What you walk away from in life defines you as much as the things you stick out.

There are those who pride themselves on persistence, regardless of the cost. And there are serial quitters who seem incapable of sustaining a single effort. Somewhere in the middle is a delicate balance of knowing when to keep going and when to quit. This balance allows you to dedicate your limited energy to the things that matter most.

As far as big decisions go, no decade seems to demand more or carry such monumental consequences as that of your 20s. Part of this is born out of naiveté in terms of experience — fewer years equals a shallower perspective and an inflated sense of self-importance. But this mindset also holds some validity in that it’s setting the trajectory for your later years, which is why quitting is such a valuable skill.

The importance of quitting grows in proportion to the number of new things you explore.

The trouble is that there is rarely ever a clear-cut “right” and “wrong” decision. The vast majority of life plays out in a gray area. Although, I’ve found that by pursuing almost everything that has peaked my interest throughout my 20s, I’ve been able to develop my own strategy to navigate this perpetual inbetween and make more effective decisions.

Whenever I encounter a moment of self-doubt or the urge to quit, I ask myself, do I feel like quitting because this is difficult? Or do I feel like quitting because it contradicts my character, values, or priorities?

Everything I’ve stuck with, despite the urge to quit because it was purely difficulty or challenged the confines of my comfort zone — new careers, meaningful relationships, deep personal interests — has always been worth it. But I must often first work my way through an initial period of insecurity to discover what’s sustainable, then I allow the power of compound interest to run its course.

Everything I’ve quit because it was in contrast to my character, values, or priorities has always proven, over time, to be the best available decision. This includes jobs that have run their course, relationships that lack reciprocity, undergrad majors that have bored me to tears, organizations that demand blind obedience, and even hobbies that I haven’t been all in on.

In other words, whenever I’ve doubled down and completely committed to the things that truly matter to me, they’ve paid significant dividends. Whenever I’ve cut ties with the things I’m supposed to want or that have made me question my own value system, it has allowed me to better allocate energy elsewhere.

The only disclaimer is that it’s often more difficult than simply asking yourself where the desire to quit is coming from. Most of us are in the habit of reacting to initial emotions and rationalizing our subsequent decisions beyond all recognition. To improve your decision making, you need to examine your true motivations, which demands a level of mindfulness and introspection.

Don’t take everything you feel at face value.

If you start a new job and feel like quitting, is it because you’re feeling insecure, overwhelmed, and haven’t given yourself enough time to learn? Or is it because the culture isn’t a great fit, you don’t enjoy the work, or you were misled in the interview process?

It demands greater courage to act independently and in your own best interest, than it does to sit back and allow inertia to take you down the path of least resistance. It’s easy to grow comfortable with current circumstances. That’s what makes quitting so difficult — by definition, it is change. But being able to quit something you’re not invested in is the mark of a self-sufficient mind.

If you invest more in the things that resonate with you and bail on the things that don’t, you’ll begin to develop a stronger sense of self and identity. This is the only sustainable source of gratitude in life — an awareness of what matters most to you and the persistence to adapt and see it through.

You can’t sustain something that’s in fundamental opposition to you and your priorities and expect to come out better for it.

“You always have three choices: You can change it, you can accept it, or you can leave it.” –Naval Ravikant

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Originally published at medium.com


  • Alex J. Hughes

    Writer. Product Manager. Strategies for creativity and focus.

    Hi there – I'm Alex Hughes, I'm a writer and software product manager based in Nashville, TN. I am also a current advisor at the Nashville Entrepreneur Center and help guide entrepreneurs in the ideation, creation, and launch of their early-stage startups. Join my newsletter for strategies, articles and book recommendations on living more deliberately.