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Should We Change Our Perspectives on Quitting?

By: Kyla Cheng

Generally, quitting an activity or commitment is viewed as “giving up” or not trying hard enough. Sometimes, that is the case. However, the perspective of the person "quitting" is often overlooked or ignored in favor of the activity or commitment itself. What happens when there are other factors, like mental or physical health? Does that change the conversation?

As kids, we've been brought up with the notion of the “American dream”, where anyone can achieve their dreams if they work hard enough for them. It’s always been encouraged to keep moving forward and generally discouraged to “give up” or “stop trying” because it’s seen as not having enough drive or willpower to continue it.


The main issue with the "American dream" is that it fails to recognize how much luck and circumstance are involved in achieving perceived success. “Survivorship bias” is the concept that most people will overlook a majority of failures in favor of success stories. It is usually easier to hear about when a business has been successful despite the odds than when countless others have failed.

A well-known example of "Survivorship bias" is the planes of World War II. In this example, researchers wanted to put armor on planes to further protect them. For research, they looked at the most common places where bullet holes were located on planes that returned. The seemingly logical response was to put the armor where the bullet holes were. However, this failed to acknowledge the planes that didn’t come back. So in reality, the armor should have been placed where the bullet holes weren't located, because those areas would technically be the most vulnerable.





The Survivor Ship Bias Plane

This applies to our belief that there’s always an opportunity for success. Sometimes, there isn’t one. Sometimes, there are factors outside of our control, such as favoritism, resources, illness, and qualifications. Even hard work can have its limits, which contradicts the idea of the American Dream.

There’s also a logical fallacy (a type of faulty or illogical reasoning) called the “Sunk Cost Fallacy”, that makes it difficult for people to quit or leave. This is the idea that the already invested resources (time, energy, and money) are worth more than the benefits of leaving, quitting, or not attending. Basically, the work that’s already been done makes quitting unreasonable or not worth the effort. This is also the reason why some may choose to stay in toxic relationships that they know aren't healthy, because it can feel harder to start fresh instead of staying in a repetitive cycle.

 With the topic of mental health becoming more and more normalized, it may be time to open the conversation about public opinion. The idea of quitting has generally been put in a negative light if there isn’t a directly related negative effect, like a toxic relationship. A lot of the time, arguments fail to mention the gray areas of thinking. Is it really still relevant to think of quitting as a one-sided issue? Should we still continue to encourage effort even if it won’t actually get anything truly desirable out of it?



(1) The Atlantic, 2013

(2) Harvard Business Review, 2021

(3) Statistics By Jim, 2022

(4) Wikipedia, 2021 Image

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