Educated parents have their kids in an average of five hours of activities per week. That’s a lot of driving around to swimming lessons and dance classes, so I understand why people think it’s important to stick with this stuff. I’m like that, too. I drive 20 hours a week to my kids’ music lessons.
But I still say that if you want to raise a really successful child, you should let them quit things. Often.
1. You learn to know what you like.
If you have to do something whether or not you like it, then you don’t have to do the hard thinking about how much you actually like it. When kids go to school, they have to get good grades in all subjects. So kids are essentially penalized if they decide they don’t like a subject and quit trying. There’s no reward for figuring out what you like. There’s only a bad letter grade.
My son started violin when he was three. It was my decision, not his. By age eleven I was so sick of his complaining about practice that I told him he could quit. And you know what? He said he didn’t want to. And he never complained about practice after that, because he knew he played violin because he likes it.
2. You learn to see quitting as part of the process of succeeding.
I’ve launched four startups, and each time I’ve worked with people who were incredibly successful even though they’d experienced a ton of failure. You can’t launch a startup if you’re not willing to fail. But the interesting thing about failure in the startup world is that you don’t really fail until you quit. You have to put all your stuff on the table and just walk away in order for the startup to officially fail. Which is why the majority of all startup founders quit.
To understand the value of quitting consider that venture capitalists prefer to fund startup founders who have at least one company under their belt. If they failed—quit the startup—that’s okay. It’s the experience of working hard and then quitting that looks valuable to the investors.
And as a career adviser I’ve seen that people who are most able to get what they want out of their careers are people who are most willing to take risks, including quitting. Every time those people quit they learn more about themselves. They learn not to be afraid of starting something new.
3. The more you quit the more you learn.
We actually all know this, we just don’t think about it that way. How does anyone find a life partner? Date a lot of people that turn out to be terrible. How do you find the place you feel best living? Live in places that don’t feel as good. We are notoriously terrible at predicting what will feel good to us, which means trying and failing is the best way to find out.
The challenge for anyone is to quit more and more things to keep learning about yourself. Parents should encourage your kids to try things and quit activities they don’t like. Also parents should model the behavior of a quitter. Let your kids see you trying new things and deciding if it feels right. Let your kids watch you learning fast from starting a lot and quitting a lot.
A word of caution, though: If you quit everything, all the time, then there’s nothing at stake when you quit – everything is ephemeral. Which gives you context for my constant diatribe against parents who divorce. And do you know a good way to avoid divorce? Start and quit often so you know better who you are and what you need by the time you get married.
Quitting, then, is the key to being able to commit in a meaningful way. To work, to people, to our dreams.