Personal Finance

How do you know when its time to quit?

“Of all the stratagems, to know when to quit is the best.” – Chinese Proverb

We live in a society that seems to adhere very strongly to the sentiments expressed by Vince Lombardi when he said, “Winners never quit and quitters never win.” Giving up on something is seen as a mark of weakness, a sign that we don’t have what it takes to see it through to the end. One thing I’ve learned over the past few years though is that, while there are definitely tried and true principles that work for a lot of people, there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to success. Each one of us has to find our own way to our goals and, it seems pretty logical to me, that we’re not always going to find the best path the first time around. This is especially true when it comes to finances!

Part of traveling the route to success is knowing when to get off a path that’s going nowhere near where we want to go (and not being afraid to do so). In a society that perceives quitting to be a negative thing, that isn’t always easy to do so here are five suggestions that might help you figure out whether it’s time to quit your current approach and try something different:

1. Trust your gut instinct

Humans are hard-wired with a powerful “fight or flight” instinct that is designed to protect us from potentially dangerous situations. Sometimes this works against us (for example when the brain becomes fearful of positive change) and sometimes it works in our favor. If your gut instinct is that you’re not moving in the right direction and yet there’s no concrete reason to be afraid then there’s a good chance that you’re right.

2. Apply a little logic

Everyone seems to have that one person in their life who sees the world in black and white, unclouded by emotions. However, because they view life through a logical rather than an emotional lens, these are not often the people we ask for advice because we much prefer talking to people who empathize with the emotional aspects of our decision-making process! Asking a logical person to comment on your situation might mean that there’s a good chance you’re not going to hear the answer you want to hear but you are going to hear the answer you need to hear. I owe a debt of gratitude to the logical friend who told me I needed to sell my house. It wasn’t the path I wanted to take but my gut instinct told me she was right and sure enough, the short-term pain of selling has paid huge dividends for me over the past two years.

3. Flip a coin

This might seem like a flippant approach to making significant life decisions but it can also be surprisingly effective. When faced with a difficult choice, simply select one option to be “heads” and the other to be “tails”. Then flip the coin. No matter how it lands you’ll have your answer: If you’re happy with the outcome then you can move forward but if you’re hoping for the coin to land a certain way or you’re disappointed by the outcome then you’ll know that the best move is to do the exact opposite of what the coin is telling you and follow the path attached to the other side!

4. Ask yourself “what if?”

Sometimes we get so caught up in the immediacy of a decision that we forget to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. When faced with a challenging decision, rather than dwelling on what might happen if I choose wrongly, I’ve learned to ask myself, “three years from now, will this matter?” and “how could my life changed for the better if I make this choice to do something differently?” There’s something about putting the choice into context and giving it a positive spin that makes it easier to deal with. Often, we’re afraid to give up on a path in case we make things worse but, more often than not, giving up on one thing opens up the possibility for something even better.

5. Create a caveat

A caveat is a little like a “get out of jail free” card in a monopoly game. It gives you the option to change your mind, to go back to your original path and take the lesson that goes along with the detour. While it’s true that, in life, there isn’t really an option for a “do-over” or a trial run, it’s also true that decisions can be changed and paths can be modified.18 months ago, I made the decision to fly halfway across Canada to take a new job. Thankfully, the opportunity worked out even better than I anticipated but even so, I’ve always had the option to go back. Sometimes, just knowing you have that option is the safety net you need to be able to keep taking risks and moving onward.

Too often, we see quitting as a weakness, a failure or a step backward when in reality it can be exactly the opposite. When I look back over the past 5, 10, 15 and 20 years, I can see very clearly that many of the decisions that caused me stress was actually inconsequential in the long term. I can also see that the choices that had the most positive impact were the ones that felt right but required a huge leap of faith.

From a financial perspective, if what you’re doing isn’t working then you need to consider quitting your current approach and trying something different. Whether that’s a new system, more education or simply making different choices doesn’t matter. What matters is that you stop doing something that isn’t working, in favor of doing something that could work better. At worst, you’ll learn what not to do, at best you’ll change your future for the better.


  1. Alan H

    Flipping a coin for a life-changing decision, I think I couldn’t do that, it’s too scary, definitely. I think trusting his gut is perhaps the best advice, listening to relatives is also vital for this kind of decision.

  2. Agnes Knowles

    I feel strongly that the opposite of success does not have to be failure. Changing routes, changing tactics, checking and adjusting, even terminating a project is not necessarily “quitting” or “failing”. It’s usually strategic!

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