Kids Should be Quitters
“If you don’t succeed the first time, try, try again!” “Winners never give up, and losers never flourish!” There are other adages with the same underlying message; this story emphasizes one point beyond all others: quitting should be avoided at all costs. But, in retrospect, it’s evident that I’ve clung to things (friendships, jobs, sushi) for far too long — all in the name of not being a quitter — and it wasn’t good. So I’m teaching my kids that in certain circumstances, abandoning what you’re doing and moving on is the greatest option. Don’t give up. Toss in the towel. Simply stop. Contrary to common assumption, leaving is not always for losers.
From a young age, we are taught that leaving is wrong and shameful. The commonly held idea is that success is only likely and feasible for those who never quit up, no matter what. We’re taught that giving up is associated with failure and weakness, whether it’s in sports, aspirations, or even relationships.
And, certainly, when you educate your children that leaving is okay, they are more likely to, well, quit. Do I want to educate my children to quit at the first hint of difficulty? Absolutely not, and I want to be really clear about that. I certainly don’t want to have children who suddenly give up when things become tough or they hit a stumbling block. Making a hasty choice to quit when things become difficult, do not go as planned, or just become monotonous or uninteresting is also not a smart idea.
Instead, I want students to see quitting “properly” as an art form that necessitates a deliberate decision-making process as well as an educated assessment of prior progress as well as the impact (both positives and drawbacks) of stopping vs continuing. Knowing whether to pack up and leave or stick it out is a fine balance that one learns through time from life experience: If you leave something too soon, you risk missing out on the enchantment of all the good that could come, but if you remain too long, you may run into the law of diminishing returns. The challenge, I’ve discovered, is knowing when to delve deeper and when to stop digging entirely. I’ve discovered that intuition — that initial gut-driven impulse — is usually correct.
My kid began taekwondo and thrived as he learned the disciplines and skills. When it was time to progress to sparring, though, everything changed. He said that sparring was too rough for him and was giving him a lot of worries. I was not thrilled about this, not only because I wanted him to learn to accept and work through the discomfort, but also because I had just spent $300 on equipment. But, after considerable deliberation and a thorough discussion with him about his motivations, we decided to let him go. Forcing my extremely sensitive youngster to keep going was causing him emotional pain.
Did I make the “right” decision? That’s debatable, but it seemed “correct” in this specific case, with this particular child.
Don’t get me wrong: I believe that hard effort, along with guts, perseverance, and persistence, is vital for achieving many desirable goals. Obstacles and challenges are unavoidable. The desire to give up during a tough period is a normal part of enduring anything difficult, so it’s vital to remember that there’s often a lot to be gained by sticking it out.
But “toughing it out” circumstances just to be tough feels unproductive, and in some cases even destructive. To stop doing something demands a lot of guts and self-awareness in many circumstances. Being brave and steadfast does not always imply sticking things out to the bitter end. Sometimes being brave means sticking things out, and other times it involves admitting to yourself that something isn’t working and walking away.
I had aspired to be a vocalist for many years. Unfortunately, I am not musically gifted (or a particularly good voice for that matter). I saw now that I was attempting to squeeze a square peg into a round hole, which would never work. I didn’t understand I was better at anything else until I ultimately quit up and moved on.
I’ve learned that tenacity and quitting aren’t mutually incompatible, since there is always a yes to something else. When you abandon what isn’t working, you learn from your errors and free up energy and time to pursue other chances. Instead of viewing leaving as the ultimate failure, I attempt to reframe it as a chance to learn and redirect my energies to the next experience. Quitting can sometimes be the trigger for positive development. My kid has since moved on to another sport in which he excels, and it took me abandoning my singing goal to discover a new career path, one to which I am better suited.
Life is a tremendous gamble, which means that there will be losses as well as successes. Things are alright to accept that it didn’t work out, cut your losses, and move on without feeling guilty. Yes, admitting that things didn’t go as planned stinks, but what stinks, even more, is holding on to something that is no longer beneficial in your life. And things evolve; just because something was a good match at one point doesn’t mean it will always be. There’s no shame in quitting when you’ve given it your all and it’s clear it’s not going to end well.
Recognizing when something is no longer benefiting you and moving on are essential life skills. “You must know when to hold ’em when to fold ’em, when to walk away, and when to flee,” a wise man (Kenny Rogers) once observed. I genuinely hope that I’ve taught my children certain essential traits — a quick wit, dedication, and the understanding that sometimes the best way to go with something is just not to.