Quitting means looking for new adventures, not a sign of defeat

As kids, most of us were forced to stick to hobbies. I went from gymnastics to piano to swimming, each time begging my parents to let me quit so I didn’t have to wake up early Saturday morning for practice. Even later, in middle school and high school, I was told I couldn’t leave jobs or extracurriculars that I wanted to quit to learn lessons on resilience and commitment. My parents always told me quitting was never an option, and for a very long time, I took that to heart. 

While I still appreciate the reasoning behind the message, I disagree now. The fear of how someone would be perceived because of the negative connotation over the word “quitting” is something I held onto for too long. I feel now that I’ve grown older, I wish I had quit things a lot sooner than I did and saved the stress and heartache. Our generation especially is now acknowledging the importance of quitting things that don’t provide what we need. I feel now more than ever is the most important time to reflect if you are doing something because you want to or feel obligated towards it. 

I swore into the army reserves on March 5, 2018 after received a full ride Army ROTC scholarship to DePaul. Excited for this new phase in my life, I was proud of the hard work I put in to get where I was. All of the extracurriculars, the late nights studying and workouts paid off for me to go to my dream school in Chicago, and I did it all by myself. I thought this was the right path for me, as I was determined to be successful in my future, but I was naive in my ability to do it all. And that’s what I did, juggling full-time school with full-time ROTC, reserves — I was also accepted in a leadership role with a community service group and joined a sorority. 

On the outside, I felt I had fully achieved what 12-year-old Amber always wanted but what it felt like was 18-year-old Amber never recognized the importance of saying no. It wasn’t until the pandemic that I realized I was doing a lot of these activities for people to be proud of me — not because I wanted to do them. I had to learn the hard way of dropping things as it started to heavily reflect my mental and physical health. 

I feel a lot of us decided to stay in the places we are for the comfort and security it gives us, instead of taking chances to do things we actually want. I stayed in ROTC for three years. After putting in so much time and effort, I even had high leadership roles and lifelong friends within the program — but it was killing me. The toxic military culture of never expressing weakness became so apparent as I felt I was gasping for some sort of support and was instead ridiculed and judged. 

During my freshman year of ROTC, I unfortunately experienced what many women in the military have, and was assaulted by another soldier and student in leadership. Instead of finding the help needed within the program, I was ostracized and blamed. Even after this experience, I stayed, as the fear of quitting something I put so much effort toward carried more weight than my mental stability. It wasn’t till the spring of my junior year, so close to the end, that I finally came to terms how much pain I was in. I felt cheated after the years and labor I put into it just for me to leave so close to finishing. I was worried what my family would think after seeing the pride in their eyes when they brag about their daughter being in the military.

Being someone who has never truly quit something I cared about, it felt like I was harming my future self in the process. Why couldn’t I just hold on for a little longer? After finally gaining the courage to leave, I never felt so much peace in my life. Even if the military was supposed to be an opportunity for success, it ruined me, and I had to come to terms with quitting something — even if it meant everything I went through lost its meaning. 

After I left, I felt secure in being able to quit things that don’t serve me anymore. The lessons I’ve learned have helped me more in my future than staying in something that was just creating pain. Kristen Pengelly, a communications professor at DePaul, said it’s very common for people to stay in bad conditions instead of leaving because of how they were raised as children to never quit.

“It makes sense when you’re younger, because when things get hard and you think you don’t like it instead of understanding that you’re building some life skills and resiliency by getting through a tough moment,” she said. “But I think in [some] ways, we like to continue that mentality throughout life.” 

Pengelly feels Gen Z has really changed the idea of work and quitting something that isn’t for you. Instead of previous generations, the negativity towards quitting has been adjusted through time.

“Gen Z is showing us that we don’t have to put up with this treatment in a way that older generations maybe didn’t feel empowered to do,” Pengelly said. “I think that Gen Z is making organizations really think about how they treat people. If people are consistently leaving your place of employment at like a four-to-eight month mark, it’s not a generational problem, It’s an organizational problem.”

The sunk cost fallacy is defined as the phenomenon whereby a person is reluctant to abandon a strategy or course of action because they have invested heavily in it, even when it is clear the abandonment would be more beneficial. 

Zach French, a junior at DePaul, felt this way after quitting football right before his senior year of high school. French had never really liked football, but felt pressure from his dad to continue into college. After 10 years, French ended his career and quit the team. 

“I can’t make decisions on a gut whim,” French said. “I got to put a lot of time and thought behind what my decisions are. The culmination of 10 years of hate off my chest for a sport that I never once liked. And I was just to the point where I’m done, I don’t want to do it anymore.”

For Gracie Dolan, quitting something comes with finding the right support through it. Her parents helped display that when she was younger by also quitting their jobs in order to find passion in what they love. 

“My dad quit his really high-paying job to become an artist,” Dolan said. “I always looked up to him and it inspires me to be able to quit something if I don’t love it anymore. Both my parents support me and I think that’s important when making difficult decisions like quitting something big.”

Dolan is an advocate for quitting things that don’t benefit you and has lived her life according to that value. 

“Everything I’ve quit has opened up my world in ways that I did not imagine,” Dolan said. “At the end of the day, you got to do the thing that is best for you. Gather a support system and build up self confidence to do what you need, and not others.”

Quitting the military has opened opportunities to a life and career I really wanted instead of trying to manage it all and falling under the pressure. The difficult decision to leave something will never be easy, but I think we need to hold quitting things to a higher standard for the betterment of ourselves.