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When is it okay to quit?

quitter by jen collins (hellojenuine)

Two years ago in June, I walked into a CrossFit gym and started a workout with barely enough strength to lift the bar. This was embarrassing. I was not a newbie at all, but a nine-month veteran just home from three weeks away from the gym due to business travel. I was very familiar with the fact that I would not be as strong as when I left, but I wasn’t lifting any weight at all, I was just trying to lift the goddamn 35-pound bar.

Something was wrong. Something in my life beyond the gym was affecting my workout. And something needed to change.

That time I quit CrossFit

That summer my life was a mess – I was working for a manager who said I needed to do some “soul searching” to see if the job that I was doing was what I wanted to do, my husband and I were buying our first house, and I was discovering what it meant to be an “adult.”

They say that one of the main reasons why people work out is to relieve stress. But CrossFit is different; it requires concentration of your mind, body, and soul to push your body to do things that you never imagined it could. And as a friend put it, at CrossFit, you are very vulnerable. And those three things consumed all of my thoughts to the point that I could not put them aside so I could use my brain to focus on the work out at hand.

It was scary. And if you aren’t on solid ground mentally, emotionally, or physically, it makes it even worse.

And it can turn something you love into something that isn’t worth it anymore.

So I quit. I decided that I needed time away from this thing that I was growing to love. This activity that was the first and only form of working out that I ever “got.” This hobby that showed me I have damn good form and kick ass at lifting. This sport that was causing more stress that it was relieving.

The difference between quitting and failure

It’s okay to say enough is enough and put a stop to what’s not working. For me, quitting CrossFit allowed me to take one responsibility off the table so I could spend my energy on working through some really big milestones in my life. It allowed me to preserve the sanctity of CrossFit so that it would still be fresh when, or if, I decided to return.

The idea of quitting is romantic. It’s an action that many of us would like to do, but rarely act upon. And I’m not talking give-the-man-the-finger type of quitting; I’m talking about the “it’s not good for me anymore” type of quitting. The kind that slips out of your mouth over wine with a friend when you tell her about the job that you’re not into anymore or the man you’re seeing who doesn’t fulfill your life the way he used to; the kind that she’ll encourage you to get over and promise that that feeling will come back and that you’ll come out stronger than when you started.

Or, if she’s a good friend, she will tell you to listen to that feeling and just fucking do it.

I like how John Falchetto says it, quitting is a choice:

I chose to quit when there is no progress. When no matter the effort I am exerting, in whichever direction I am pushing no progress is made whatsoever. Sometimes it is easier to walk around the wall than try to push through it.

Quitting is not the same thing as failure. Failure is the act of something not working in the way that you intended it to work. Failure is an outcome, quitting is a choice. Failure is something that happens to you (or something you direct), quitting is you putting a screeching halt to something. And sometimes to prevent being run over by the train, you have to change the tracks and put up the stop sign.

And it’s okay.

Whether it’s a hobby, how you workout, your job, your lover, and even your best friend – quitting, when you know why you’re doing it, is okay.

Learning from the past

Technically this isn’t a story about quitting; it’s a story about hitting pause. Four months after I quit CrossFit, I found my way back. I resolved two of the three issues that got in my way during the summer and found a new gym. This new gym invited me to join their community and I fell back in love with CrossFit.

It wasn’t the same kind of love. This time, I know that I will have an “off” night and that things will happen at work and at home that will affect how I perform at the gym. There are nights when I will fight back tears because emotionally, I can’t find the strength to start or even finish a work out, but I will find the strength to show up. And that’s okay.

This time, the relationship is different because I am approaching it differently.

What have you quit? What did it teach you?

Photo credit: Jen Collins (hellojenuine)

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  • Karina Mill3r

    Really great post, Laura! I have quit jobs, relationships, homes, whatever wasn’t working. When I was younger, I used to run away from things. Now I typically choose to quit instead of run away. I think fear is the difference. When I ran away, the fear had me. Now when I quit something, I can face any fears I might have and own them, and then choose. I love your distinction of choosing versus failure. It’s all a matter of owning your power and your “say” in the matter.

    • Thank you — the way you summarized the difference between quitting and failure is the point I was trying to make. Actually, it comes down to the etymology of the word, “quitting” is something that you do, and “failure” is something that happens to you. There’s a follow up post in there.

      Thank you for your comment, Karina!

  • Hi Laura,
    Thank you for the kind mention.

    I think that quitting gets a bad rap, we should quit and also fail. There is nothing wrong with failing, it simply means we tried and it didnt work.

    Speaking of exercise, I recently quit my running club and started my own version of Cross fit, running short distances and doing interval workouts in the hill behind my house. I have a pull up bar, dip bar and logs for weights.

    I find it much more beneficial rather than destroying my body on long endurance runs.

    Quitting is tough because we are brainwashed by lousy teachers to never quit. We should quit often and never forget to start new things. If we never quit this means we never start anything new, how sad.

    Great post Laura and I wish you the best with your new gym 🙂

    • “If we never quit this means we never start anything new, how sad.”

      Very excellent point, John. Thank you for adding some more depth to this conversation.

      My new gym rocks. The community is much stronger and the main reason why I keep going back, and probably what was lacking from my last one 🙂

      I’m glad to hear about how you switched up your running. Sounds like your fitness goals may have changed as well. Either way, sounds fun!

  • Loving this post! As someone who is, ahem, going through some major life milestones I can full appreciate the difference between quitting and failing. It took me quite a while (and by a while i mean A WA-HIIIILE) to make that important distinction. Shit, why didn’t you write this post a few months ago? You know, you could have saved me a ton of time:P Thanks for sharing!

    • Thank you, Melissa, that means a lot to me. 

      The inspiration for this post came from seeing a friend at the gym go through the exact same thing I went through two years ago and I told her this story. So, if you want more wise knowledge about going through “milestones,” you should come to my gym and work out 🙂

      Glad I could help, Mel. And any time.

  • Laura, I’m glad that you found your way back to cross fit and that you were able to redefine your relationship with it. I fully agree with how you define that difference between quitting and failure. Some things actually *need* to be quit in order to make room for those things that are most important to you and where you can get a better return on your investment. In the end, it’s a decision that only you can make.

    Great post 🙂

    • “Some things actually *need* to be quit in order to make room for those
      things that are most important to you and where you can get a better
      return on your investment.”

      Excellent point. Thanks for the sweet comment, Therese!

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  • KRISHANAJAG

    What a simple yet important thought: Quitting is different from failing. I took a long time to understand this different myself. We millennials especially have a tendency to compete – with strangers, friends and even ourselves. We go through a constant re-evaluation of how better we can do or imrpove without necessarily prioritizing and letting go of some things. Letting a few things slip has provided me the clarity I needed through some phases of my life. The same goes to people actually- taking space and approaching a friendship with renewed positive energy sometimes helped strengthen and not destroy some relationships. Great post laura!