Sometimes Quitting Is Powerful. Sometimes It Isn't

How to know when to call it quits (or not!).

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Quitting Is the Ultimate Power Move

Mallory Rice, deputy editor, @mallory-rice

When I talk about my love of quitting, I am not talking about some kind of grand, dramatic gesture, à la Jerry Maguire flailing his briefcase around in a room full of stunned coworkers. I'm talking about life's smaller moments. The kind of quitting you can do dozens of times a day. The kind of quitting that only seems insignificant because "not quitting" is so accepted as the default mode that it never even occurred to you to do otherwise.

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I'm talking about throwing away food that sucks as soon as you realize you hate it. Books with bad first chapters? Use them for trash-can three-pointers. The birthday party of that one girl from your old job who you never liked? Don't go. Seriously, stop going to those! Do literally anything else. Like, for example, nothing.

Maybe next year, Janice. Probably not, though.
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I think the comedian John Mulaney said it best: "It's so much easier not to do things than to do them. That you would do anything is totally remarkable. Percentage-wise it is 100 percent easier not to do things than to do them. And so much fun not to do them! Especially when you were supposed to do them. In terms of, like, instant relief, canceling plans is like heroin."

There are two important points I'd like to make about the virtues of quitting. The first is that smart people cut their losses. You bought end-of-day sushi and the first bite was sweaty and weird and made you gag a little. But you spent $7.99 on it and now, because of that investment, you think you need to honor that eight bucks by torturing yourself. Stop it. Go buy some pizza.

And the book? The writer should have tried harder. They should have labored over their first line. I mean, come on. This is their book! If the author didn't care enough about it to write a dope opening line, neither do I. I'm not going to suffer through it when I can just read the first sentence of Brighton Rock on an infinite loop. When you quit devoting time and energy to things that are not living up to your standards, you free yourself up for other things that will. Cut your losses and move on to something better.

The other important point about the power of quitting is that by only doing things you actually want to do, people will know that when you do things, it's authentic. You're not some passive worm who accepts invites to things you don't really want to go to or gives compliments because you think you need to say something. Not doing things is not only easy: it's a strong statement. You think for yourself. You do things because you want to. And when you no longer want to do things, you stop.

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Like writing this article. I'm over it. Plus, it's getting late in the day and I want to buy sushi before it gets gross.

A Case of the Quit Regrets, or: Why, Nevertheless, You Should Persist

Rebecca Bates, senior editor, @re.beccabates

Before I relay this story of what I'm calling "quit regret," know that while abandoning this activity was urgent on a micro level, it's the macro consequences that I wish I could alter.

For a few years, I took classes at a prominent improv and sketch comedy theater in New York. I completed the core improv curriculum at this theater, and then applied to the training center's advanced program. Many students who apply to take advanced courses are not accepted the first time they apply. I was.

I put this so frankly because that fact alone was profoundly validating for me. It meant making myself vulnerable to an audience, to my classmates, to my teachers had value to those people, that I was contributing positively to a collective experience. It also seemingly meant I hadn't spent $350-$400 per class for nothing.

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Improv students at the theater are encouraged to form practice groups outside of class and work with coaches (often very talented former students themselves). Many of these groups become indie teams that play free shows in basements choked with mold underneath fratty bars named for horse racing awards. These are some of the weirdest, clumsiest, best comedy shows you can see in New York.

Some students in the second improv course I took invited me to join their practice group, which they were hoping to turn into an indie team. Our first few shows were painfully bad, and aside from my boyfriend, only one other loyal fan attended every single one of our performances. But being kind of terrible at something had never been such a confidence booster.

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A few months into my performing with this team, one of my male teammates seemed to develop a rage crush on me. I simply don't know how else to characterize his constant awkward questioning about my then-boyfriend (yes, we were still together, and would my teammate please stop asking?), the uncomfortable staring that didn't stop even when I demanded it to. This person also ended up in every single one of the courses I took at the comedy theater. He would dog me before class and during breaks and follow me to the train afterward. There is no indie improv team worth feeling like someone is slowly chipping away at your personal boundaries.

Very few things are worth quitting entirely because standing up for yourself is scary.

I had to quit this indie team, and I did so abruptly, mere hours before our next show. The rage crusher did what all rage crushers do: he raged—in the form of a 1,500-word email detailing how I could have better behaved myself in the process of quitting. The next day was also our advanced study class show, for which the teacher would divide students into two teams, to simulate what performing on a house team is like. The instructor made sure not to put me on a team with the rage crusher, and offered to have the theater get involved if I felt truly unsafe. No, I told her, that wouldn't be necessary.

The only thing I did wrong was essentially quit doing comedy altogether because of this. If I wanted to take another class at the theater, I would have to make sure this antagonistic person was not also on the roster, which would probably mean meeting with training center administrators. I was emotionally skittish and tired, and this just seemed like too much.

This would all be easier to do if I had persisted.

But, also, very, very few things are worth quitting entirely because standing up for yourself is scary and hard and may require multiple attempts. Comedy isn't one of those things, especially for women.

Advanced study classes at this theater are filled either by lottery or by teacher selection. It would be another year and a half before I tried getting into a class, and even since then, I've only rarely submitted my name. It's incredibly difficult for anyone to get into a class at this level. But every time I'm not selected, I assume this is due to a defect particular to me, specifically that I've been away for so long. Like the improv universe is punishing me for chickening out, as if that's even a thing.

These days, I occasionally write outlines for sketches and save them in obscurely named folders. I do intend to flesh them out one day. At Sweet, I try to find and promote the work of comedians I came into contact with, when I can. I would still like to start a (funny) podcast with friends about some weird, niche obsession.

The act of quitting is often an immediate barrier we need to construct out of self-preservation. But left up for too long, this barrier can become an obstacle. Had I continued taking classes there despite the uncomfortable, necessary conversations, I wouldn't be left feeling so alienated. When I think about doing comedy, I don't feel regretful even most of the time. It's just that this would all be easier to do if I had persisted.

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