Guest Post: Why You Should be a Quitter….and Wear the Title Proudly

I'm a quitter - by Ali Martell (AliMartell.com)

Image courtesy of Ali Martell (AliMartell.com)

Today’s guest contributor is writer, coach, violinist, filmmaker, law school graduate, and web designer, Emilie Wapnick, who works with multipotentialites to help them build lives and businesses around ALL their interests. She’s the author of Renaissance Business and the troublemaker behind Puttylike.com

I’m so glad Emilie chose this topic — it’s the same feeling I had when I quit journalism. I had been a journalist my whole life, but by the time I was a news reporter for the Daily Bruin at UCLA my freshman year I surprisingly found myself feeling miserable by what I thought was my life path. Quitting the newspaper was one of the hardest decisions I had made at that point in my life — I didn’t know who I was if not a journalist. Here’s a video of me talking about this decision (2 years ago!), on why I agree that we should celebrate quitting.

Guest Post by Emilie Wapnick: Why You Should be a Quitter….and Wear the Title Proudly

When I was sixteen years old, I quit the violin. I’d been playing since I was four (twelve years of classical training), but the last few years had felt forced.

I remember feeling profoundly ashamed about losing interest in the violin. I didn’t want other people to think I was a quitter. The label sounded so vile. On a deeper level, I was afraid of letting go of this really integral part of my identity. I was “the violinist.” I couldn’t remember a time when I hadn’t been “the violinist.”

I finally did quit, and felt tremendous relief. And yet, I feared that in the process, I had traded the label “violinist,” for “quitter.”

Was Something Wrong with Me?

As I got older, the haunting feeling that I was simply incapable of committing to one field, only intensified. Was there something wrong with me?

A pattern was emerging. Five years later, I lost interest in the guitar, which I had become incredibly serious about. I had also taught myself web design, but had no interest in becoming a full-fledged web designer.

In college, I studied film production, and then changed gears entirely and went to law school. Once the end of law school was approaching, I chose not to take the bar exam or apply for law jobs, and nobody understood. “You’ve already put so much time and effort into it,” they pleaded. But my heart was already wrapped up in a new pursuit.

The Stigma Against Quitters

The world puts a huge emphasis on finishing what you start. We’re encouraged from a young age to seek out our “one true calling,” and commit our lives to it. (It’s even seen as a romantic notion– Ahh destiny!)

Finding your life’s purpose is the focus of nearly every personal development book. It’s ingrained in our culture, reinforced by teachers, parents, and career counselors. And yet, few of us stop to question it.

Are there downsides to being so end-focused? Is it possible that NOT quitting is limiting our potential?

Maybe when you get that icky, antsy feeling inside, it’s not a sign of self-sabotage or “fear of commitment.” Maybe when you feel bored, it’s your body’s way of telling you that it’s time to move on, that you got what you came for.

Letting go of an interest allows you to free up room for new projects. It allows you to embrace new passions and keep growing and developing as a full, well-rounded human being.

Would I have learned to write songs, build websites, craft a story, produce a film, understand a contract, or grow a company, had I not quit a couple dozen times? I may not have “mastered” any of these paths to their full extent, but I sure as hell picked up a lot of useful skills along the way!

Are You a Multipotentialite?

If you’ve read this far, and have found yourself nodding along, then there’s a good chance that you’re a multipotentialite.

Multipotentialites are not specialists.

While specialists thrive by diving deep into one subject, multipotentialites have many different interests and creative pursuits throughout their lives. As a multipod, you aren’t meant to head down one path, but to jump laterally between them, synthesize your knowledge, and draw from your diverse background.

In other words, you’re meant to be a quitter. It’s what allows you to be brilliant.

Society hasn’t Always been So Specialist-Oriented

When did we become obsessed with this “one true calling” idea?

Well, it turns out that it’s a fairly modern concept. Back in Renaissance times for example, being a multipotentailite (or polymath as it’s also known) was considered the ideal. People were encouraged to become well-versed in many different disciplines: the sciences, athletics, literature, the arts, and so on.

It just goes to show, that there is nothing inherent or biological about committing to one field. The idea that changing directions is some sort of deficiency, is a completely socially-based, 20th century notion. It’s a very modern idea.

So be a quitter, and wear the title proudly. And when you’re off designing some innovative architectural structure by drawing inspiration from your past life as a dancer, be thankful that you’ve got the quitting bug in you. 

We’d love to hear in the comments:
How has being a quitter at an important juncture actually enhanced your life?

  • http://www.clickthegoodnews.com/ Amanda @ Click. The Good News

    Thanks for this article- it is very encouraging & refreshing to hear this perspective.  I also especially feel defined by my career & title, even though engineer isn’t WHO I am.

    • http://puttylike.com/ Emilie Wapnick

       Thanks Amanda. Yeah, unfortunately people love to pigeonhole and label you in their minds. It feels very restrictive, which can be a problem for when you want to try something new or change directions. The good thing is that you don’t have to accept other people’s definition of who you are. Though it is tough not to care what others think, and it definitely takes practice.

  • http://twitter.com/_CassieLee_ Cassie Allinger

    This defines me 100% and it’s nice to hear other people embracing this type of personality. I quit all the time, not because I gave up, but because I wanted to embark on a new adventure. I’ve learned so much in life by having the courage to quit, to walk away when I know the time is right, and I believe that I’m a better person for it. Thanks for saying it out loud! 

    • http://puttylike.com/ Emilie Wapnick

      That’s awesome. Good for you Cassie! :)

  • http://www.faithpermeatinglife.com Jessica @ FaithPermeatingLife

    Love this! I was just telling someone the other night that I am a “champion quitter.” I quit ballet, gymnastics, piano lessons, an art class, my scholars program in college, and most recently an editing certification program I was taking. I’ve never regretted any of these decisions because they’ve preserved my time and energy for things that were more important to me.

    • http://puttylike.com/ Emilie Wapnick

       Exactly! What a wonderful array of skills you must have picked up with those interests. Very cool.

  • http://twitter.com/SheLikesRuffles Katie C

    This is such a great perspective! I think that there is a distinction between quitting just because something is difficult and quitting because it is no longer your path and it is time to move on. Being able to recognize that can really help, in my opinion!

    I suppose you could call me a “quitter.” I have always felt a bit guilty about it, but in the end I am glad for the choices I’ve made! I quit my PhD program, I quit a few jobs along the wayI, I’ve quit a few hobbies as well. Although at times I’ve questioned it, I also have to look at the big picture and where I’m going – quitting all of those things led me on my path to where I am now…and I have accumulated a lot of skills and experiences along the way (which I don’t know that employers always appreciate like they should, to be honest…I just get a lot of “why did you leave that job before a year was up?”). I wouldn’t change my decisions to “quit” one bit!

    • http://puttylike.com/ Emilie Wapnick

      Thanks Katie! I agree, there’s a big difference between resistance and being truly “over” something. I can usually tell by the way I feel. If it’s a sense of dread and boredom, that’s usually a sign to move on. But if there’s a pinch of excitement deep down, that I’m maybe even afraid to think about, then that’s usually a sign that it’s resistance.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  • http://twitter.com/Marion_Au Marion Aubry

    Thanks for this post! I never thought from this perspective before and it’s somehow unlocking things in my mind. I’m French, and went to a pretty generalist school because I was interested in so many different things that I didn’t want to specialize (it’s silly to ask us to choose a path at 18 just out of high school). at university I studied Chinese for a year and quitted because I didn’t have enough time to really study the language, I wanted to focus more on my extra-curricular activities. After getting my bachelor I had to go into master (it’s the way my school works) but didn’t know what to choose, so I ended up in Marketing, before quitting after a year and switch to International Security. I also started to study Arabic but same as for Chinese, I could not (or did not want – that’s where I wonder if it’s not a bad pattern to start something without investing enough time in it) dedicate enough time to really learn. Nevertheless I learned some stuff, and even if I cannot speak Arabic or Chinese, I still feel that it brought me something, a key to better understand other cultures. I am interested in many different things, I don’t master them but it’s still very open-minding I think. 
    I just turn 25, will graduate from my master degree in June and have no idea of what I’m doing next because I’m up for anything that will be an opportunity for personal and professional growth.

    so thank you again for helping me see things differently.

    • http://puttylike.com/ Emilie Wapnick

       Yeah, you sound like a true multipotentialite to me, Marion. I love that you’re already embracing your many interests. That’s fantastic! Keep it up. You’re going to have a very exciting and interesting life. :)

  • jonknep

    Thanks Emilie for the GP and Jenny for having an awesome place like LAC to publish it at.

    I’ve always hated titles, both job titles and ‘quitter’. I’ve been lucky enough to have the ‘positive spin disposition’ per my DNA so I look at this as a positive. Though not the easiest to explain to others, taking this road is super gratifying and possibly contributes to my positive spin disposition?

    I feel like the more that I explore, the more I can find the connections. Everything connects and there is so much spillover. If you aren’t mopping some of it up, you aren’t reaching full potential. 

    Once again, awesome stuff ladies!

    Jonathon

    • http://puttylike.com/ Emilie Wapnick

      Hey Jon,

      I hate titles too because they tend to be restrictive. However, I’ve found that some titles can be empowering, especially if you redefine/reclaim their meaning. I guess I’ve got the “positive spin” gene too.

      And yes, connections, intersections… That stuff makes me giddy. :P

  • Najela

    I try to say this to my mom all the time. When I started college I was a neuroscience major, but 3 years in, I “quit” and went to psychology. It has been the best decision in my life. But my mom claims that I wanted to be a neuroscientist since I was 9 years old and when I was around 20, I was lamenting the fact that most of my friends had stuck to their guns and went on to med school. Which is all fine and good for them, but not me. Changing my major gave me the opportunity to pursue other passions, develop new skills, and ultimately find a job/field that I can see myself in for the rest of my life. Great post!

    • http://puttylike.com/ Emilie Wapnick

       Ah that’s so frustrating. I’m sorry, Najela. Hopefully your mom will come around eventually once she sees how happy you are. But either way, good for you for listening to your heart and believing in your choices.

  • Katelyn Burkhart

    i really, REALLY love this post! i was definitely raised with the notion that quitting is wrong no matter what the circumstances, and i think it’s held me back a lot in life. so refreshing to hear that quitting may be the ticket to what i really want to do with my life. 

    • http://puttylike.com/ Emilie Wapnick

       Awesome, Katelyn. Thank you! I’m so glad my little rebellious nature could help. :)

  • Karen

    Thank you, thank you, thank you– NOW, I can explain to people (and myself) what exactly it was that propelled me to become a librarian!  It was so that I could indulge all my widely varied interests at once but not be pinned down to specializing.  Ironically, my actual job title is “library media specialist”.   And, btw, I went into this field after earning a MA in archaeology but then decided not to work as an archaeologist.  One of my high school students said to me a few years ago, “you’ve led an interesting life”.  I swear that I’m putting that on my tombstone– it’s the best thing anyone has ever said to me.  I guess as a multipotentailite, it’s the ultimate goal, isn’t it?

    • http://puttylike.com/ Emilie Wapnick

       Haha that’s so cool Karen. One of the big projects I want to create in the future, is a sort of unconventional career guide/interview series for multipotentialites. My theory is that there are certain careers that lend themselves better to the multipotentialite personality. Careers that allow you to wear many hats, integrate knowledge from different areas, explore many topics, etc. It certainly sounds like you’ve found a good one. Any chance you’d like to be interviewed? :)

  • http://www.ValenciaRay.com Valencia Ray M.D.

    Enjoyed this post.  I grew up as a performer/dancer, artist personality, gardener/nature lover, student politician and socially oriented.  I declared that I’d be a physician at the 11th hour starting college, went to gruelingly “logical and totally in the head” medical school and became an eye surgeon and business owner.  I enjoyed helping people to see better and improve their vision.  After over 20 years, I sold my practice to now help business leaders eliminate “cataracts of the heart and mind” and expand the vision for their life…by continuing to discover the “secrets of the universe” as I called them as a child…truly understanding how our brain/mind work is a major key to this.  I see my whole life as different phases of my “purpose”.  Vision is central to my purpose, but it is not represented by a “career” per se.  I know that “who I am” is NOT “what I do”.  No one tells me how to experience my own life and I’m glad to see that people are beginning to stop pushing themselves into itty-bitty “should boxes”.  You go for it!

    • http://puttylike.com/ Emilie Wapnick

       This is beautiful. Thank you for sharing, Valencia. So many multipotentialites think that it can’t be done– that they’re doomed to either settle on one career forever, or jump around and struggle financially for the rest of their lives. Nothing could be further from the truth, and you’re a perfect example of that.

  • Emily Smith

    Great post & fresh perspective on why quitting actually ROCKS! Woo hoo, loved it :-) I quit several thinks throughout my k-12 & then in college as well….and although it was brutally hard, I don’t regret it ONE bit. Quitting those things that depleated my energy, time, resources, and happiness allowed for me to have solid reflection time to think about who I was, what I wanted, and how I was going to get there. Having that quiet space really allowed me to be more selective about things I cared about which in turn gave me more energy and an abundance of happiness! Can’t wait to now refer to myself as a multipotentialite :-)

    • http://puttylike.com/ Emilie Wapnick

       Absolutely. That “quiet space” as you say, is so incredibly important. Too many people rush into careers and begin identifying with an external role, before even getting to know themselves on that level. Being a quitter provides a great incentive to do just that.

      And woo hoo! Welcome to the tribe. :)

  • Anonymous

    I’ve often thought that quitting had a bad rap. How many people do you know should have gotten out of a bad haircut, relationship, or job far sooner than they did? Congrats to Emilie for helping us all see that our quittin’ ways are actually a kind of intelligence!

    • http://puttylike.com/ Emilie Wapnick

      So many commonalities can be drawn between multipotentiality and relationships. :)

  • Allison

    This one was on the most inspirational blog posts I’ve read in a long time. I think it truly resonates with engineers. In our profession being defined by a title is a badge of honor. However it can also hold us back from innovation and creativity; something that our industry needs. I feel it is a disservice to the profession not to afford us as employees oppertunities to pursue outside interests and have multiple career paths. 

    • http://puttylike.com/ Emilie Wapnick

       Very interesting. My theory is that innovation happens when you solve a problem in one area by drawing information from a totally unrelated field and coming up with a creative solution. And so it’s a huge advantage to have many fields to draw from. The engineering industry does seem very specialist-oriented… But I’m glad to hear that there are engineers out there like you, who are a bit more open minded.

  • http://findingourwaynow.com/ Susan Cooper

    I enjoyed your precept and what it says about today’s notion that we need to stay with our beginning passion regardless of the fact that it may have exhausted it’s usefulness. I am in full agreement. I believe everything has a time, a beginning and and end if you will. By choosing when we quit something, it allows us to live our life as we choose to fullest. It also takes great courage to leave, quit, something we are really good at and move to some totally new.

    • http://puttylike.com/ Emilie Wapnick

       Absolutely. It also takes courage to move away from something when everyone is praising you for it and telling you how accomplished you are. But it’s so worthwhile.

  • Kathleen

    Moving on is good, but I struggle to agree with the main idea here for the following reason:

     I feel that your post lacks a discussion of how the choice to quit affects the institutions and teams to which you belong.  Sometimes you have to forget everyone else around you and just quit, but whatever happened to “taking one for the team”?  I’m not saying that you have to be a martyr and stay in a position or place that doesn’t fulfill you such that some larger entity benefits at your expense.  But the current generation of 20-somethings is often criticized for being generation “me” instead of generation “we,” and I can’t help but think that this kind of perspective fuels those attitudes.  Sometimes fostering your own brilliance and creativity have to take a back seat to furthering the goals of the team.  Too often, we are told that if what we are doing is not 100% fulfilling, then we are in the wrong place and we had better move on.  I think a more complete perspective would also consider the sacrifices that sometimes have to be made when you are part of a group working towards a large goal and the occasional interruptions in your own personal development. 

    Thanks for letting me comment on your post.

    • http://puttylike.com/ Emilie Wapnick

       Hi Kathleen,

      I’ll have to respectfully disagree with you on this one. From what I’ve seen, there’s tremendous pressure to get and keep a job at all costs, especially “in this economy,” as they say. Twenty-somethings don’t seem to be following their hearts nearly as much I wish they were, but rather clinging to whatever low level positions they can get. It’s often a waste of their talent and creativity. They could be contributing far more to the world by following their hearts.

      I actually believe that putting yourself and your dreams first isn’t selfish at all. I mean this within reason, of course. If a team is relying on you, then wait it out for a bit and do what you can to make the transition smoother for them. That’s just common courtesy. But in general, I believe that when you listen to your heart, you end up creating more brilliant work and serving more people. Developing yourself as a whole person and feeling happy and fulfilled in your life allows you to then focus your efforts on contribution. Most people (even us selfish 20-somethings) aren’t content living indulgent lives. When it comes down to it, we all want to make a difference in the world.

  • http://twitter.com/andrea_banks andrea_banks

    Wow, was this ever a relief and a pleasure to read! Great job Emilie and thanks Jenny, for sharing this insightful post. I’ve struggled with this feeling for more of my life. Growing up I bounced around from soccer to gymnastics, piano, choir, cheerleading and I can’t even remember what else! I continue to feel a bit “trapped” as being labeled a PR specialist…I’m afraid this isn’t really what I want to be doing, but I’m constantly being told “Wow Andrea, you’ve really found your calling!” Ick. Thanks for making me feel like it’s okay to embark on a new path.

    • http://puttylike.com/ Emilie Wapnick

       Ick indeed! They probably think they’re giving you a compliment too. Ugh.

      Good for you Andrea, for listening to yourself. Keep exploring, and try not to let the labels hold you back.

  • http://www.caseycamilleri.com/ Casey Camilleri

    When I read the title I knew I was going to love this post.  I completely agree.

    “Maybe when you feel bored, it’s your body’s way of telling you that it’s time to move on, that you got what you came for.”

    Once I feel like I got what I was looking for out of something I want to move on to the next endeavor.  I’m always restless to learn more across the board.

    • http://puttylike.com/ Emilie Wapnick

       Awesome Casey! Thanks for the comment.

  • http://www.mysticpassage.com/ Debi

    As always, love Emilie’s insight.  As historical background information is one of my favorite areas, I really liked the information for a polymath or renaissance man.  Until I found Emilie’s website, I felt like I didn’t belong.  Being over 50 and feeling like I still didn’t fit in anywhere was disconcerting.  I’m much for comfortable and relaxed with who I am now that I’ve had time to reflect on Emilie’s perspectives.  I could say “I wish I had found it sooner” … but the truth is I truly believe that we find what we need WHEN we need it … so the timing of the universe was perfect :)  Thanks, Em.

    • http://puttylike.com/ Emilie Wapnick

       <3

      You're awesome, Debi. Thank you.

  • http://puttylike.com/ Emilie Wapnick

     Thanks Lauren. Sounds like you’re doing things right. :)

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    Really encouraging stuff here loved reading this post…

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  • http://twitter.com/justinelorelle justinelorelle

    I can totally relate to your feelings of quitting journalism! (I actually wrote a blog post about those exact feelings here: http://stopmeifyouveheardthisone.com/2011/09/14/the-breakdown-and-building-up-of-me/). And since I’ve had about three different jobs in the last two years, this post definitely made me feel better about quitting a few times. Guess I’m more normal than I thought.

  • JB

    Really great article. I’ve found myself becoming more & more like this in the past few years (a “multipod”) and having less interest in the business I’ve started (which is successful). Feeling trapped or buckled down I think is what gets me. I truly enjoy the thought of other ventures or ideas that can connect me to the world and potentially make income while I enjoy life.

    Glad I have a title for it now ;)

  • Deb White Groebner

    Any suggestions for how to frame the “quitter” pattern positively (and concisely) during a job interview? I’ve held a variety of positions over the years and though I continue to synthesize and apply all that I have learned and experienced, interviewers (in the education field) don’t view this diverse background as the asset I know it to be! It’s challenging enough to get interviews in my area; once I’m in the door, I want to make the most of the short time allotted to sell myself.

    I’m usually pretty confident during interviews, but I’m nervous for the one I have in a couple of days. Advice?

    • http://www.lifeaftercollege.org jennyblake

      Hi Deb — Great question! I’d frame it up by articulating the areas of growth you are looking for. Oftentimes “quitting” is just a sign that we’re ready to grow/expand/explore in new ways. If you focus on what that was in service of, you can tell a compelling, inspiring story that also ties in with the job role you are interviewing for. I hope that helps — have a great weekend!

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  • Julie

    Thank you for the article. Lately I’ve been feeling this way about my current job and looking for something else and my parents always tell me if I quit my job for something else my current coworkers who stay behind will gain while I’m just starting over at a new job. Don’t know if it’s a scare tactic but staying just doesn’t make me happy. I mean really, am I destined to stay at my first job after college graduation and been staying for three years? Recently I’ve been taking project management classes so I can get my CAPM because I want to pursue in project management in biotech or healthcare as a career.

    I think MY gain is learning something I like and networking and meeting people who are supporting my interests.

    • http://www.lifeaftercollege.org jennyblake

      Thanks for taking the time to comment, Julie! I think it’s amazing that you have the awareness you do, and are already taking steps to do things that are fulfilling for you personally. I think you’d really enjoy the book Finding Your Own North Star by Martha Beck if you haven’t already read it.

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  • Thi

    Thanks

  • hustledreamswag

    winners never quit and quitters never win

  • Emily

    Love this article- thank you!

  • Mark

    I’m amazed at how this is pretty much describes me. I know I’m a quitter, but at least I know now that I’m not alone.

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