When failure to quit is the problem

“Never quit!” is a nice mantra. Our culture is filled with iconic examples of people who resolutely forged ahead in spite of overwhelming odds to emerge successful. “Quitter” isn’t exactly a term a student would want to see used on their letter of recommendation for a college application.

But is quitting really all that bad? I’ve met very few adults who still show up for piano lessons like they did when they were eight. Successful people actually quit things all the time. They just do it responsibly as a way to achieve—not abandon—their goals.

If you quit something important just because it got difficult, or quit a commitment that leaves others in the lurch, or quit repeatedly and are constantly picking something new up and then putting it down, that’s potentially problematic.

But if you quit something that’s making you miserable, or that’s just not going anywhere, or that was an experiment from the start that proved unworthy of your time, please don’t forge ahead just to say you didn’t quit. And even worse, please don’t stay where you are because you think colleges will hold quitting against you.

Quitting frees you up to redirect that time, energy, and focus into something else. That’s the beauty of an effective quit. I once worked with a Collegewise student who led the varsity football team in tackles as a sophomore, then quit before his junior year and dedicated himself to an entirely new activity. As he explained in his essay, “I could just never quite wrap my ahead around being congratulated for attempting to take someone’s head off.” Today, he’s a graduate of Notre Dame.

Quitting doesn’t automatically equal failure. Sometimes the biggest problem is the failure to quit.