Recently I overheard two parents discussing whether to force their children to complete a sports season they weren’t enjoying. After some discussion, one parent stated bluntly, “I don’t want to raise a quitter.”
Within my counseling practice, I have heard echoes of this concern among parents and non-parents. Nobody wants to raise a quitter or be a quitter.
What is a quitter? Is quitting a character trait or simply an action that one takes? If it’s a character trait, how many times does someone have to quit to be considered a quitter? Do the reasons for quitting have any impact on determining whether someone is a quitter?
Many have not fully thought out these complex questions and instead get stuck on their desire to avoid being labeled a quitter.
As a clinical psychologist, I have worked with many people who struggle to shake the labels that they or others have applied. Having a negative label or fearing being labeled often results in anxiety and an inability to move forward with life goals.
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In fact, I work with many people who want to make a life change but fear that changing course would make them a quitter.
Viewing quitting as a behavior rather than a personality trait can be freeing and allow for constructive decision-making. Quitting is a behavior that may be helpful, harmful or neutral.
To decide whether to quit any given activity, consider whether quitting may be helpful, harmful, or neutral for you.
Quitting may be helpful if:
There is an opportunity for a better fit.
Participation in activities can provide clarity about goals, values and interests. Sometimes experience allows people to see that a job or activity is not in line with their goals. This may be a great time to pursue something that is more aligned with goals and interests. Leaving a job or extracurricular activity is often the first step toward pursuing a better fit. Even if the next option does not turn out to be a better fit, the process of discovering this allows for continued movement toward life goals.
The activity is negatively impacting mental or physical health
There are many ways that activities can be damaging to physical or mental health. For example, certain activities may involve high levels of bullying, overly strenuous physical demands, excessive time commitments and excessive mental stress. If these issues are persistent and cannot be resolved, quitting may be the right option.
Quitting may be harmful if:
It strengthens a pattern of avoidance.
It’s human nature to avoid things that are uncomfortable. When trying out a new activity or job, anxiety may be high. Quitting prematurely prevents someone from learning to overcome this initial anxiety. Premature quitting can reinforce a pattern of avoidance and decrease self-confidence in the long term.
Opportunities are lost that cannot be regained.
Leaving activities or jobs may also cause harm if other opportunities are limited. Loss of income that is not soon replaced can cause practical problems. Quitting extracurricular or leisure activities may lead to a loss of physical or mental stimulation if replacement activities are not available.
Quitting may be neutral if:
The pros and cons of quitting are uncertain.
Often there are pros and cons of quitting, as well as uncertain outcomes from quitting versus staying. Trying to weigh the pros and cons or predict the future consequences of actions can lead to a stalemate. There may be no option that is clearly ideal.
There are minimal negative or positive effects from quitting or staying.
Perhaps quitting an activity would cause a slight increase in happiness or comfort levels. However, it may also be the case that continuing the activity would not cause any negative effects.
For example, a student is involved in a campus activity that takes up a few hours each week. It’s neither enjoyable nor unenjoyable, and there is no pressing need to use those hours on another task. It is unclear whether the activity will provide some future benefit. In this case, there is no compelling reason to stay or to leave.
Do parents really need to worry about raising a quitter? By trying to instill a sense of duty or perseverance, parents may be unintentionally sending their kids the wrong message. Such messages may be that their feelings don’t matter and that they must stay the course no matter the cost.
Such people may even miss valuable opportunities because they believe they must always finish what they start.
Instead of worrying about raising a quitter, what if parents say, “I don’t want to raise a child who dismisses their own needs and values” or “I don’t want to create an adult who stays in a job that makes them miserable.” Better yet, “I want to raise a child who knows when to quit and when to stay.”
Quitting is not necessarily a bad thing. Try removing the label of “quitter” and think of quitting as a behavior that may be harmful, helpful or neutral. If you struggle to know when to quit and when to continue, contact me. Counseling can help to clarify values and needs and determine a path forward. ￼
Dr. Julia Becker is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Waco. She provides counseling to adults and adolescents dealing with depression, anxiety, relationship concerns and life stress. She believes counseling is beneficial for anyone who desires to have a happier, healthier and more fulfilling life.