Stop Riding Dead Horses: It's Okay to Quit

Written by Rida Tahir on June 13, 2020 (10 minute read)

If I was given a dollar for every time I came across a quote like the ones above, I would be a millionaire.

We are obsessed with perseverance. We glorify and idealize the act of not quitting and persevering in the face of challenges and difficulties. Almost all successful people, athletes, fitness trainers, celebrities, entrepreneurs and influencers try hard to convince us of the power of perseverance and internet is chockfull of quotes, inspirational videos and articles on the virtues of perseverance, grit and not giving up.

As we grow up reading or hearing these quotes and watching these videos, at some point we start equating quitting with failure and taking it as a sign of weakness, of cowardice.

But there is an alternative truth that nobody will tell you: it’s okay to quit!

What Holds Us Back?

1. Fear of Quitting

So many things hold us back from quitting, even if it’s doing more harm than good and making us miserable. Fear of quitting is one of these things. We are afraid of being labelled as a failure, as a loser. We want to save our face. We don’t want to let down ourselves or our families. Fear of quitting is the reason why we keep tolerating abuse in marriage, why we keep begging for attention from an emotionally unavailable person and don’t walk away, why we don’t resign from a job that has robbed us of our happiness and peace, why we keep investing money in failed projects or businesses and why we keep working on a personal project even after it’s no longer fun and fulfilling.

2. The Sunk Cost Fallacy

Do you tend to keep your unworn clothes cluttering your closet for years because they were expensive so you can’t throw them out? If yes, then you are guilty of making the Sunk Cost Fallacy.

Sunk Cost Fallacy is the tendency of people to “continue an endeavor, or continue consuming or pursuing an option, if they’ve invested time or money or some resource in it. That effect becomes a fallacy if it’s pushing you to do things that are making you unhappy or worse off.”, according to Christopher Olivola, assistant professor of marketing at Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University.

It is Sunk Cost Fallacy that makes people want to stay in abusive or failing marriages because they have invested so many years and so much effort into making it work.

It is Sunk Cost Fallacy that makes people want to stay in unfulfilling jobs because they have had this job for years, have stayed up all night to finish projects, have spent so much on training themselves for this job, etc

It is Sunk Cost Fallacy that makes students want to finish their engineering degree even though they hate the subject, they hate the work involved, they hate the profession and they don’t want to work in the field of engineering.

3. False Hope

False hope is another reason why we keep doing things that no longer serve us. Some people don’t quit because they believe things will magically start looking up. They hope for a silver lining even when there is none. For example, many women stay in abusive marriages because they ‘hope’ that things will get better if they persevere. They put up with abuse hoping that one day their abusive partners will magically have a change of heart, will realize their mistake and stop abusing.

4. Fear of the Unknown

Sometimes, the fear of the unknown holds us back and prevents us from seeing the big picture. We don’t quit because we don’t know what future holds. We fear the uncertainty of our future. We are afraid that if we resign from our job, we might not be able to secure another job, and we might end up jobless and homeless. We are afraid that if we walk out of a failing marriage, we will not be able to find another companion and we will end up lonely. That’s why we hold on to whatever we have and don’t want to let it go.

5. Self-doubt

Self-doubt is a killer, because interestingly, self-doubt is both what makes people quit, and what stops people from quitting when they really should. People are overcome with self-doubt and insecurity when they are about to quit something (for example, one career or job for another). They feel like they are not good enough. They compare themselves with other people and feel worthless as compared to them. They are convinced that everyone else is smarter and more capable than themselves. That’s what holds them back and they can never get around to making the decision to quit, whether it’s a new career, new job, new business idea or new relationship.

6. Analysis Paralysis

Some people are unable to quit because they fall victim to Analysis Paralysis. Analysis paralysis refers to a situation in which an individual or group is unable to move forward with a decision as a result of overanalyzing data or overthinking a problem. Such people overthink and overanalyze their circumstances and are overcautious; so much that they get stressed out and can no longer make any rational decision. They are constantly second-guessing everything, so they never actually get around to making the decision to quit because all the overthinking makes their minds go all blank.

Quitting is Not Easy

Quitting is difficult. In fact, it can be one of the hardest decisions to make. We invest our energies, our emotions, our time and money into making things work. We put our heart and soul into something just so it could work, like a failing marriage, a career that’s not going anywhere, a business that’s making more losses than profit…

But in doing so, we forget that quitting is an option and that we are allowed to quit!

Sometimes, quitting is necessary. It’s the only option. Would you rather go down with a sinking ship, or would you jump off and save your life?

Sometimes, quitting is the best thing you can do because all your hard work is pointless when your ladder is leaning against the wrong wall i.e. you’re putting all your efforts in the wrong direction.

Quitting is Always Risky

It’s never really safe to quit. Quitting is always a risk. We are all living in our own bubbles of our comfort zone. We like to stay in our comfort zone because it is safe, predictable, and, of course, comfortable. We are afraid of stepping outside our comfort zone, our safety net, because of the unpredictability and uncertainty of what is in store for us once we are out of our bubble and exposed to all kinds of danger and threat (i.e. problems and obstacles).

But sometimes taking that big leap of faith is exactly what we need to become the person we’re meant to become. You don’t have to be optimistic and believe that everything will be all right. You do have to be realistic and expect that there will be problems and obstacles, but believe you will make it through.

Quitting is Not a Sign of Weakness

We are taught that quitting is a sign of weakness. What we are never taught is that sometimes, quitting is the bravest thing to do.

Walking away from an abusive marriage is brave.

Resigning from a well-paying but unfulfilling job is brave.

Abandoning your engineering degree or PhD when you’re halfway through because it’s not what you want is brave.

Giving up a hobby like painting or writing because it’s no longer your passion, no longer enjoyable or meaningful, is brave.

Quitting takes courage and, as Kaise West puts it, “courage is not the absence of fear, but the ability to move forward despite the fear.”

Quitting, then, is not a sign of weakness, but an act of courage, strength and power, because quitting is harder than not quitting.

Quitting is Not Failure

Quitting does not make you a failure. Sometimes, quitting gets you closer to winning and sets you up for success, because knowing what you DON’T want in life is as crucial for success as knowing what you DO want. It’s OK to quit, even if it feels like failure. Because even failure is not a bad thing at all and it’s okay to fail, too!

Quitting is a Key to Success

Perseverance is, indeed, a virtue, a character strength. It’s good and all, but it’s not the only key to success. Knowing when to quit and having the courage to quit when the time is right is also a key to success.  According to the tribal wisdom of Dakota Indians,

“When you discover you are riding a dead horse, the best strategy is to dismount”.

The challenge is to recognize, better sooner than later, that the horse has died, and understand that no amount of hard work, effort, time, money or magic is going to revive it.

The key to success, then, is to identify the dead horses in your life and dismount from them, because if you keep riding dead horses, you’re not going to get anywhere, let alone towards the path of success.

Sometimes quitting is the right answer, and sometimes it is not. Sometimes you need to preserve, and sometimes you need to let go. (HuffPost)  

Quitting Might Teach You What Persevering Will Not

When you quit, you have the opportunity to start over with a clean slate. Quitting gives you an opportunity to reflect and learn. It can be an invaluable learning experience if you take the time to evaluate the conditions, the reasons and the precursors to your decision to quit. What was your mistake(s)? How you could have done things differently? What have you learned and how can you make different, better choices now? 

Quitting Can Be Empowering

Just realizing that you have control over a situation and can quit whenever you want is incredibly empowering. The actual act of quitting something that’s debilitating, like an abusive marriage or a high-paying but unfulfilling job, is even more empowering when you realize you deserve better and can walk away when the time is right.

Quitting Can Be Liberating

Sometimes work and relationships can be so emotionally, physically and spiritually draining that quitting becomes a matter of life and death. Quitting may not be the easiest decision to make, but when you do quit, you feel a great deal of weight lift off your shoulders. You feel liberated, relaxed, relieved. Once you quit, you can steer your life in a different, better direction. It allows you to redirect your focus on what matters. You feel more alive, happier and more motivated about new beginnings.

But How to Know When It's Time to Quit?

Make it a habit to identify your dead horses. One of the best ways to do this is to periodically evaluate things you’re doing. Think of your job, or business, your relationships, marriage, your passion project, whatever it is that you’re spending your time and energies on. 

Are these things working for or against you?

Is your job making you miserable, so miserable that you can see its effects on your personal life as well?

Is your marriage or relationship making you unhappy, bringing out the worst in you instead of making you a better person, even though you’ve done everything to make it work?

Are you investing a lot of your time in a project that’s neither profitable, nor enjoyable?

Everything that’s no longer serving you or is working against you and is making you miserable in the process is a dead horse and the sign that it’s time to quit.


Quitting is hard, scary and full of risks, but it is not failure and definitely not a sign of weakness. It can be an invaluable learning experience, it is empowering, liberating and may be the key to your success.

So learn to identify your dead horses and quit if that’s what you need to do but have been afraid to take the step, because you don’t need anyone’s permission to quit.