Quitting may be your best option. Here’s why


Raghunathan overcame the pain, continued to run to prove that he was physically and mentally strong.

He later learned that he had a hairline fracture in his right foot, forcing him to withdraw from the next race.

If this story is familiar, it is because it is for many people.

From the moment most of us are born, we are told to never give up, and if we fail to try again (and again).

That rhetoric is deeply entrenched, so it’s no surprise that it’s been frowned upon, said Raghunathan, a marketing professor at the University of Texas at Austin McCombs School of Business. We place so much importance on success and accomplishing goals that giving up has become synonymous with failure, he said.

Society also places celebrities, athletes and successful businessmen on a pedestal. These figures describe the fact that you have failed many times, but never give up until you achieve your goals. Admirers then conclude that to be successful you must never quit, he said. But that perception is false, Raghunathan said.

“If you look at all the people who failed, you might realize they never quit,” he said. As a result, he doesn’t see that refusing to quit is the only key to success.

Greater consequences of not quitting

People who refuse to give up on a goal may not realize that their decision can take a toll on their health and well-being, Raghunathan said, and may cost more than quitting.

The consequences were physical for Raghunathan. But when failure is consistent, people can experience chronic sadness, helplessness and even depression, said Theo Tsaousides, a neuropsychologist in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

For example, a couple with infertility problems may spend years trying medical treatments to get pregnant, he said. In the process, they can suffer for their mental health every time they don’t get pregnant, and this harassment can also affect their life savings.

If couples continue to invest in fertility treatments to the point of failure, or at the expense of self-care, they are doing themselves a disservice, Tsaousides said.

It’s brave to say, “I’m willing to let go of my goal to make space in my heart and mind for something else that’s meaningful,” she said.

Refusing to let go can also lead to obsessing over what you want to achieve regardless of feasibility, which can hold you hostage to dreams or goals that no longer serve you, she said.

Taking it easy is the latest trend in the workplace, but that doesn't mean what you think

Your drive should come from internal motivators, such as wanting to improve yourself, rather than an external need to impress others, Tsaousides said.

Circumstances and priorities inevitably change over time, so a goal you set years ago may not match what you want out of life. Instead of continuing to move on, open yourself up to new milestones that align with what you want now, she said.

How do you know when to give up?

“I don’t think it’s fair for anybody to tell somebody else it’s time to stop,” Tsaousides said.

But there are some questions you can ask yourself to decide if it’s time to move on.

Ask yourself what you’re sacrificing by not giving up on a life goal, Tsaousides said. If you’re putting your physical and mental health at risk, it may be time to quit.

Examples could include trouble sleeping or fights with loved ones because pursuing your goal makes you angry, Raghunathan said.

You may want to ask yourself if your goal is worth the time, money, and effort you’re putting into it, and if those resources could be better used elsewhere.

But you don’t have to give up on a goal forever, he said. Raghunathan admitted that if he had stopped training when he felt the pain in his foot, he could have taken a break and probably would have been healthy enough to run the marathon.

Resilience is tough when it feels like your hardships will never end.  Here's how to deal with it

And if you’re worried about how others will see you if you quit, don’t be, Raghunathan said.

“Everyone has their own things,” he said, “and most people don’t pay as much attention to you and your life as you think they do.”

When he shared with fellow runners that he had dropped out of the marathon because of the injury, Raghunathan recalled being embarrassed and thinking they would see him as a failure.

Instead, his friends shared stories of running injuries and told him that if they got hurt, they would never run again.

“And as you can see, I’ve never run a marathon,” Raghunathan said. And he totally agrees with that.