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.

42 replies
  1. Barry
    Barry says:

    Yes, it’s like “failing fast”: get into it, give it a good honest try, and if it’s not gaining momentum, toss it and move on.

  2. MBL
    MBL says:

    Yay! I have gotten so tired of hearing about “grit.” I certainly think it is vital to be able to push through some things you don’t like to get to what you do want. But seeing things through for the sole purpose of avoiding quitting isn’t the way to go.

    Two nights ago I asked my 9 year old what her goals were. She wants to start running, sell the polymer beads and figures she has been making, and master telekinesis–we have read 5 Alexander Key books in 6 days, so… It should be interesting to see in which areas she perseveres and which she quits.

  3. sheela
    sheela says:

    How does the example of your son and violin prove your point? I have tried out gymnastics/ dance/ soccer/ swim / piano lessons on my kid and she quit every one. The only thing she seems to enjoy is skiing so I was thinking to try the race team next year but today she just wanted to sit in the lodge after an hour. Now I think, well, I have quit every job I ever had, and I’m not talking cool, starting-up things jobs, I’m talking middle school teaching and grant writing. So she’s learned how to quit from a quitting master. It just feels like a curse to me.

  4. Maria
    Maria says:

    I hate quitting.

    I have to be threatened, asked to do something unethical, my paycheck has to bounce, or simply kicked out. I will keep fighting the good fight long after others quit. I will keep trying over and over and over again long after others quit.

    I played basketball in high school for an entire year and we sucked lemons. I was probably the worst player on the team. I just kept showing up and practicing and trying.

    My child played basketball one year. She had to pick a sport, they even gave her the same number I had by coincidence. Her team was as bad as mine and she made the same number of baskets I did all season. One. For the other team by mistake. I put a rubber band on her wrist for the rest of the season so she could keep track which side was her team’s basket. I refused to let her quit. I told her to keep at it until the end of the season. I went to all of her practices and games.

    Neither one of us ever joined a basketball team again.

    In real estate, I took my test 3 times before I passed. I made #1 in the region in sales my first year for Century 21.

    A few years ago, I had to take the farming component test 5 times before I passed. I had bribed myself with a spider plant clipping which I would ask from the ladies at the front desk. It turns out the plant was plastic. We laughed about it. Then they gave me the whole plant. They said I earned it.

    I think if you are using other people’s money, you have a responsibility to hang in there and do your best and keep trying.

    The captain of a sinking ship is the last to leave.

    But then, that’s just my opinion.

    • Maria
      Maria says:

      Woops!

      I made a mistake and I want to make a correction.

      My first year in real estate I made top 21 in the region (more like #13) I sold over $1Million dollars my first year.

      I’m fighting the flu and sleep deprived.

      My apologies.

      Maria

  5. Nur Costa
    Nur Costa says:

    Does this mean that, for a 20-year old, quitting multiple jobs is, in fact, better than sticking to one for a decade?

    I have worked in 3 different companies already at age 22. My father says I lose interest on the company I work for too early. I should endure my skin and stick with something for a couple of years.

    But I couldn’t agree less. Why trash two precious years to something I know it’s not working for me? I’d rather work for myself and make my brand bigger, than devote my time to somebody else’s brand.

    Besides, is my personality type (INFP) shaped that way? Meaning, will I ever be happy with the current job I am doing for over 3 months?

    Three months seems to be the line for me.

    • Heather
      Heather says:

      I can relate. The only job that has held my interest for more than about a year is homemaker and mom–which is a job that is totally what one chooses to make of it

    • Melissa
      Melissa says:

      If you’re an INFP then you’re an idealist. So you’ll probably never be happy with your current job. Your life needs to have an engrossing pursuit that is completely separate from making money. In my friend’s case, she practices Zen Buddhism.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      It is pretty much death to a career to stay at one company through all of your 20s. It means your whole career trajectory is tied to the trajectory you had in one organization. It also means that your learning curve was likely slower than the curve of those who had to learn everything about a new organization over and over again. There are exceptions to the rule — startups, for example. But in general job hopping in one’s 20s is very important.

      I used to write about this topic a lot (when I was job hopping :) Here’s a link

      http://blog.penelopetrunk.com/2007/02/14/reader-asks-about-job-hopping-how-much-is-too-much/

      Penelope

      • Nur Costa
        Nur Costa says:

        I’ll remember this line you wrote:

        “I never felt the job hopping held me back, though I always had to explain it in interviews.”

        Thanks. I shall start writing my own story of job hopping.

        And the assignment you guys gave me in last night’s course (hihi).

        Thanks Penelope, Melissa & Heather.

    • Ann Stanley
      Ann Stanley says:

      One of my best learning experiences was staying at a job I hated for four years in my 20’s because I thought it was my ‘fault’ if I couldn’t be contented in it. I’ll NEVER do that again. I’m INFP. When I found a job I loved I stayed in it for 20 years and then I quit, because I wanted to.

  6. Adrianne
    Adrianne says:

    Hmmmm…this is interesting. My take on this is that the freedom of having the choice to quit/stop/[insert grown up decision action] affords a child the experience of engaging in actions that lead to successful adult life. The take-way I got from the story about Yefet is that it was more about just quitting – he actually had to think about what he really wanted to be pursuing. …and I think learning to ask oneself those questions early on is extremely valuable.

    I think where this can all feel daunting is the part where we learn about ourselves – because, sometimes, that’s painful.

    • Christine
      Christine says:

      Agreed.

      I would have been interested in reading more about the reasoning used for determining the value of quitting vs. continuing in whatever circumstance.

  7. Joe Fecarotta
    Joe Fecarotta says:

    Great article. Hey quick bug alert – your link to the Divorce page has a mailto: tag inside of it, making it open email. Get that baddy out of there and the link will work :)

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Thanks, Joe. The number of things that can go wrong in a post — amazing.

      Penelope

  8. Rebecca@midcenturymodelremodel.com
    Rebecca@midcenturymodelremodel.com says:

    What a timely topic. You get a big comment from me. Kid first and then me.

    My son is a goalkeeper. He is a junior on the JV team in a private Catholic High School that values sports to the nth degree. His team had a good season. He was awesome. The problem is there is a sophomore and junior as goalkeepers on the varsity team. This means, in spite of my kid’s skill, he has low odds of making varsity his senior year… in spite of his performance, my money and my time supporting the team. Unlucky. But he does have a chance. And the coach told him so. Spring training started up last week with early morning practices. My son wanted to quit. I begged, pleaded, cried, yelled and said how can you quit? This is critical for college applications… It took a third party college counselor to hear both sides and impart this wise advice. “Ehhh… sounds like a lot of work with bad odds. Why don’t you explore other things, volunteer opportunities in areas you are interested in or get a job. All of these read well on a college application and you have good reason for quitting.” Game over. Kid is keeping his promise and has spent the weekend researching the local volunteer opportunities and has settled on applying for a local nature conservancy as well as the police explorers (which surprised me). I already see how these activities are a better fit and more positive then working hard and not getting picked for varsity. And facing public humiliation which is hard for a teen.

    Next me. I am a CLASSIC quitter. I have had a long and somewhat successful middle management director-level career in a variety of fields… finance, marketing and IS. Which means, by default, I quit one field and pick another. I attribute this bouncing around to my lack of achievement of a senior management position. But, I do have diverse skills which are an asset… and make it easier to find a job although harder to tell my story. My other characteristic which is unusual for my age group (born in the sixties), is that I quit jobs. In the past, if the company is sold and I don’t like the management, if I don’t like my job, if I don’t like where things are headed… I quit. Which means I have worked 3 decades and never held the same job for longer than five years…(although I have stayed with companies longer just switching professions). Today, the Fortune 500 company I work for is about to be consumed by another company. I am very skeptical about the situation… and the people I have met from the other company are unimpressive and uninspiring. Everyone around me is quitting. I decided… time to try something new. I stumbled across a sign in a gift shop and bought it. “The hardest thing in life is to know which bridge to cross and which bridge to burn.” I bought it and put it up in my bathroom and read it and think about it while showering. I am going to try crossing this bridge… and I am giving it one to two years. All this quitting around me at my current job may create the very opportunity that I need.

    • Barry
      Barry says:

      Rebecca,

      Your personal experience sounds so familiar to me! I was born in the fifties and while I have a great work ethic and have done well in a variety of industries (broadcasting, capital equipment, semiconductors) in engineering, sales, and marketing… nothing keeps me very satisfied for as long as I feel it should. My longest job was about five years, too, and I have also had director level positions, especially with smaller start-up companies.

      I’ve learned that I cannot stand the way larger companies want us to stay confined to narrow job breadth and span, fighting the political battles to claw our way, either up or to just stay in one place. Smaller companies are a lot more fun for me, with opportunities to be creative, find problems, and work on implementing solutions. But even that can get tiresome if the culture doesn’t fit.

      I don’t know what the solution is, or even if there is one. Just keep learning, keep trying, stay hungry.

  9. Pauline
    Pauline says:

    Hi Penelope!

    I just wanted to say that I love your articles that you write and post out. Your writing inspires me and makes me reflect on the things I do in my daily life.

    Your recent article about kids who quit made me say out loud “worrrrd”.

    The reason being is that I have taken on (my own choice) multiple extracurricular activities over the past 7 months such as muay thai, karate, kickboxing, yoga, etc. And my dad had asked me 5 months ago how my karate class was going and I nonchalantly told him that I tried it for a month and found out I didn’t like it. He said that I was a quitter…always quitting. I responded that I tried the activity and it’s okay to quit because I learned that I didn’t enjoy it. Let’s just say that my dad just didn’t get it.

    In the multiple activities that I have taken on, I found my passion for yoga. I tried it once many moons ago and hated it because I didn’t sweat (I did the flow type of yoga). But then 7 months ago I decided to give yoga another chance and realized that there was hot yoga and power yoga. I’m totally in love with it and dedicate time to yoga each day.

    Once again, thank you for understanding what Gen Ys go through and sharing your wonderful insights as always.

    Pauline

  10. sam
    sam says:

    A interesting and inspirational blog but i will want to add that, as a children from a poor family, it is very easy to dream but difficult to get your dream. Now you can ask that there are lot of examples in history who belongs to poor family but i will answer that these are very few.

  11. Hannah
    Hannah says:

    Sometimes I wonder where I would have ended up if I would have allowed myself to quit one sport that I was good at but not passionate about for the sport that I loved but started in high school so I had a lot of catching up to do. My parents always tried to get me to quit faster, but I was the success at all costs kid, so unfortunately their gentle cajoling didn’t work.

    As an adult, I can see that my parents were trying to get me to redefine success on my own terms, but they weren’t willing to force me from the situation I loved (high school) to teach me that lesson. I wonder if this is the reason that I am so adamant about homeschooling.

  12. Markus' Mom
    Markus' Mom says:

    Good concepts in this blog but definitely some huge gaps in the analysis. Points one and three are so close for one; and both can happen without quitting potentially. I’m really interested in this because my kid has perfected quitting. Are there any links from third parties to back up the conclusions drawn here? I’d love to see how others (thinkers/career advisors/analysts) approach this same topic.

  13. SheilaG
    SheilaG says:

    I feel very strongly that if quitting will affect other people, you should consider very carefully before doing so. For example, a kid who quits the soccer team 1 month into the season will cause his teammates to play most of a season with one less player. Is that fair to them? I would prefer to see the quitting kid stick it out for 1 season, and honestly give it all he has for that season (I mean, do more than show up unhappily for games), and then choose never to do it again.

  14. SheilaG
    SheilaG says:

    Is there any evidence (apart from the anecdotes of Penelope and her son) that the quitters will go on to have stronger careers? Isn’t it possible that they will just keep quitting whatever they start, because nothing is absolutely perfect?

  15. Bunny
    Bunny says:

    Penelope,

    You have a great blog!

    I quit piano lessons as a child, and never did learn to play. That’s probably the only thing in my life I ever quit. I did finally finish college after 8 years.

    It was very important to me when it came time for my children to learn the piano. I was blessed to have teachers come to my home, and teach my 5 children. But even with that, all the practicing was a hassle, and the teachers were somewhat legalistic.

    Then my husband said – No more lessons. I about freaked! But that was the best thing that we could have done. They all quit playing for a time, but one by one they got inspired to pick it, or some instrument up, and with uTube have taught themselves. I was no help. All I knew was middle C and Mary had a Little Lamb.

    Now my son, the oldest, is 22, and a concert pianist, and a software engineer. He also plays by ear. And he loves to teach. He is teaching my youngest who is 14 to play The Entertainer!

    And me, now as an adult, have a problem where I can’t use my left arm, except for my pointer and my thumb. But God gave me the desire to learn how to play, and my son wants to teach me. I had my first lesson yesterday! He composed a version of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star for me to start with. My friend says I have to practice every day! After I post this comment, I am going straight up there to practice :)

    I guess I can’t really quit anything!

  16. Allister Freeman
    Allister Freeman says:

    Wow, 20 hours a week? How do you cope?!

    We manage quite a few clubs each week, our quitting them seems to have plateaued and the kids are all pretty settled now, it’s taken a while though.

  17. Dawn
    Dawn says:

    Growing up in the 60’s I was never allowed to join/try anything because I was always told I would quit it. I don’t know where my parents got that idea from since they never let me try anything to begin with. I am not a parent so I don’t have that kind of insight. But as an adult, I have been haunted by this thought, that I am a quitter. I’m not though. I have tried different things in school twice, and quit when I realized they weren’t for me. But once I started Art school, I knew it was exactly for me and got my degree, going part time and working full time, because it’s what I wanted. I have also had longevity in jobs too. I always wanted to play piano and would play on my cousin’s piano when we were there and I can play by ear. But no, never piano lessons either. I don’t know where this is going but I’m just wondering if any of you parents out there understand my own parents reasoning on me quitting things while I never had the chance to start them.

    • Meg
      Meg says:

      I would guess that the statement was not personal as to you. Most kids quit most things. How many 40 year olds or even 18 year olds are cheerleading or playing the trumpet. It goes more to a “why bother” attitude. Why bother to waste the time, gas, and money when the child will just grow up and get a job unrelated to those activities. If they had read something like Penelope’s blog they may learned about mastery for the sake of mastery and other educational lessons. Anyway, do not take it personally.

    • Aleisha
      Aleisha says:

      Dawn, I’m sorry your parents said that to you. As a parent, I can tell you that sometimes we just say stupid things. Most of the time, the things I say to my own child that are really stupid/hurtful come from my own insecurities and fears. Also, I know that with my own parents, they can have a hard time seeing that I am a person who changes with time (like everyone) — they often can’t get past how I was as a child. It sounds like their labeling you as a quitter was totally off base.

  18. Nita
    Nita says:

    I believe you have a point there. However, there is a level of ‘stick-to-it-ness’ that has to be garnered also. In my career as a consultant, I move around a lot. I have to start and restart a job, quickly get up to speed while assessing the environment. Over the years, I’ve become really good at it, gain tons of skills that those that stay stagnant in their career hasn’t, and enjoyed every bit of the exciting ride. But that’s not for everyone. Some people don’t do well with change at all.

  19. Alta
    Alta says:

    I think we need to have a checklist so that people can check whether they should quit or they should continue. Quitting has to have a purpose, a forward plan.

  20. colin chambers
    colin chambers says:

    Well put. I find the ability to recover a much better skill than being good in the first place. If you can do something, get it wrong and then recover your balance then you’re not afraid of failing and only then can you really be your best.

    Great advice, thanks

  21. Charles
    Charles says:

    There’s a also a recent study that says children with a nagging mother will become successful than those who don’t have.

    On topic: I think quitting does not mean weaknesses, so it is important to instil that value in our kids. Agree that telling them that quitting is part of succeeding.

  22. Shelley
    Shelley says:

    I agree if a kid (or anyone) is not happy in a program move on but…if a commitment was made (ie: I’ll play such and such role) quitting without fulfilling the commitment isn’t good. I agree with what my friend did with her daughter… If money is involved (ie music lessons) you must complete a year. If a commitment is involved you must complete that. They required her to do music in school, her choice was band or choir (all that was offered). She had to do a foreign languae full amount offered her choice which one. There were lessons in each requirement. Said child is now working on her BSN-RN and still receiving high grades.

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