i quit t-shirt

8 Simple Ways To Quit Gracefully While You’re Ahead

8 mins

Pick the right time to quit a job, friendship or even marriage that’s no longer working before it affects your mental and even physical health

When New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern announced she was stepping down from her role, everyone nodded their head in approval. The youngest female head of government in the world when she was elected prime minister at 37, who also gave birth while in office, was citing burnout. 

But far from judging her, calling her weak or labelling her a quitter, we respected her decision. Global leaders rallied to praise not only her legacy, but also her strength and honesty at admitting enough was enough.

‘I know what this job takes. And I know that I no longer have enough in the tank to do it justice. It’s that simple,’ announced the 42-year-old. ‘I am human – politicans are human. We give all that we can for as long as we can. And then it’s time. And for me it’s time.’

Jacinda Ardern in pink jacket next to New Zealand flag before she quit as prime minister
Jacinda Ardern was respected for saying she had ‘nothing left in the tank’ when quit as New Zealand prime minister

Jacinda had looked at her values and worked out what was important to her and that, according to therapist and coach Becki Houlston, is the epitome of emotional intelligence.

‘She couldn’t divide herself between her roles of partner and mother to daughter Neve, and politician and prime minister,’ says Becki. ‘She had to prioritise and she made her decision. She listened to her gut instinct, she was true to her values and she communicated her decision with honesty and integrity.’

‘I know what this job takes. And I know that I no longer have enough in the tank to do it justice. It’s that simple’

Former New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern

But weren’t we all told, growing up, that quitting is bad? Doesn’t it make us flaky, weak and cowardly? Isn’t it the case that quitters never win and winners never quit? And doesn’t the world love a trier?

It’s time to question those outdated childhood rules, say experts. ‘Quitting is negative when we haven’t tried and we’re walking away from something because we can’t be bothered to put the effort in, or because we’re afraid of the hard work or confrontation staying entails,’ explains Becki. 

Adam Zargar, Director of UAE Coaching in Dubai, agrees: ‘If I was quitting because I’d been lazy and hadn’t tried various options or solutions, that wouldn’t be good.’

But equally toxic, experts insist, is staying put and keeping on trying, even though our efforts are in vain – whether we’re in an unhappy marriage, trying to grow vegetables in poor soil, or putting on art exhibitions that no one attends and are costing us money. 

It’s the metaphorical equivalent of watering plants long after they’re dead, in the hope a miracle will come along and they will revive. 

‘Staying and keeping going can lead to burnout. You’re putting so much energy into something that’s no longer serving you and you will be exhausted. The stress will start affecting your sleep and how you connect with people’ 

And it stops us pulling the plug for years, often decades. Year after year we put on charity events that don’t raise any funds, we carry on with our accountancy degree when we really want to study creative writing and we show up for karate classes when we’d much rather do yoga.

‘We’ve all seen business people whose projects aren’t working, and who have a business plan that’s flawed, yet they pour more investment in in the hope it will miraculously flourish,’ says Becki. ‘Or people who stay in a loveless marriage because they fear being alone in the world or they hope that one day their partner will love them.

‘We carry on meeting up with our old school friends out of loyalty, even though we’ve all completely evolved since our teenage years and we’re no longer the same people we were when we used to hang out. They’re quite annoying now and you have little in common but still you show up to the get-togethers. 

‘People stay in these situations for all sorts of reasons. They’re afraid to face failure, fear the loss that change brings. It can be very painful or worry too much about what other people will think about them.’

But staying in an unfulfilling job, controlling relationship, and even an outdated friendship can do more harm than good. 

i quit written in lipstick in notebook on office desk
Quitting shows emotional intelligence, say experts

‘Staying can also affect your confidence. If your motivation, interest and focus have gone, you may look at your poor results and think of yourself as lazy or incompetent when, in fact, it’s just not the right job for you.

‘As we grow, our careers and life goals change. It’s not worth investing your time and energy into a project that’s no longer aligned with your evolution. It could take you further away from your goals, leaving you frustrated.

‘It’s like swimming towards the shore, yet the current is taking you further away. At best you’ll get tired. At worst, you’ll drown.’

So what if, like Jacinda Ardern, our tank is empty? If we’re so focused on keeping on keeping on, how would we know?

‘If you’re no longer growing, and improving then it’s time to quit,’ says Adam.  ‘Growth plays a big part in our spiritual needs. Likewise, if you’re with someone who brings out the worst version of you, and leaves you tired, irritated and low, it’s time to call it a day. Being negative is a drain on your mental and physical health and the people around you.’ So how can we quit well? 

Get The Facts

‘Don’t expect people to be mind readers,’ says Becki. ‘If your boss is piling on work and you’re feeling overwhelmed, it may be because they’re having a difficult time with management, HR or at home, and they see you as a capable pair of hands. Talk about the issue first. Put some boundaries in so you get regular breaks and you finish on time without taking work home. That way, you’ll know you’ve given it your best shot if you decide to quit.’

Act The Part

‘When you leave, how you act rather than what you say speaks volumes about your character,’ says Adam. ‘You only know a person by how they leave you, so be as honest and respectful as you can be. Don’t blame or argue – you might be tempted but you won’t feel better for it in the long run.’

Reframe Quitting

‘Don’t associate quitting for the right reasons with shame or guilt,’ says Becki. ‘Instead think of it as evolution. You’re growing, changing and moving on. You’ve tried something and now you’re looking for something new, a fresh challenge. There’s no shame in that. It’s a sign of strength and resilience.’

Learn From Past Mistakes

‘Remind yourself of times in the past when you resisted letting go and it became painful,’ advises Becki. ‘You waited until you couldn’t stand another moment on that school reunion or you cried every weekend at the thought of going back to work. Listen to your gut instinct and recognise the signs. You might start to overeat. You might stop exercising. They’re your signs that things aren’t right.’

Do It In Person

Quit while you're ahead says therapist and coach Becki Houlston
Quit while you’re ahead says therapist and coach Becki Houlston

‘Never, ever quit in a text, WhatsApp or email,’ says Adam. ‘Do it in person and make sure the other person, whether it’s your boss or your partner, hears it from you first, and not on social media or in the gossip at the vending machine. Respecting the person or situation you’re leaving shows confidence. Make a point of saying you wanted to tell them first.’

Quit Intelligently

‘Don’t wait until you’re in so much pain that you get angry and stomp your way out of a relationship or a job,’ says Becki. ‘Quit while you’re ahead. Don’t let a bust-up over the knives and forks in the dishwasher end a 30-year marriage that’s been fading for a decade. Look at the situation calmly and try and talk it through rationally.’

Support Your Successor

Adam Zargar, Director of UAE Coaching in Dubai
Staying in a job or relationship that isn’t working for you is draining says Adam Zargar, Director of UAE Coaching in Dubai

‘If you’re leaving a job, ensure a smooth handover,’ recommends Adam. ‘Make sure the other person has everything they need to succeed. Give them your contacts, show them your filing system, talk them through the invoices, tell them how you managed your time and answer all their queries respectfully.’

Leave On A High

quitting on a high
Leaving on a high says volumes about your character

‘Make your last month in a job a great month,’ says Adam. ‘Work hard and be a positive energy force. You may need a reference at some stage in the future. Your manager may turn up in your new company, or they may know people at your new place. Organise a one-to-one and thank them for their support. You never know when you might meet these people again.’

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