Dr Bev Smallwood

Articles Library: Coping

Knowing When To Quit

Last weekend I was working at the piano with my 5-year-old granddaughter, Scarlett. She and my other grandchildren are showing signs of wonderful musical talent. We had made it about half way through the song she was learning (Barney’s “I Love You, You Love Me”) when the tune became more difficult. She began making a few mistakes, which she does not like to do. Suddenly she complained, “BeBe, my stomach’s hurting. I need to stop now and work on this later.”

Now I can relate to that. I’ve gotten a many an “emotional stomachache” when I’ve become discouraged and tired. But I’ve learned the value of persistence, and I tried to share it with her.

“Scarlett, I know it’s kind of hard in this spot, and it’s OK to take a rest. But when you’re learning anything new and it get tough, you just have to keep on working at it until it becomes easier. Don’t give up!”

Good advice in this case? Yes.

Always good advice? Not necessarily, despite admonitions we’ve internalized, like…

“Winners never quit…”

“Never give up!”

“Don’t be a quitter!”

Despite what enthusiastic motivational speakers and well-meaning parents and friends have told you…THERE IS A TIME TO QUIT. Yet, many a determined, loyal, compassionate, persistent person has been unable to discern that time.

Let’s explore some of the mental blinders that can hinder your view of when it’s time to walk away. As we look at these, I invite you to think of situations, past or present, when these emotional cataracts have dimmed your vision.

1. I Don't Want To Be a Quitter

TRUTH: There is a difference between the act of quitting something that has become energy-robbing and resource-depleting…and BEING a quitter. “Being a quitter” means that you are in the HABIT of giving up, not finishing anything, tossing in the towel each time there is a problem or difficulty. Choosing to terminate a specific plan, relationship, job, or habit that has become self-destructive is not a sign of weakness, but of wisdom.

2. What Will People Think Of Me?

TRUTH: It’s true, there may be those who are critical of your actions. If you care to, you can share the reasons for your decision to walk away to people who really matter to you. Hopefully, they will either understand, or will continue to love you despite their lack of understanding.

Yes, there are those who are looking for a reason to criticize. No matter what decision you make about the situation you’re facing, these folks will find some way to put you down. You’ll never please them. Don’t give them rent-free space in your head.

Here’s a shocker. The majority don’t care! Often, we have the mistaken belief that others are constantly monitoring us. (It’s a rather narcissistic view, in a way.) Most often, other people are so concerned about their own lives, they are not taking that much time to examine ours!

Is it possible that you will disappoint some people? Yes.

The reality is, no one has walked in your shoes. No matter what it looks like to others, you know what you’ve been through, what you’ve tried and how many times, and the heartache you’ve felt. Only you and God know that.


TRUTH: It gets much harder to quit when you’ve invested lots of time, money, and/or energy. The admission of “wasted years” makes it emotionally difficult to change directions. (Note, however, that no years are really wasted…you’ve learned much through them.) Many a gambler has “thrown good money after bad”, trying to recoup financial losses or to hit the jackpot he once hit or saw someone hit.

This isn’t smart. There is a time to “cut your losses” and move on, rather than continuing to invest in a losing proposition.

4. Better the Devil You Know...

TRUTH: One of the greatest deterrents to change is the fear of the unknown.

There is a sense in which we prefer the “known uncomfortable” to the uncertainty of the unknown, even if the possibility/probability is that the change will be for the better. Positive change always involves temporarily giving up a sense of predictability (even if what we predict is awful) and a sense of competence (knowing what to do, even if we hate doing it).

Next weekend, the circus is coming to town, and Joseph, Ethan, Eli, Scarlett, and I will have our yearly circus adventure. One of our favorite acts is the flying trapeze. A mental picture of that trapeze artist just flashed in my head. I can only imagine what it must be like to let go of that trapeze and fly through the air, uncertain of the exact position of the trapeze you must somehow find if you are to keep from falling to possible injury, or at the least, humiliation.

Isn’t that a little what it’s like…afraid to let go of what we have, afraid we’ll be unable to grasp new things that will add quality to our lives?

Yet, every positive change you ever made began with an ending. Think about it.

5. There's Always Hope

TRUTH: I approach this one with a little trepidation, because I hesitate to tamper with one of the most positive forces God gave us in this universe…Hope. I believe in hope, which gives us the will to keep moving. In fact, my psychological clinic is named “The Hope Center”. I am Hope’s biggest fan.

And, for the record, I believe in God-given miracles. I’ve experienced them on several occasions.

Got it? Good. Now, let me stir the waters a bit.

I believe from the bottom of my heart that every living, breathing individual has a purpose in life and hope for a future. So, in that sense, there’s always hope.

But I do NOT believe that every situation is salvageable, or that everything should be salvaged. The question becomes, is there is a real alternative that provides significantly greater potential for the fulfilling and productive use of your personal strengths and talents in accomplishing your mission? Or, is this situation habitually creating more harm than good for you or those who matter to you?

It’s tempting to look for the small, sporadic past or present example of how this situation or person CAN be different. For instance, I’ve had women in counseling tell me how nice their husbands are when they’re NOT drinking (or gambling, or beating them). I challenge them with the same question I’ll give to you. Candidly ask yourself, “What is the consistent, overall PATTERN, and is it destructive or constructive in my life?”

What Do You Need To Quit?

I was amused recently when I read a quote by W.C. Fields: “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again. Then quit. There’s no use being a d*** fool about it!”

I admit there have been many times in my life that I’ve been foolishly loyal, or stubborn, or scared…and this foolishness has cost me in wasted time, money, and opportunities. In fact, writing this article has made me uncomfortable in a couple of areas of my current life. I know that, if I am to accomplish some things God has created me to do, there are things I must let go of. It’s difficult for me, too, and I teach this stuff!

Are there things in your life that are there, just because they’ve been there a long time? Yet they are taking up space that new and challenging endeavors could occupy? What destructiveness are you trying to deny because its admission would mean you had to consider real change?

Are your coping skills TOO good? Have you tolerated, pushed down, ignored, and been “psychotically optimistic?”

Is it time to be dead-level honest with yourself?

Remember…every wonderful new beginning begins with an ending.

There is a time to quit.

Dr. Bev Smallwood is a psychologist and professional speaker who is the author of “This Wasn’t Supposed to Happen to Me.” Visit her website, www.DrBevSmallwood.com; or contact Bev at 601.264.0890 or by email, Bev@DrBevSmallwood.com. Also connect with Bev on Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, and her blogs, Shrink Rap and New Morning Devotionals.

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