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[LifeStyle] Feel like quitting your job or your relationship? Maybe you should…


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Politicians, media moguls, doctors, teachers and even Harry and Meghan have all thrown in their hats. So is grit and perseverance over? Gaby Hinsliff charts the rise of the quitters


ce doesn’t necessarily mean you have to.’ Illustration: Martin O'Neill/The Observer
The Observer
Work & careers
Feel like quitting your job or your relationship? Maybe you should…
Politicians, media moguls, doctors, teachers and even Harry and Meghan have all thrown in their hats. So is grit and perseverance over? Gaby Hinsliff charts the rise of the quitters

Gaby Hinsliff
Gaby Hinsliff
Sun 16 Apr 2023 07.00 BST
When Julia Keller dropped out of graduate school at the tender age of 19, she was fully expecting a parental lecture on why she should tough it out. Instead, to her relief, her father offered to come and fetch her. What had felt like a terrible failure at the time actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise as she found her niche in journalism instead, working her way up over the next couple of decades into a senior position as book critic and feature writer at the Chicago Tribune newspaper. But when Keller decided just over a decade ago to quit journalism, too, in order to write fiction, this time her mother was horrified.

“Her generation, even more than mine, was very much, ‘You do not quit a good job that is paying you a fair salary! Your working conditions are not terrible, you’re not in a Dickensian workhouse, how dare you quit?’” she explains over Zoom from Ohio. “She just could not fathom why anyone would do that.”


But Keller, who has since published a series of mystery novels, doesn’t regret her decision and nor do most of the quitters she interviewed for her new book, Quitting: A Life Strategy. Its subversive message is that if at first you don’t succeed – or even if you do – then maybe just give up. There is, she argues, too much of a premium placed on the ability to grit your teeth and persevere through misery. “Why does that even matter? Because you can get through something that’s really unbearable. But why does that give you some kind of cachet, when the truth is that changing often is the more courageous thing to do?” Just because you could persevere with a toxic relationship, job, religious faith or political allegiance doesn’t necessarily mean you have to, she writes; not when quitting might be “an escape hatch, a long shot, a shortcut, a leap of imagination, a fist raised in resistance, a saving grace…” Although it can also, she concedes, be a “potential disaster”.

Her argument certainly strikes a contemporary chord. New Zealand’s former prime minister Jacinda Ardern and Scotland’s ex-first minister Nicola Sturgeon have both recently resigned midterm, arguing it’s time for new chapters in their lives (although the recent news about Sturgeon’s husband means her resignation may be seen in a different light). Meanwhile the Duke and Duchess of Sussex have conducted a media blitz to explain why they quit the royal family. Susan Wojcicki stepped down as CEO of YouTube in February and Sheryl Sandberg quit Meta, Facebook’s parent company, last June.

Almost two-thirds of junior doctors have considered leaving their jobs

Almost two-thirds of junior doctors have considered leaving their jobs, according to a survey by the British Medical Association, and almost half of teachers plan to do so. Nor is this longing to quit confined to highly paid professionals. Last year’s TikTok trend for “Quit Toks”, often gleefully celebrating the act of telling the boss where to stick his low-paid job, saw users live-streaming resignation emails or posting videos of themselves turning off the lights as they left the office.

Not everyone can afford to leave a steady job in the middle of a cost of living crisis, of course, which may be why the much-predicted Great Resignation post-Covid hasn’t quite materialised in Britain. (Although there was a spike in the number of people moving jobs in summer 2021 after a sharp fall when recruitment was frozen during lockdown; a rise in economic inactivity among the over-50s, meanwhile, appears more driven by ill health than hedonistic early retirements.) But growing interest in four-day weeks, home working and “quiet quitting” – refusing to go beyond the bare minimum at work – suggests at the very least a desire to claw some time back.

Once upon a time, quitting at your professional peak was seen as something exhausted working mothers did when work plus family became too much (full disclosure: I did it myself 13 years ago, leaving a job I loved as political editor of The Observer in an attempt to get a life back). But now the desire to quit seems to be kicking in far earlier, with a recent survey by Grazia magazine finding three-quarters of 18- to 29-year-olds felt less motivated professionally post-pandemic. A generation raised to be constantly hustling – polishing CVs while still in sixth form, juggling a side job, fighting over the last affordable rented flat in London – may finally be pushing back.

Yet for many of us, Keller argues, quitting remains shrouded in guilt and shame, associated with failure rather than with pursuing a different kind of success. Why is it still so hard to let go?

Ten years ago a psychologist called Angela Duckworth gave a Ted Talk that has now been viewed more than 29m times. In a previous career as a maths teacher, she said, she’d realised her highest-achieving pupils weren’t necessarily the smartest. Something other than IQ seemed to determine their success. So when she retrained as a psychologist, she set out to research predictive factors for achievement in everything from children’s spelling competitions to corporate sales and military training.

Successful people stick to their plan and don’t give up
The secret sauce, Duckworth concluded, was what she called grit, or “passion and perseverance for very long-term goals”. Successful people stick to their plan and don’t give up, she argued, both in that talk and in her bestselling book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. Duckworth admitted she wasn’t sure exactly how to teach this quality. But she cited her fellow psychologist Carol Dweck’s concept of “growth mindset”, or the theory that ability isn’t fixed and can be boosted through effort, including persevering with challenging tasks.

Having caught the attention of David Cameron’s government, which in 2014 launched a £4.5m fund to develop children’s “character, resilience and grit”, the growth mindset theory has been widely preached in British schools. But what looked like a relatively cheap, easy way of boosting children’s attainment hasn’t always lived up to the hype. One study by a team at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio found only a small correlation between growth-mindset programmes in school and academic scores, suggesting they may not make much difference (Dweck has since argued that while she still believes in the theory, it hasn’t always translated well into classrooms).

Some psychologists have meanwhile questioned what Duckworth’s idea of grit adds to what’s long been known about conscientiousness boosting achievement. Keller, meanwhile, fears the belief that success is just a matter of never giving up may obscure the role of structural economic inequalities and encourage people to blame the poor for their own poverty, on the grounds that maybe they just didn’t try hard enough.

link: https://www.theguardian.com/money/2023/apr/16/want-to-quit-your-job-or-your-relationship-maybe-you-should

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