When good for you is bad for others

I’ve written often here that I think quitting gets a bad rap, especially in high school. Not all quitting is good, but successful people quit things all the time. They’re just strategic about what and when they do it. That’s why I’ve never heard a college say that they would prefer that students plod through an activity they can no longer stand just to prove that they don’t quit.

But there’s one important quitting consideration I hadn’t thought of as it pertains to high school students. Are you breaking a commitment that you’ve made, and if so, will this negatively affect other people?

If you committed to a team, job, role, position, etc., what would happen to those people if you were to leave? Will the volleyball team be without its starting setter? Will your boss now have nobody to cover your shifts? Will the student council be without a treasurer? There’s a reason they call it honoring a commitment, and while I do advocate good quitting as a way to keep yourself engaged and happy, you don’t want what’s good for you to be bad for other people unless it’s absolutely unavoidable.

If you’re considering ending a commitment before its natural conclusion, here are a few things to consider to help you make that transition responsibly. No college admissions officer I’ve met would want you to stay in something that makes you miserable, but they’d also like to see that you appreciate the gravity of a commitment even when it’s no longer paying you back.

1. Talk to someone in charge.
Instead of just up-and-leaving one day, start by talking to your coach, boss, advisor, etc. Make it clear that you’re considering doing something else, but more importantly, be honest about your reasons. Sometimes it feels better to get things out in the open, and it’s possible that the person in charge might help you find a way to help you reengage happily. But even if that doesn’t happen, having the potentially difficult conversation is the right thing to do—and you’ll get credit for being responsible and mature enough to bring it up before you walk out.

2. Ask how you can best leave with minimal disruption.
If it’s clear that it’s time for you to go, ask the person in charge how you could best leave with minimal negative effects on the team, group, co-workers, etc. Maybe you can stay another couple weeks until they find a replacement? Maybe you can take the time to teach someone else how to do what you’ve been doing? Maybe you can finish your current project before you depart? Just asking the question shows that you’re honoring your commitment. And if you help make the departure as smooth as possible, you’ll probably end up leaving on good terms. Which brings me to…

3. Commit to being a part of the transition.
One smart way to leave a commitment behind is to make a new commitment to help with the transition. Offer to help find a replacement. Train the new person. Write down everything you’ve been doing and how you’re doing it so the replacement can get up to speed fast. I write often about leaving behind a legacy. And helping with a transition will change a legacy that could have been “She left us when we needed her” to “She made sure we were okay before she left.”

These steps won’t necessarily apply to every scenario. Sometimes, circumstances dictate that you have to end a commitment immediately whether or not you’d like to. But as much as I encourage high school students to commit to activities that make them happy and to leave behind those that don’t, once you make those commitments, think twice before you do something that’s as bad for others as it will be good for you.