Personal Development

When Is It a Good Idea to Quit?

Quitting is something I’ve never been good at. I’m crazy stupid about not quitting.

I’m not sure exactly where I get this trait, but I think it’s hereditary. I remember the family camping trip where we stayed in our campsite through a tornado. That made me think maybe dad is crazy stupid about not quitting, too.

This can be a phenomenally good quality. I can’t remember how many times I’ve gotten something to work after others have given up. Most people declare “impossible” at the threshold of their exhaustion. I just power through. I’d like to think I’d make a good Navy SEAL.

But even I have learned that there are times when giving up is a good call. My short list of “quittable moments” includes:

  • Breaking a fast that coincided with two days of construction work and a 12-hour round trip car ride.
  • Deciding against 2 years of grad school to pursue a career in politics, when I realized I absolutely loathe politics.
  • Breaking up with a girlfriend after she literally threw a vase at me (I thought that was only supposed to happen in cartoons)
  • Deciding not to die in an icy coffin.

These were all good decisions, and I regret none of them. Recently however I was faced with a much bigger decision.

The Closing of an Era

For seven years one of the most important things in my life was my temple. I founded the Temple myself, and led it through serious travails early on. We started off in an attic studio with one window and a lot of bare insulation. In time we moved to a beautiful house near the river, and ultimately, to a traditional Irish cottage. I helped build the Irish cottage myself, and did all of the work on a broken ankle. I helped fund it, paint it, and consecrate it.

At the time we built it, I imagined the temple surviving long after my own death, passed on to future generations of priests that I trained myself.

But that wasn’t meant to be.

In the past year it became increasingly clear that the Temple was not doing what it was supposed to do. It was the hub of a wonderful little community, no doubt about it. But it wasn’t helping people find their purpose in life, discover who they truly are, or change their lives to follow their dreams. And after exhaustive discussions with the others involved with running it—discussions about passing it on to new leadership, adding new programs, or even radically changing the structure of the Temple—it became clear that we didn’t have the humanpower to change things.

So there I was. The two options on the table were:

  1. Continue asking people to give their time, money and energy to an organization that was not changing lives; or
  2. Close the organization.

In black and white, Option 1 looks ridiculous. But when you’re standing at the brink, looking at giving up something you’ve worked so hard on, you start to justify. 90% of nonprofit boards would choose Option 1. Because quitting looks an awful lot like failure.

Faced with that, you start finding reasons not to quit. You start to rationalize.

Radical Honesty

One of the reasons you don’t want to quit is because of sunk costs and cognitive dissonance: the idea that you already invested so much that it’d be stupid to give up now.

The other big reason is that people tend to assume the future will be better than the present.

Staying the course for either of these reasons is like staying in a bad relationship long after the love’s over. I remember asking a friend, after a messy breakup, if he thought I should give it one more try with her.

“That depends,” he told me. “What’s going to be different?”

Ultimately, that is the litmus test for any cool-it-or-blow situation. Every pattern in your life has momentum. If that momentum isn’t taking you where you want, then the future will not be better—no matter how much you’ve already invested—unless you can change some key part of your situation today. Ask yourself honestly: can you?

If you can, then you might be able to shift the momentum for the better. That is called winning.

If you can’t, then you should get off the train before it takes you any farther. That is also called winning.

Or you could keep on without changing the momentum. It may seem easiest, it may save face, but that is called losing.

The Noble Choice

When something isn’t working, making the choice to quit it—rather than linger on—is a moment of integrity. It was very hard for me to realize that as I contemplated closing my Temple. But it failed the litmus test, so I began to take action.

As I spoke to each of the key people involved in the Temple, I saw that they understood. Each of them gave me their support, but more importantly, each of them could feel it: we aren’t doing what we set out to do. Maybe they were waiting on me to catch up to them, since I am crazy stupid about not quitting.

Monday I announced the news. It felt good. It was a powerful moment where we determined our own future: to have integrity, not just stubborness.

Have you ever had to make this kind of a choice? Which way did you go? Were you able to swallow your pride and quit, or did you ride it to the very end? Share your stories!


37 thoughts on “When Is It a Good Idea to Quit?

  1. “If that momentum isn’t taking you where you want, then the future will not be better—no matter how much you’ve already invested—unless you can change some key part of your situation today. Ask yourself honestly: can you?”

    “When something isn’t working, making the choice to quit it—rather than linger on—is a moment of integrity.”

    I believe we are still in disagreement about what I would consider this moment for me. :) But you encapsulated very well how I felt in January.

    I am sorry to hear of the Temple’s closure. Not because “gosh, it’s gone! Change! No!” but, as you said, it was a vision that was not being met. And it always hurts when you reach out for something big and miss.

    The question continues to be: how do you foster community AND individual heroism? You seem to be coming closer to the answer. I’ll be interested to see it when you get there. :)

  2. Pingback: Should You Cool It or Should You Blow | Rogue Priest | Building Heroes

  3. Cara says:

    If you don’t think what your group did or the act of building a temple didn’t change peoples’ lives, you weren’t paying attention. In the interviews I did with people in your community (only one made it into the article because of time or because they asked me not to quote them) they articulated the positive impact Temple of the River had in their lives. You can’t be part of something that spectacular and *not* come out a changed person.

    Profound change doesn’t usually happen all at once. It’s a seed that is planted, watered, and cared for. Not all seeds sprout. Some plants are stunted. That’s just life.

    I’ve been talking with people at the Hindu temple in Minneapolis about their faith community and their temple and the impact it has on the people involved. Just by being there, being a physical place for people to go, and touch, and join together – they have had a profound impact on peoples’ lives. Profound. And each year the impact gets both wider and deeper. They have literally saved people’s lives. They have changed the path of destruction that people were on to lives that have meaning and beauty. And yet, most of the people who go there are going there for the reasons you object to – comfort and a feeling that things are ok. But what you may not realize, is that time of comfort is when seeds are planted and watered and nurtured – gaining strength in a quiet way. The roots are growing deeper even though the plant hasn’t broken the soil surface yet. Then an event happens, or a word spoken at the right time, and wow – the plant breaks through to the sun and begins to blossom. Profound change peculates below the surface for long periods of time – it usually isn’t the all-of-a-sudden thing most of us on the outside see. And that’s what the people at the Hindu temple understand and why their temple is able to affect so many lives in such a dramatic and positive way. Their community is *thriving* – and I’m not just talking about numbers.

    Just by existing and showing the way you have had a wide impact on other polytheistic communities who were looking to emulate your success. You, and your(now former) faith community, appeared to really have it together and be firing on all cylinders. You provided hope and were an example of success. Your closing and disbanding is also providing an example, like it or not. It has really deflated groups and confused them. If they could see where you have gone ‘wrong’ so they could take steps to avoid that, that people can process. Instead they are left with, ‘Well…it was successful and great but it wasn’t awesome and I’m going in another direction to do something awesome because anything short of awesome isn’t worth it.’

    You don’t owe anyone a reason nor do you owe anyone a temple or a group. This is YOUR life. But you’ve stated that you wish to write a book showing others how to live a heroic life. You want to be famous. Being put under a microscope is part of the (not so) fun that comes with that ambition.

    Yes, there are times to walk away. Only the person(s) involved can make that choice. And yes, sometimes we personally need to walk a different path and if there is no one willing to step up into our shoes when we leave…well…what can you do? Stay a slave to them forever and give up all your personal dreams?

    I don’t expect that. No one else should either. But I also can’t go along with how you are making disbanding the group and closing the temple out to be the noble choice of a hero. In my mythos and in my life, heroes always face a moment where they are filled with doubt and they wonder if what they are doing is worth it. If the result will be good enough. And often times in the short term, the result isn’t worth it, isn’t good enough. The hero looks into the long-term and looks at the wider community and can see a future that is worth the effort. S/he digs in and keeps going. The amazing part is, it doesn’t matter if the hero succeeds or not – that’s not what makes them a hero. It’s that they struggle and persevere and keep going when others would quit that makes them a hero. That is living a heroic life.

    • Hi Cara. Thank you for this post. I can tell it comes from the heart, and it means a lot.

      I do believe I owe the community a reason, which is why I’m working on a much longer (~1500 word) post as a report to the community. That report will outline in detail the issues that led to this decision. Hopefully it will be useful to other organizations, or at least give some sense of closure.

      I’m glad that the Hindu temple you’re talking about is able to make such a difference. I don’t disagree with you on any particular, except to note that the kind of work you’re describing is not why Temple of the River was founded. Our mission statement is much more specific than that, and we were no longer fulfilling our mission.

      Whether my choice is heroic is not for me to decide. I don’t think of it as heroic, I just think of it as the best choice. The leaders and students of our community agreed. I was not filled with doubt when we came to this decision; I was filled with certainty. Absolute certainty that the Temple was not living up to its founding purpose and couldn’t be reorganized to do so.

      Given that reality, we made the only responsible choice we could.

  4. “Have you ever had to make this kind of a choice? Which way did you go? Were you able to swallow your pride and quit, or did you ride it to the very end?”

    Yes. My husband and I had a dream of owning and operating a coffeeshop, and in 2009 we bought into one that had been failing, thinking we could make it work. Except we couldn’t. The economy was failing, we didn’t have any experience, nor enough money to carry us while we waited for the cafe to show a profit (note: most cafes don’t show a profit for years when they first open) or at least make enough to pay ourselves, let alone an employee. But we kept going for several months, watching our costs go up to meet the demands of the locale (“offer more food!”) and our daily take go down. Maybe in a different location or a different economy, it would have worked. But I came to the conclusion we needed to get out before it ate us alive.

    We fought. People moaned about it (even people who’d never come in or bought anything!). My husband clung to the idea we could make it work and all I wanted was to end it because I was miserable. Finally, he relented, we put it on the market and actually got a buyer at the eleventh hour, I got my old job back (gods be praised) and we looked at the whole experience as being thrust into business college. Costly, and ultimately taught us a few things.

  5. themonthebard says:

    Excellent post!

    Two-and-a-half years into a graduate degree in physics I came to the understanding that I had no passion left for physics. At the time I was a Christian, and had the “But God led me here…” conceit on top of an NSF fellowship and a whole lot of momentum, so it was very difficult to recognize that the train was steaming ahead to no-happiness. I eventually figured it out and walked away. I don’t think anything in my life, before or since, has felt quite so good.

    I also took a fair amount of crap for it, and my mother — who did a lot of vicarious living through me — never did understand.

    Don’t think too much about the impact your temple made. It will be far more than you think, especially since you’ve closed it. It now has the opportunity to become mythic.

  6. I respect your decision to act as you and your co-leaders see best – I have no personal insight into the situation, so cannot do otherwise.

    As an outsider, though, I’m left wondering whether the people who weren’t in key leadership roles would all agree with the founding ideals, or if the organization had not developed functional ideals in the course of its growth that may have differed from what was in mind when things got started.

    To step away from a community when you no longer feel in sync with its views and intentions (as you did when giving up the label of Pagan) is a reasonable if difficult choice. To disband a community when it isn’t doing what you intended it to do when you created it seems to me a different scale of thing. However key a founder is, a healthy community eventually takes on its own identity and momentum, and from a distance it looks rather autocratic for one or a handful of leaders to dissolve it because it is not doing what they meant it to do. I am left wondering, was it doing a different kind of good for people who don’t share your goals, and if so, is it just to deprive them of that on the grounds that it doesn’t serve your current needs and interests?

    (My intent is to ask these questions in a spirit of philosophical inquiry, not aggression.)

    • themonthebard says:

      I think you bring up a very good point, disirdottir. But I’m pretty sure it will take care of itself.

      If Drew “closes it down” and it stays closed, he made the right choice. It really wasn’t serving anyone.

      If Drew “closes it down” and other members of the community step up to the plate and refuse to let it close, he still made the right choice. Now he’s out of the loop, and it will take on its own life. As it must, if it is to fulfill the original goal of outliving its creators.

      • Exactly :)

        This is what a lot of people don’t understand about the value of an organization – as a wise friend once told me, “If it matters to people, they will keep it alive.”

    • I take them in exactly that spirit Disirdottir – thank you so much for your comment.

      I agree, if enough people value the programs we had established then they should go on, even if they are off-mission for the original organization. To that end one of the senior students is going to look into how much interest there is in continuing to hold the holiday celebrations. If there is interest, she’d like to form a group to carry that program on – it won’t be a full temple, as it doesn’t offer altrama (apprenticeship), but it could continue to serve the programs that people have gotten used to.

      If she gets it started we’ll announce it through the Temple’s Facebook page.

  7. Sunfell says:

    I’ve been where you are- in a position to either keep banging my head against a wall- in my case an adversary dead-set against any community succeeding without his direct influence- or walk away. The head-banging did not work- the problems escalated and became worse. Much worse. So, I walked away.

    The moment I took that decision was the moment a huge burden was lifted from me. Some of my cohorts were angry with me for ‘quitting’. Others emphasized. The majority realized that as long as this adversarial individual knew there was anyone active, they would never be able to successfully create or maintain a local Pagan community without him trying to take it over. So, we essentially ‘crashed’ the entire community- disbanded everything- to shake this guy off. It was a Pyrrhic victory of astounding size. But sadly, seven years later, we still have no public Pagan presence in our city.

    I walked away completely, and even went through something of an atheistic phase where I shook off all the Pagan/Wiccan trappings and freed myself. I’ve since returned to a more zetectic/agnostic place in my mind, but that time away made me grow and change in different- and positive ways. I do not regret my actions.

    The ‘misses’ and the failures tell you as much about yourself- if not more- than the successes. When you approach this subject or challenge in the future, you will know where you went into the weeds. What is worse? Failure and slow deterioration, or a good, solid, amicable finish? I now prefer to opt for the second.

    • Hi Sunfell. Thanks for commenting! A lot of really good points. I definitely agree. A strong finish is better than a slow deterioration.

      Just out of curiosity (not judgment), I wonder – why did your group not just tell this troublesome individual they were no longer welcome? Why shut down the group to get rid of them?

      • themonthebard says:

        You’ve never had the misfortune, then, of dealing with a narcissist.

        I think it’s a fair statement to say that social groups of any sort, from a circle of friends up through a national government, does not have effective ways of dealing with sociopaths in general. Part of the problem is that we don’t have solid means of identifying them. It isn’t like they have blue skin, or there’s a blood test. It’s a psychological/behavioral issue, and subject to at least a degree of subjective judgement.

        “You’re a sociopath!” “Am not!” “Are too!” “Am not!”

        They’re very good at divide-and-conquer. So it never quite works out to say “You’re no longer welcome,” because generally at least half of your group will get angry with you for “kicking this poor individual out. Who’s next, me? Who died and made YOU God?” So you cannot act in concert, and the group falls to squabbling amongst itself. The narcissist will then seize control in the chaos, and they’re back in power.

        Easy peasey, lemon squeezy.

        I watched this happen in our homeowner’s association board. So it isn’t restricted to religious groups.

        • We’ve had that kind of person three times. As priest I spoke to them privately, on the phone, told them not to come back and the reason why. That was it. Two of the three were unable to stir up the kind of controversy you’re talking about, regardless of how hard they tried. The other one had a bit of a reputation and a few people did come to me and ask why he was asked to leave. I told them I am the priest of the temple and if they disagree with my decision and wanted to leave it was fine, but that I wouldn’t be changing it.

          Those who trusted my judgment stayed, and those who didn’t left (two people total). It was best for everyone.

          I find that many Neopagan groups have the kind of issue you’re talking about, partly because of the decentralized structure. But it’s a priest’s duty (or other leader) to look out for their community members, steward their trust carefully, and keep out those who are there only for destructive reasons. In that situation, you have to speak with authority, or you are not doing your job.

  8. I can’t spek for others, obviously, but I know that on my part, I am not so much concerned with whether or not closing the Temple was the right choice (you don’t provide us with enough context to even guess at that question)… so much as why only a week ago you were advertising its enormous success, when in fact it was in the process of faltering and disbanding.

    I hope you understand why this seeming about-face in your claims is confusing for a lot of people, and why we might naturally expect a better explanation of the apparent contradiction. There were folks who objected to your earlier arguments precisely because mere success in numbers is not necessarily indicative of a thriving, healthy spiritual community, and a thriving, healthy spiritual community is not necessarily one that is huge and popular. Yet it seems you have often promoted building spiritual community as a numbers game, even if it is couched in terms of how many lives you transform. It seems to me that transformative spirituality cannot aim for high numbers without risking becoming a kind of manipulation or coercion.

    I’m looking forward to your more detailed post about what exactly your expectations were for the Temple and how exactly it failed it meet them. I think it might provide a very good example for other community-builders to heed in the future.

    • Hi Allison! I understand why it can come across that way, since the post mentioning how our numbers swelled appeared just a couple weeks ago. But if you read that post it’s talking about our numbers swelling over the last three years – it’s not like we doubled in size last week and decided to close this week. We’ve been a large group with a not-very-Pagan identity for quite a while; I just only recently wrote about it, because so many people were interested in why we don’t consider ourselves Pagan.

      I really don’t consider attendance numbers to be a yardstick of success for a spiritual organization. The fact that we saw more interest from a non-Pagan crowd than a Pagan crowd was an indicator that we weren’t at home in Paganism, so it was worth mentioning.

      By the way, the longer report on the temple closing is now live.

  9. I thought two things.

    First innuendo, it was hot.

    Second you better not smoke and if that was the “Should I quit” there should be no second thought. QUIT. Stupidest habit in the world, that and chicken with trains.

    Otherwise… interesting.


  10. Had one of those moments just yesterday. As you know I’ve invested about two years in becoming an ESL teacher here, but haven’t been very satisfied with it. Well, yesterday I got a call for an interview from a high school in Minneapolis. When R got home we talked it over, and we made a final decision on our future. It’s time to “blow” the idea of teaching here in the States. So I canceled the interview. We’re going to Japan. What finally convinced was that upon hearing about the interview, R was disappointed at the possibility of *not* going to Japan. At the end of that conversation, I felt genuinely happy for the first time in quite a while.

    On a totally unrelated note: I must say I didn’t know quite what to make of the title of this post. I couldn’t help but read a sexual meaning into it, along the lines of Frankie Goes to Hollywood: “Relax, don’t do it, when you wanna go to it… when you wanna come.”

  11. Guest says:

    I made a choice similar to this just the other day. I dropped out of high school, got my Good Enough Diploma (eventually) and (even more eventually) went back and just finished up my associate degree this past semester. Gods bless online school! (I hate sitting in class with all those kids, makes me feel awkward, never mind old!)

    Long story short I ended up getting all A’s and honor society membership, etc etc and a full ride to my local state university to wrap up my bachelor degree in a technical subject: product usability and instructional/training development. Basically that would translate into determining if the product can be sold and teaching firm employees how to do so themselves.

    But like in the case of your Temple it was not meant to be because it was not accomplishing it’s mission.

    You see originally I set out to obtain a higher education because I wanted to have the sense of accomplishment mostly to make my daughter feel like she could be proud of me (or that was what was going on in my own mind).

    A conversation with her just the other day brought up an interesting point that led me to decide not to take the full-ride and to drop out with just my associates:

    She is most proud of me when I am living my life in a way that makes me happy. Strange concept no? Must be her having been born here in America that makes the difference in outlooks ;) In any event, she asked me exactly what I wanted to do with my life and helped me look over my finances:

    Another long story short I’m moving 3,000 from the Southwest to Honolulu, Hawaii to pursue my dream of enjoying the beach and the ocean every day and still being able to stargaze every night (thanks to standing on top of the volcanoes).

    I’m focusing on getting my EA license and doing tax prep again for a living but starting my own business doing so. Should be able to easily support myself on 3-5 months work per year and take an (semi-)early (semi-)retirement.

    Got plenty of frequent flier miles left over to bring my daughter & her family over to visit me too. She and my son-in-law are teachers so summers will be a great time for my grandkids to see the Aloha Grandpa ;)

    Keep doing what you’re doing, enjoy what you enjoy, and don’t take crap from anybody! ;)

    • Wow! What an adventure Jack. It sounds like it will be good times in Hawaii! Out of curiosity, since you mention your daughter was born in US, where are you from?

      Also: “She is most proud of me when I am living my life in a way that makes me happy” – your daughter is a wise person :)

  12. today has been a very strange day. I’ve had a lot on my mind, and it’s actually been related to this very topic.

    I had a dream last night. I was on a quest with four friends, and we were just about to cross a final boundary for the last stage in our trip. We sat down together and broke bread for the last time before setting out again.

    The world changed almost immediately… the grass and color gave way to an endless ruined wasteland, knee deep in a gray filth. The only living things were these former humans, twisted beyond recognition. All my companions disappeared, they weren’t able to travel through the mess.

    I pushed on ahead, and finally came to my destination. I don’t remember what I was traveling to try and accomplish, but I remember when I finally came to my destination, I knew something was very wrong. It was a huge city… search lights going up to the sky, bright lights shining everywhere underneath the layers of filth that caked everything. The twisted humans lined the streets, it would be impossible to sneak in. I recognized the city… it was Las Vegas, or at least it had been.

    Some journeys are important to quit, because they’re not the journey you’re really meant to be going on. At best you’ll be wasting precious time. At worst, you’ll be losing friends and companions, and you’ll be following a road that goes to a place you really don’t want to be. Not sure what the dream meant, but it’s certainly been a sobering reminder. Quitting isn’t always quitting, sometimes it’s about salvation. Heck, hell is rarely about filth and demons. Often it’s just a life gone wrong, your journey towards being a politician maybe was an example of that.

  13. Have you ever had to make this kind of a choice? Which way did you go? Were you able to swallow your pride and quit, or did you ride it to the very end?

    The choice to tough it out / try harder vs. let go (“quit”) is a difficult one. I’ve made this type of choice many times – with work, volunteer projects and organizations, and relationships.

    I spent 7 years trying to build and nurture a local community. My fellow co-leaders and I did numerous things try to revitalize the community. I spent time walking the leaders and group members through a visioning process to breath new life into the community. However, as time progressed, things would return to the status quo: enough complacency in the current situation where volunteers wouldn’t step forward to help, but enough dissatisfaction where thy were willing to complain. By the time that I left, the core group of volunteers were the community leaders, which is an unhealthy setup to have in a community.

    Letting go was both a dread-filled and exciting experience. On one hand, I was walking away from something that I spent almost 1/4 of my life nurturing. There was also a quiet-yet-still-noticeable voice in my head that kept saying that the group would collapse without me there (which it didn’t). On the other hand, breaking away from something that was a drain on my resources (time, $, emotional energy, etc.) has allowed me to do a lot of other things that have made an impact on people’s lives.

    Sometimes we’re faced with struggles and challenges that are meant to help us grow. Other times, they are warning signs that we’re taking a path that’s not meant to be taken.

    • Jessica, it means a lot that you’re posting here to tell me this. Thank you.

      I’m glad to hear you were able to make the tough decision to walk away. And on to bigger things I hope!

  14. DiannaMoon says:

    I am having a hard time reading your article…and I keep looking away and trying to find something else to occupy my time but The Lady wants me to read it…because it is what is happening to me right now…

    I started a job after 12 years of not having a job because I was/am a Stay at Home Mom. I loved bringing money into the house and feeling like I am doing something useful to our family community. My Hubby has pointed out that since starting the job I have been more stressed and snippy to the kids and him. Finally we ran the numbers and while it does make a dent in debt it is taking too much away – the kids being in a summer camp all summer was the last straw…

    I am grateful that My Hubby wants me to enjoy my time and he wants a “Less Stressed Wife” but my ego was/is all bound up in the fact “LOOK I FOUND A JOB! I AM A USEFUL PERSON” while not realizing how useful I am to my family every day (because – y’know – that’s not work…or at least it is very undervalued…)

    Your insights into “winning” and “failing” are ringing a truth to my stubborn self and I am grateful that your words are here to help guide me thru my own winning…Blessed Be…

    • Dianna, welcome to Rogue Priest and thanks so much for commenting!

      I’m touched that the article had that much of an impact on you. I trust you’ll do whatever is best for yourself, and it sounds like your husband is supportive, which is great! Once you make the leap though, make sure you keep charging down the road to something more fulfilling – it’s easy to just “float” after quitting something in triumph, but then the stress comes back if you’re not doing something fulfilling. I’d love to hear what you end up deciding to do.

  15. Pingback: The Difference Between Choice and Failure « Seven Deadly Divas

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