3 Signs It's (More Than) OK To Quit, From A Psychotherapist
I was all alone on a Sunday night in the dark office lined with gray cubicles when I suddenly started to panic.
I can't seriously be quitting my first job after less than three months. What is everyone going to think? What if I can't find another job? What exactly am I going to tell my boss?
Despite all the worries running through my mind, I knew I had to do it. What I didn't realize at the time, was that this was about to be one of the proudest moments of my adult life.
Yes, quitting was one of my proudest moments!
The next morning, my boss escorted me into his glass office and told me to have a seat. I was shaking. "I can't work for someone who talks to Liz the way you do," I told him. Rick would regularly stand over my co-worker Liz's desk, yelling at her and belittling her for everyone to see and hear. The entire office was well aware, and nobody was doing anything about it.
"I know, I know. I'm working on it," he responded. He seemed earnest, and in some ways, I'm surprised I didn't feel more empathetic. But in that moment, my anxiety subsided, and a wave of certainty fell over me. "That's just not good enough," I said. "It's abusive, and I won't tolerate it."
My certainty in that moment assured me I was doing the right thing, and it was prompted by three clear signs.
3 signs it's time for you to quit:
You feel the need to put your foot down.
As a Division I college basketball player, quitting was not something I took lightly. Any athlete knows what I'm talking about. You just don't quit—ever. This was deeply ingrained in me since the age of 5, yet this was not the first time I mustered up the courage to quit something.
It was the summer after my sophomore year in college, and our team had just been to Europe. I was at my peak, and my coaches were excited about my promise for the upcoming season. But off the court, I was struggling—big time.
Months earlier, I was raped by someone on the men's team, and I had spiraled into a deep depression. When I wasn't playing basketball, I was either sleeping or drinking. I missed a lot of class. I was fairly good at keeping up appearances, but inside, I was falling apart. My coach begged me not to quit. She flew to my home in Chicago, sat in my living room, and pleaded with me. But again, there was that wave of certainty.
I knew it was time to prioritize my mental health, and I wasn't going to change my mind about that. Though disappointed, my coach let it go, and she continued to support me in ways I'll never forget. I took time away from basketball and off of school. I focused on therapy. I took care of myself. And after one year, I returned to all of it a much healthier version of myself.
You feel the need to protect your mental health.
I was definitely grateful for the timely waves of certainty I felt in these situations because, believe me, I know we aren't always so lucky. Sometimes it's really hard to explain or justify our reasons for wanting to quit. Sometimes we don't know what we need—we just know we need the room to figure it out. I've been there, too.
After I quit that first job, I had no idea what I wanted to do. I was terrified of getting myself into another situation that would leave me looking flighty, so I decided to go back to school. I got a master's in education (M.Ed.) thinking I would teach psychology and coach basketball because those were things I liked as a student and as a player.
Turns out, that was a disaster.
To me, student teaching felt like giving an oral presentation all day, every day, for the rest of my life. It was basically my worst nightmare. I'm not sure why it took me an entire master's program to figure that out, but it did. Two full years and how many thousands of dollars later? This felt heavy. How could I quit before I even started? I had very little money. I had no idea what I wanted. I just knew I didn't want to teach—at all.
With two small words, my therapist changed my life forever: "So, don't."
You feel the need to follow your authentic path.
I never applied for a teaching job. I took off with my best friend across the country for several weeks. We hiked, camped, spent next to nothing, and contemplated the meaning of life. Through our conversations, I learned about myself and what I wanted. I learned that I wanted to dig in deeper with people.
I now have my Ph.D. in clinical social work, and I've done deeply meaningful work with homeless women, at-risk youth, and survivors of sexual assault. I've had my own private practice for 10 years. I got married and had two beautiful children (twins!). Most recently, I co-founded and designed a new app that helps people take healthy risks to build meaning in their own lives.
I will be 40 this month, and I could not be happier about it because I am exactly where I want to be. And trust me, I would not be here without each one of these quits.
Quitting is too often viewed as a sign of weakness. We think we've failed, or we berate ourselves for foolishly committing to something in the first place. But this mentality is damaging. Quitting for the right reason is an absolute sign of strength and resilience.
Not only is quitting nothing to be ashamed of—it's actually something to be super proud of.
So, how do you decide if it's the right reason, the right move? Your experience doesn't have to fit into these three examples. There's always one simple question you can ask yourself: Does this quit move me closer to the person I am striving to become?
If the answer is no, that's not a problem—maybe you're just a little nervous. But if the answer is yes, that's all the clarity you need to quit, grow, and thrive.
Kate Smaller, Ph.D., LCSW, M.Ed., is a psychotherapist and entrepreneur helping people propel forward on their unique path to a more authentic, meaningful, and fulfilling life. She received a Bachelor's degree in psychology from Cornell University, a Masters in Social Work from Loyola University Chicago, a Masters in Education from DePaul University in Chicago, and a Doctorate at the Institute for Clinical Social Work.
Smaller is the co-founder and CEO of the health and wellness app, KOZIST, which offers a twist on social media while driving personal growth and delivering rich mental health benefits.