaneity, that it was an intentional and mindful choice. Ultimately, I left and quit, and subsequently learned a heck of a lot through the process (remember, there can be a monumental amount of growth in quitting if you choose to acknowledge and learn from it).

Therefore, my general rule to determine whether or not I am quitting or leaving, I always ask myself these three questions: (1) will I regret leaving a year from now and (2) can I list 5 reasons this person/job/or activity is CURRENTLY benefiting my life, and finally (3) do these benefits outweigh the costs? Once I can answer these questions then I can make my decision on whether or not I should stick it through or it is time to leave. Leaving is a logical, well thought out decision; quitting on the other hand, is more emotional, less peaceful, and much more spontaneous. So, with this in mind, if there’s something in your life that you’re struggling with perhaps look at whether or not it is time to change things up, make a move (leave), or recommit. I am a much happier person when the relationships I am in, the career I have, the workouts I perform, are all intentional. You’re not a weak person if you quit, but it is good to be mindful about the difference because it helps us take ownership over our life. When my alarm is set for 4 am for a run with my girlfriend, the first thing I always say to myself is, “Sam, don’t throw a tantrum, this is good for you—you chose this.” Ernest Henley reminds me in his poem, Invictus:

Beyond this place of wrath and tears

Looms but the Horror of the shade,

And yet the menace of the years

Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,

How charged with punishments the scroll,

I am the master of my fate,

I am the captain of my soul.

I am reminded to live like it every single day.


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