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Thursday, July 9, 2009

Is Quitting Always Bad?

Unless you've been living under a big, fat, sound-proofed rock, you know that Sarah Palin recently announced her decision to step down as Governor of Alaska. And, unsurprisingly, this move has triggered a maelstrom of criticism and controversy.

Frankly, there are infinite variables to explore here -ethics, finances, sexism, scandal, media bias, family/work balance, political agenda - but I would like to focus on something basic and timeless, something that transcends this contemporary Sarah saga: the stigma of the quitter.

From a young age, we are spoonfed encouragements to persevere. We are whispered the wisdom that quitting is intrinsically bad, a telltale sign of weakness. Obviously, these messages only apply to quitting arguably good things, things that are ideally meant to enhance our existence (jobs, teams, marriages). Obviously, quitting bad things (smoking, drugs, criminal activity) does not carry with it a social stigma, but the opposite.

But I wonder if we need to reevaluate our cultural belief that quitting good things is always bad? I quit my plum job at a law firm and though met with judgment and even disdain, I have never been happier. Friends and family members have called off wedding engagements to very likable and loving people and have never been happier. I had many friends at Yale who, after torturing themselves, decided to quit their sports teams and never looked back.

As a society, we seem to tolerate quitting better if there are sound reasons offered. It's okay to leave one job if you have another, better job lined up. It's okay to leave your fiance if he beats or cheats. It's okay to stop playing soccer if you are injured. But what if there are no articulable reasons? Sometimes the best decisions don't have reasons attached. Sometimes instinct is the best measure.

I'm not saying that quitting should be done with haste. Or that there isn't often virtue in perseverance in the face of obstacles. But I do think we should all be more open-minded about the decisions others make. And I know it is a pipe dream, but I think we need to move beyond thinking in problematic binary oppositions (good/bad, right/wrong, smart/dumb).

In terms of Sarah Palin, I am guilty like many of you. I heard that she was quitting and I jumped fast. A scandal is afoot! A lawsuit is brewing! She couldn't hack it! No, I'm not a mega Palin fan. (Severe and diplomatic understatement.) But I'm going to try to practice what I preach. I'm going to zip it and reserve judgment on this latest development until we all have a little more information. I need to study up on my Palin-tology. And this is something I vow to do because I think that whether we like it or not, we haven't seen the last of this Alaskan. And whether or not we like her politics or her wardrobe or her grammar or her maverick-y ways, we owe it to ourselves to study this creature.

Thoughts on quitting? Do you always think there will be a stigma attached to quitting?


  1. In the USA, quitting will always have a stigma attached. Quitting in the abstract means not achieving the American Dream. After all, we believe that with hard work and "stick-to-itiveness," we can achieve anything. This American Dream ethic is so ingrained in us, we harshly judge anyone who doesn't follow the mold.
    Quitting can make sense. My sister in law recently walked away from a multi-million dollar per year investment banking career because she just knew if she stayed any longer, she wouldn't see her 40th birthday. Besides the money, it was incredibly tough thing to walk away from the prestige, the perks, who she'd been for the past 17 years. yet, it was absolutely the right call, and she has never been happier.
    I'm not sure I could be as brave. My first 5 years in my career, I had a boss who hated me, and did everything he could to discredit me, make me miserable so that I would quit. I was puzzled, I knew I was succeeding in my job, and figured if I kept getting great results, he'd have to like me. Well it never happened, and I finally woke up and transferred to another department where I was recognized for my good work and encouraged. I absolutely should have quit that department much sooner than I did, and even when I did, I felt awful about it, that I'd given up. Now, nearly 10 years later, that old boss was finally fired and I've been promoted, so I suppose mine is a *good* quitting story.

    As far as Palin, ridiculous, and I say something is shady there. Have you seen those Runners World photos where she holds Trig as if he's part of her physical regimen? She appalls me on so many levels. But I will say, I liked the point Ross Douthat made in the Times that her appeal comes from her representation of the democratic ideal — that anyone can grow up to be a great success story without graduating from Columbia and Harvard (like Obama. As someone who did attend Ivy league schools, that speaks to me. So maybe her quitting is just another way she's bucking the system, but I sure hope her future does not involve becoming our president!

  2. oops did NOT attend ivy league schools. Guess I'm a wannabe :)!


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