“A rolling stone gathers no moss,” said my teacher one day about 15 years ago. We were learning idioms in English class at school.
“I recently met my ex-student who finished Form 5 a few years ago. I asked him about his life,” the teacher told us.
“He told me he was trying different things,” she continued, shaking her head slowly. This guy had jumped from course to course, unable to settle on one.
“This idiom means that a person who does not settle down will not accumulate anything, may it be wealth, knowledge, or accomplishment. Like this boy. He has no direction and is gathering no moss,” my teacher finished.
Honestly, when I first read the idiom in my textbook, I thought it was a call to stay busy so that we don’t turn rusty, because moss sounded gross, which I associated with rust. So we should keep rolling to avoid moss. That was sound advice to teenage me.
Thus when my teacher gave the idiom a negative connotation, it didn’t sit well.
It took 15 years to figure out why that idiom bothered me.
That unsettled feeling I had — it was because of the implication that quitting is bad.
Which begs the question: what’s so bad about quitting? Why is it such a dirty word?
I think quitting is beautiful. We should build shrines to honour quitters around the world.
We should celebrate quitting!
Here are four reasons why quitting is the art we must perfect:
1. To become fulfilled and successful
The Dark Horse Project was a study into fulfilled and successful people.
The research was conducted by two people: Todd Rose, director of Harvard’s Mind, Brain, and Education programme, and Ogi Ogas, computational neuroscientists.
Rose and Ogas met with successful sommeliers, chefs, musicians, authors, personal organisers, animal trainers, piano tuners, midwives, architects, engineers, and so on. They wanted to study the path these high-fliers took to arrive at their success.
The two made a grand discovery. Nearly every participant had taken what seemed like an unusual path. In fact, 45 out of the first 50 subjects had windy paths. They admitted to jumping from career to career and project to project. Most subjects were once told that getting off their initial path was risky.
What else do these successful people have in common? They were relentless in hunting for a good match. They didn’t jump at one prospect and stuck with it for life. They didn’t have the fear of lagging behind their peers. They were fluent at moving on.
Most importantly, they were expert quitters.
2. To avoid falling prey to the sunk cost fallacy
The sunk cost fallacy is the tendency for people to continue on a path because they had already invested resources into it.
Here’s an example: I don’t want to break up with my partner because I’ve already spent 10 years with him. Well, the time you’ve already spent on this person shouldn’t affect your future decisions. You should stay with this person because you see a future with him, and not because you had a past with him.
The sunk cost fallacy is why investors keep losing money in a failed investment. It is why people stay in toxic relationships. It is why they stay in jobs they hate.
Do you catch yourself saying any of these:
“But I’m already halfway through.”
“I’ve already spent *insane amount of money* on this.”
“I’ve already spent *insane amount of time* on this.”
If the idea of quitting isn’t repulsive, chances are, you will be better off quitting.
3. To allow other opportunities
Our time is finite, so sticking with one goal means depriving yourself of other experiences. In other words, opportunity cost.
When you are doing something you hate but refuse to quit, you are not:
- Spending time with your loved ones
- Pursuing other passions
- Discovering other passions
Bronnie Ware is a nurse who works in palliative care, caring for patients during the final 12 weeks of their lives. She wrote about her observations in her bestselling book, Top Five Regrets of the Dying.
The number one regret was, “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”
It’s a chilling thought to me — to have unpursued passions but be out of time. Worst still, that I had failed to explore my potential because I spent my time on something I didn’t enjoy.
Are you living a life true to yourself?
4. To improve your mental health
According to psychologist Carsten Wrosch, quitting unattainable goals lead to physical and psychological benefits. A quitter has a lower level of cortisol (stress hormone) and less risk of depression and anxiety.
In their book Think Like a Freak, economists Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner described an experiment they conducted.
They set up a website called Freakonomics Experiment where people could let a random coin flip make difficult decisions for them.
The participants logged their dilemma and let the virtual coin decide for them. They were encouraged to offer feedback after a few months.
The questions asked ranged from “should I quit my job” to “should I break up with my partner?”
Levitt and Dubner then revealed that people who quit their job or broke up with their partners were happier afterwards. Meanwhile, those who asked for a raise, trained for a marathon, or went shopping because of the coin flip result didn’t feel happier.
In other words, people who were unsure about what to do were happier after a change.
If you’re contemplating quitting your job or your relationship enough to let a coin decide for you, chances are quitting will make you happier.
Quitting is good.
Be that rolling stone that gathers no moss.
(Of course, this entire article reeks of privilege. Not everyone has the freedom to quit as they please. But that is a topic for another day.)
Chow Ping Lee is a content writer under Headliner by Newswav, a programme where content creators get to tell their unique stories through articles and at the same time monetize their content within the Newswav app.
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