“But am I allowed to do that?” my client asked during an (emotional) life-coaching session.
“Allowed? What do you mean allowed?” I asked, answering a question with a question.
“But… I mean… I started. Don’t I have to… finish the damn thing?” she asked, angst-ridden and confused.
“I don’t know. Do you?” I responded again.
My client is an entrepreneur who spent every waking moment of three years and hundreds of thousands of dollars developing an app that, before it could be released, had been created, improved upon, and made ubiquitous by multiple, larger competitors. Her idea was original three years ago, but since her initial concept, the market had advanced, and her business was no longer viable.
But, like a dog with a bone, she refused to give up. In many cases, this can be a rockstar quality. But in this particular situation, her ship had sailed. It had already made its way onto millions of smartphones without her. Her investors knew it. Her friends knew it. She knew it deep down too, but found it impossible to admit defeat. Now she was reaching a breaking point. To quit seemed an impossibility after the years, money, and all-nighters spent building the business.
So what to do now? In marketing, there’s an expression, “Don’t throw good money after bad.” What does that even mean? It means don’t spend more money on something that has already failed. Plenty of opportunities begin with a smart investment—hours, energy, money—but sometimes, there comes a point when that investment is no longer a savvy decision. And even worse, out of stubbornness, desperation, and yep, even ego, we refuse to acknowledge it.
Money is the currency in this example, but "investment" can easily refer to time, effort, emotion, sleep, and countless other things that are important to us that we'll regret “wasting” after weeks, months, or even years of devotion.
If you have a sneaky suspicion that you need to quit a project, a relationship, or any type of goal, consider the following:
1. It’s not fun anymore.
When something causes more frustration or pain than joy, it’s a massive sign that it’s time to hang up your hat. This doesn’t simply mean you’re exhausted from training for a marathon; it means the end goal no longer inspires you, and thinking about the big day depletes—rather than energizes—your spirits.
2. You are losing.
Whether it’s your hard-earned dough, your well-being, or your ability to just enjoy some time off (especially if other people have voiced this to you with love), you may already be losing a lot and gaining nothing by keeping up the charade. Ask yourself: Would my life simply be better if I just called it quits on this thing?
3. The opportunity-to-cost ratio is off.
Every time we do something, anything, it’s at the cost of not doing something else. Are you forsaking something else that could be more valuable? Is there a better “investment” you could be making instead? This can include a better job, a more suitable S.O., or even a freakin’ vacation this holiday season.
4. Your priorities have shifted.
Hey, it’s OK to change your mind! Life changes. We change. Other people change. Like the shifting seasons, we have to be flexible as external circumstances change. A client of mine just put her side hustle on hold when she delightfully discovered she was pregnant. She was nervous to tell me, but I couldn’t have been more thrilled for her as it’s exciting news, and she’s proving she can be agile in her life.
5. You feel meh about it.
As best-selling author Seth Godin says, “Quit or be exceptional. Average is for losers.” When you are doing something to ‘check a box’ and just get by, it’s a red flag that it’s just not essential to your success anymore. And I don’t know about you, but I consider my time on Earth a little too precious to just get by doing sh*t I don’t love. Reject complacency, my friends!
6. You’re doing it for other people (and not yourself).
This is a toughie, especially in a world of social media where much of our lives are on display. My client felt ashamed to give up because of how she thought she’d look to the people around her. Truth is: They were relieved too. People who really care about you want the best for you. And the people who don't, don't matter.
7. You think you have something to prove.
You don’t. End of story. Next.
When it comes to deciding to quit, do what feels like freedom. Relief is one of the biggest indicators that you are making the right decision in any area of your life.
Sometimes you lose a little—you lose face, you lose money, you lose a goal that you’ve clung to—but in the long term, when you plug the drain, you gain a lot more. I love that Arianna Huffington says, “Did you know you can complete a project by dropping it?” It’s not true that winners never quit. Winners do quit. In fact, they’re winners because they know when to quit. Will you?
Susie Moore is Greatist’s life coach columnist and a confidence coach in New York City. Sign up for free weekly wellness tips on her website and check back every Tuesday for her latest No Regrets column!