When Is It OK to Quit?

Don Giannatti
8 min readAug 27, 2020
Is it ever a good time to quit? Yes, it can sometimes be your only out.

We hear a lot about not quitting, sticking it out to the end.

“Persevere”, I often say. “Don’t quit when you are almost there!”

My heart is in the right spot, I know that. And I will continue to make it known that quitting, walking away, giving up is the LAST resort. The VERY LAST RESORT and that we should indeed persevere until we can no longer move.

That also means having a lot of carefully formed self-awareness. I don’t want you to persevere until you are broke and living under a bridge. I don’t want you to keep pushing if it costs you a family or a loved one. Or your sanity.

So you have to KNOW when the line is about to be crossed, and you have to KNOW how far you can go before the necessity of quitting becomes clearly the best option.

And sometimes it IS the best option.

But there are things we can do along the way, little things we can quit doing before we have to quit the big thing we WANT to do.

We want to be visual creators. We want to be relevant. We want to be seen as a contributor to the fabric of our world.

And we don’t want to be seen as a quitter, someone who couldn’t ‘handle’ it. Even though that is certainly a good reason to quit. If you cannot handle the pressure of self-employment, it is best you don’t put all your efforts trying to ‘deal’ with it. You probably won’t be able to.

And that is OK.

Perhaps that isn’t quitting at all. Perhaps that is recognizing some facts about yourself that come with a strong self-awareness. That is a very good thing. Changing direction for the right reasons isn’t really quitting at all.

It is the powerfully positive act of re-allocating personal resources towards something that can bring you more joy, more financial stability, and more sleep.

Not everyone is right for self-employment and entrepreneurship.

However, before we take the drastic action of dropping the cameras off at the local Goodwill and burning the portfolio during a drunken binge of self-pity, we could try quitting a few other things that are smaller in scope, and thereby take some stress off.

One thing that we can do is to be more aware of the importance of the word ‘no’.

Knowing what to say ‘no’ to is as important as knowing what you should be doing positively. The power of YES is slightly less than the power of NO.

Let’s think about all the things we say yes to that get us into trouble. Whether it is over-committing to a project, or letting the client dictate unfavorable terms while we squirm too afraid to say “no, that is not how I do things”, saying yes at the wrong time can create far too much stress in our real life. You know, the one with conflicting deadlines, taxes, and cash-flow.

Let’s quit saying yes to every little thing that comes down out of a fear that a no will somehow show you in a negative light.

We can become afraid of no because we want to be people-pleasers with capitol “P’s”. Saying no makes us seem negative, we tell ourselves. We want to be positive and always ready for the next big thing someone brings us.

Actually, being stressed out, missing deadlines because you are over-committed, and showing up in baggy clothes because all you can afford to eat is Ramen with the prices and terms you accepted is NOT positive. Nobody thinks it is, either.

Let’s learn to say ‘no’ when we need to. I don’t know where that line is for you, but you for sure know where it is.

Quick answer: Do you spend too much time on Social Media?

I don’t know what “too much” means to you, but your first thought was probably right. And for a lot of us, that answer is ‘yes’. Social media has one overarching reason to exist… to KEEP you on the platform so they can keep numbers up and sell advertising for more money.

Facebook does not exist to help you connect with old friends. Instagram is not there for sharing photographs of your trip to Egypt. Pinterest is not a ‘fun place to see stuff for sale’. These are businesses and they have the very best people they can find working on ways to keep you coming back more and more and staying longer and longer.

So if you think you are spending too much time there, you are probably right. The best minds in the business are working hard to make you do that. The only way to change that up is to confront it knowing that it is a powerful apparatus you are engaged with.

But you can moderate, slow down, limit, or otherwise replace that social media habit with something else.

Here’s what I am doing. For every hour I spend on social media, I must have spent two hours creating something. Create twice as much as I consume and keep that ratio moving more toward the creation rather than the consumption.

Quitting social media seems like a good idea, but it most likely is not. There is a lot of value to be found there if we can control our access to it on our own. And ‘quitting’ gives social media too much power.

What we can control we have power over. If we quit it, we are saying it has so much power over us that we cannot control ourselves. That is NOT a good place to be.

Don’t quit, moderate it so YOU gain the upper hand in your personal consumption.

Many times our reality is the story we tell ourselves. And we tell ourselves a lot of stories.

We have stories about this person or that company that run through our minds when they are mentioned. Corporations work had to form stories about themselves that we will use to translate into transactions.

Branding is simply storytelling. Whether the brand is a product or service, or your own personal story, what we tell ourselves is what we believe.

Quit the negative stories. As fast as you can.

Ditch them fast. As fast as you can.

Change your story before you quit because you have the wrong story running around in your brain.

In one case, I know a photographer who is very talented, with serious studio skills and a wonderful sense of creativity. But the story this photographer tells themselves is “it can’t be done’.

And they back it up with story after story of why it cannot be done. No one is working as a photographer, there’s no way to start, no one wants to see new work…. And on and on and on.

Provide 10 positive ideas and they will have 20 reasons why those ideas won’t work.

For years I had a friend who was one of the best guitar players I ever knew. And I knew some good ones. He drove limos, he learned to cook, he tried his hand at professional gambling, and eventually ended up finishing his life running a motel somewhere in southern California. Gone at 61.

He went to one or two auditions back in the day and was highly praised, but didn’t get the gig. So he quit trying, began telling himself and anyone within earshot how unfair the music industry was, and how no one could ever make a living playing music, and how it was all so unfair.

Hell of a story. He had decades to perfect it, and by damn he did. After listening to him for a half-hour anyone would start to believe it… that no one was making any money as a professional musician.

Except all those musicians making an amazing living making music, of course.

But his story included all sorts of incredible reasons why they were able to do it and not him and definitely not you or anyone else.

He never stopped playing the guitar and was so gifted a player that I found myself doing everything I could to get him a gig or another audition.

But against the story he told himself and believed I didn’t stand a chance.

Quit your negative storytelling and start reframing who and what you do into a story that uplifts you, converts your failures into experiments, and gives you room to expand.

Negative stories are like dungeons with no windows, no doors, and not enough air.

Quit measuring your spot by where other’s spots are.

Candyland is a game for young children. You cannot ‘game’ it, become good at it, or cheat in any way. Pure chance mixed with the serendipity of where you are on the path determines who gets to the end fastest.

I play “Candyland” with my 4-year-old granddaughter. It is a game of complete chance and you move your piece by choosing a random card with colors on it. There is no skill involved, no way to cheat, no way to be ‘really good’ at it.

One of the things you learn while playing Candyland is that there are no guarantees in life (or the cards). You can be near the top, draw the wrong card, and be sent packing all the way to the beginning only to start up the path again.

And again.

So when you look at the other pieces on the board you realize they have nothing at all to do with where you are, how you got there, and where you are going to go next.

That is chance, brother.

When we measure ourselves by where someone else is in the game, we begin to blame and look for reasons why we are not ahead of them. It was that person’s fault, or something wrong with the system, or we are being brutalized by something we are or believe.

The truth is that they are on their own game and we are on our own. We do not have any responsibility for where they are, and where we are is a mix of choices we made, and random shit that just happens.

Quit playing the game as a competitor, and begin to play as a participant. Life is a participation event, not a competition to get to the end.

Fuck the end, I want to keep playing as long as I can, and I don’t know what winning or losing even means in life. Lose what? Win what?

We can make tremendous growth when we quit or at least moderate some of the things that we do and engage with in our lives.

I have found that — for me — the ability to choose my story, control my environment, control my time and work, and understand that ‘random’ is the most prevalent trait in the universe has given me a more stress-free life.

But it isn’t easy to do, and I struggle along with all of you from day to day.

Let’s quit together, or at least change our stories, and be more happy, self-aware, and empathetic to our friends, family, and strangers we meet along this winding road of life. The one with little colored squares on them.

Smile, hold your breath and draw the next card.

Don Giannatti

Designer. Photographer. Author. Entrepreneur: Loving life at 100MPH. I love designing, making photographs and writing.