When Quitting Isn’t the Easy Way Out

How do you know when it’s time to throw in the towel?

As football season is back upon us, I’m going to talk about some old news.  It was 8 months ago that we watched the Patriots pull out the ultimate comeback.  It was so inspiring.  They were so far behind, a win seemed impossible.  At this point they could have easily given up.  But they didn’t.  And they won.  It was a beautiful reminder that we should always keep fighting, no matter what.  It’s true.  In fact, it’s one of the most true things we know.  Journeys can be hard, but it’s often the struggle that bring us our greatest rewards.  Besides, who wants to be a quitter?

But what if there are times when it’s better to give up than to keep fighting?

Sometimes giving up may be exactly the thing we need to do.  Maybe it’s letting go of having to win an argument or turning back on your climb to Mount Everest because you could die!  Or maybe it’s knowing that your career isn’t working for you.  Sometimes it is in our best interest to give up.

Sometimes giving up isn’t about quitting, but instead it’s about having the courage to push ourselves in ways we never thought possible. 

The challenge is in the knowing.  When do you decide it’s time to move on?  How do you know you’ve given enough to justify letting go?  I spent many years dedicated to my career, unwilling and unable to quit.  I tried different jobs, experiencing different styles of practice.  I spent thousands and thousands of dollars on premium continuing education that was supposed to give me not only practical enlightenment, but also personal enlightenment.  I got involved with the local dental society.  The crazy thing is I loved those other things… I loved all of it but the daily practice of dentistry.  I loved the community, the learning, and the sense of purpose and hope that it all gave me.  However, the daily practice of dentistry isolated me and took all of those good feelings away.  For me the answer was clear, although not what I wanted.  That conflict is what made the decision harder for me, but I knew it was time.  It had to be time.  I had invested all I was willing to invest to make it work, and I still felt empty.  I didn’t have it in me to keep fighting anymore.

How do you know when is the right time to quit something?

I recently received an email from a client saying only this:

Quick question: how do you know when it’s time to do something else with your life other than this?  I think I’m there.

He was looking for some advice or guidance, but the whole time he had his own answer.  He knows.  It’s that gut feeling that tells you.  As is often the case, it gets difficult when we doubt what we really know deep down inside.  It’s hard to decipher when we are guided by our intuition versus our fear.  This uncertainty can paralyze us.

Giving up looks different in any situation.  Giving up could be letting go of owning your dental practice to become an associate.  It may mean we give up the push to earn a certain income, trading that in for working fewer hours per week and spending more time with the family.  Maybe it means leaving private practice to teach at a dental school.  Or maybe it means leaping into an entirely new career.  Either way, giving up doesn’t have to mean you are a failure, but instead it can simply mean you are allowing space for something better to come along.

Sometimes we confuse the idea that fighting and pushing on is the more noble, courageous thing to do, but that isn’t always so.  Sometimes the more courageous thing to do is to give up and let go of the familiar in order to create change.

When pushing and fighting is keeping you stuck, maybe that’s the time to let go and free up some space to find your win.  What do you think?

11 thoughts on “When Quitting Isn’t the Easy Way Out

  1. Great post, and that’s a subject that most every person has faced at some point; Kipling’s poem, ‘IF’ gave me clarity years ago when I struggled with the inner nudge to move to Ecuador, yet knowing that most of my loved ones would question and plant self doubt. ‘If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you – and make allowance for their doubting too.’ — the latter part is the secret!

    Again, great post, and yes, most people know the answer, but they often crave another’s approval that they’re making the right choice.

    1. Thanks, Lisa! I’ll have to check out that poem. I bet your move to Ecuador was a massive leap for you. I also imagine it was the right move for you, or you wouldn’t still be there?

      You’re right. It’s that need for approval from others that keeps us exactly stuck where we are.

  2. I quit private practice to teach at a dental school two years ago and it has been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Did I take a pay cut? YES. Do I worry people will think I couldn’t hack it in private practice? Maybe a tiny bit, but I used to roll my eyes at people who “loved their job” and now I’m one of them. The increased time with my family and decreased mental and physical stress has totally changed my life and I still feel like I’m making a difference seeing my students learn and grow. It is amazing how sometimes a little pivot can make all the difference.

    1. JB, this is so wonderful! I’ve written a bit about this in the past… this idea that as students we sometimes judged the teachers for being teachers because they couldn’t hack it in the real world. That was such foolish thinking. And so obnoxious. Once I started gaining a knowledge about careers and success and happiness, I learned that it was total nonsense. This is so great that you are now one of those people who loves their job– especially in the dental field. That is completely respectable. You’ve totally hit on what success means. I’d love to share your story on my blog. Look out for an email from me!

  3. I agree with Mr/Ms/Mrs Playamart-Zeebra Designs (hell of a name 😳) it was easier for me knowing Phil supported me, but then I am lucky and he never doubted I’d come up with something!
    How to know when the time is right? When for the umpteenth time you have insomnia on a Sunday night, because you’re back at work on Monday, you’re lying there and your heart is beating irregularly, your tummy is churning, you feel your face frowning, you know what’s coming tomorrow, and the rest of the week, and you’re already pining for Friday. And then when you read Laura’s blog and read someone else survived giving up feeling like that, a lightbulb goes off in your head and you know today is the day! 🙂

    1. Fraggs- that support is so crucial. I know a lot of people who choose to stay stuck because their spouse doesn’t understand and won’t support it. Your description is spot on. A lot of people could learn from you!

  4. You make some incredibly profound statements here…”Sometimes giving up isn’t about quitting, but having the courage to push ourselves…”. “Sometimes the most courageous thing is to give up and let go…” — Welll said, and inspirational.

    I, like you, took the courses that supposedly would change the way we practiced dentistry… and improve our lives! Maybe I didn’t give it a fair chance, but it never happened. I went through the same thing as fragglerocking above (heart palpitations, stomach churning, etc.) — but mine started earlier… on Saturday night, because Sunday would arrive before I knew it, and I’d be thinking of work the entire day.

    (Oh wait, it’s Saturday night at 11 pm — is that my pager going off? Someone’s temporary crown on #8 came off and broke, and they need a call tonight since they can’t wait til Monday? Guess i’ll have to delay that day trip with my family on Sunday…More heart palpitations!!!).

    When I would get calls from dental management companies telling me they could increase my patient load by 50%…. I guess I should have been excited. Truth was, I didn’t want to see ANY more patients. I then knew it was soon time to stop.

    Perhaps the most profound message in your entire post is the use of the term “giving up”. It has negative connotations written all over it, because of society’s perceptions and misunderstandings. People hear those words, and think the worst. But you had the insight and wisdom to show us that “giving up” is indeed one of the most positive things we can ever do. Brilliant! Thank you.

    1. Eric, thank you! All those things you mention are clues. And by the way, just reading your description of Saturday night at 11 pm gives me a hint of anxiety. I remember that feeling all too well. I’ll never forget having to reason with a drunk person on Thanksgiving evening who lost her dentures that there was nothing I could do to help her, short of coming to her house to help her look for her dentures. And I still felt guilty for not being able to help her.

      1. OMG — That takes the cake! (Your Thanksgiving story). I probably would have felt guilty as well. I had a similar situation (except the patient wasn’t drunk)… A patient of the other dentist in the practice called me on a Saturday morning, having broken his front tooth before he was leaving for a wedding (of course!), He couldn’t reach my partner. I happened to be about two hours away from the office, helping a friend move, and didn’t even have my own car with me. There was nothing I could do, and I felt bad. I told the person to try and find a dentist nearby who had Saturday office hours and maybe they could be seen there — not much more I could do.

        Years later, in speaking with my liability insurance company, I was told that a “true” dental emergency only involves three things: severe pain, swelling, or excessive bleeding. Breaking a tooth or losing a temporary crown is not considered an emergency… Still, I always would “stress out” if a patient called me in a panic, not being able to wait until Monday for me to see them…for even the mildest of “emergencies”.

  5. Hi,
    I just started reading your blog so I was wondering if I could get a little backstory. How long have you been in practice? Are you planning on a career change? Or just considering it?

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