16 September, 2019

It's okay to quit

It’s funny where I get inspiration for my blog posts. I’m listening to an interview with an author* about early and late bloomers that is, essentially, criticising the pressure put on children and young people to achieve early, to go straight to university /college after high school, and to dive into a high-achieving career, regardless of whether it is right for the individual, regardless of the toll that the pressure takes from then, and regardless of whether they are mentally ready for that. He talks about the benefits of patience, of waiting to find out who you are, of not succumbing to pressure.

In the midst of the interview, he mentioned that it doesn’t help that there is a “cult of tenacity” in US culture. My ears pricked up. It’s not exclusive to the US, of course. It’s very strong in many (but not all) western societies, and perhaps even stronger in many of the Asian societies that are familiar to me. And as we know, it’s not exclusive to studying or career paths.

“It’s okay to quit,” he said. “Quitting is just a decision that our energy is better used elsewhere. Tenacity has its merits, but tenacity that is stupidly applied will burn you out, and not get you where you want to go.” He used the example of over-training physically, or focusing on only one way of training even when it is not working for you.

Is this ringing any bells? Tenacity in and of itself is not guaranteed to get you where you want to go. Those of us who are living No Kidding lives know that. But we’ve had the messages of tenacity thrown at us most of our lives, and certainly in terms of those efforts to conceive and carry a child.

“Never give up!” say people who think that tenacity will achieve anything.

Apply yourself and you can achieve anything,” say the people who were lucky enough to have achieved through (or perhaps even despite, tenacity), assuming that this is all anyone needs, when clearly it is not.

“Keep going,” say the people who got their desired results, convinced that what they think worked for them would work for us.

“You gave up!” they judge, thinking that tenacity is a virtue, and clearly we weren’t as strong or dedicated as they were, or that we just didn’t want it enough to continue.

So it is refreshing to hear people say that it is okay to quit, even in different contexts. Not that I need someone to tell me it was okay to quit. It was/is not anybody’s business but my own (and my husband’s). I’m at peace now.

But if talking about this starts to chip away at the grip that the cult of tenacity has on our societies then I will be happy. If it makes people think about how they put pressure on others, how they judge others, and how unfair this is, then I approve. And I approve especially if it allows people who are stuck in infertility’s waiting room to feel better about taking one of the other doors in order to escape. If it helps them doing so without the sometimes cripplingguilt and self-doubt that many of us face at this stage of the journey, then I wholeheartedly approve.

After all, to repeat his comment, quitting is just a decision that our energy is better used elsewhere. And when we’re at the end of the road, and have no expectation of success despite continued tenacity, then it is logical and healthy to choose to direct our energy and our hopes somewhere else.

* Here’s a link to an excerpt of the book – Late Bloomers by Rich Karlgaard.


  1. Love this counterpoint to the conventional wisdom of tenacity: "“Quitting is just a decision that our energy is better used elsewhere." So true.

    Not IF-related at all, but I recall I once wrote on the dilemma of tenacity: https://lavenderluz.com/tenacity/

  2. I too love that new way of looking at quitting that Lori quoted above. It can really put things in perspective.

  3. Quitting to start a new path. Quitting to end stagnation. Quitting to live fully again. Quitting can take more courage than staying a course that isn't working. Quitting can be an affirmation of life. Culturally the message sent is 'do not quit' ... but lots of cultural messages are "tripe" or even 'rotting tripe". Culturally women are lesser beings than men as an example.
    Thank you for posting about this.

  4. Yes, this lesson can definitely be applied to the world of infertility. In Ireland a lot of people take some time off in between finishing school or finishing university and starting to work to go traveling actually. It's great to have that chance to mature and see the world before committing to a job

  5. I've been learning this lesson this year as I stepped back from full-time work to work on myself. I keep watching promotions that I'm eligible and competitive for float by. Letting go of the achieve at all costs mindset is difficult.

  6. Oh, this is one of my favourite topics. :) My only caveat is when kids enrol in music lessons or a sports team, etc... I know some parents have a rule that they have to finish out the season, especially when fees have been paid up front and are not refundable. That seems fair to me. But there is no harm in trying something for a while and then ultimately deciding it's not for you & your time and money and energy would be better spent elsewhere. And of course that goes for infertility treatments too.

  7. Perfectly said. I like the way of thinking that quitting is just a redirection of energy. Very nice. I really like this post and everyone's comments.

  8. Holy jeezum YES! I LOVE this. I feel like the pushing and the judging never stops. I feel like a weird naysayer when I crop up at school and interject into the "never give up, you can achieve ANYTHING, set a goal and meet it, just don't give up!" tropes that go through me like a nail. I want there to be persistence and stamina, but I also want kids to know that there can be a point where a particular path doesn't make sense anymore, and that "quitting" that to pursue something else is fine. Thank you for posting this, I love it and will bookmark it! How refreshing!

  9. Yes, I love your post! Earlier this year I was reading a book about career development, where the author wrote:
    "Overcoming deficits is an essential part of the fabric of our culture. (...) "You can be anything you want to be, if you just try hard enough". Like most people, I embraced this maxim at a young age. (...) This might sound like a heretical point of view, especially for those of us who grew up believing the essential American myth that we could become anything we wanted. Yet it's clear from our research that each person has greater potential for success in specific areas, and that the key to human development is building on who you already are."
    Of course, this was written for the professional context, but I found this very relevant also for my situation: building on who I am rather than on who I would have liked to be.

  10. Yes! All of this. I have a book on my list called The Dip. The cover says it's the book that teaches you when to quit. Funny how some of us need to learn this lesson.