Be a Committed Quitter

For most of my life, I have HATED the idea of being seen as a quitter. I didn’t want to be seen as flaky and inconsistent. I didn’t want to seem like someone blown about by every whim. But the end result was that I never wanted to try new things. Because what if I wasn’t instantly awesome at it, didn’t like it, learned more about it and wasn’t interested? Then I would have to be a quitter. A failure really.

how to test early retirement ideas

Finally, about 8 years ago, I decided that was crazy talk.

I was going to be a quitter, border line failure and wave that flag proudly.

I was going to try things, all sorts of things, with no guarantee that I would like them, be good at them or keeping doing it. I would start and quite things like trying on clothes in the wrong size.

If you hate to start or even plan something for fear it won’t work out, these tips are for you, from a recovering “if-you-start-it-you-better-stick-with-it” friend.

1. Test things/experiment with your dreams

How will you know if you don’t try?

There are always small ways to test bigger dreams/ideas. Try it for a day. Test it over a weekend. Give it 6 months.

Sometimes we have little inklings of interest. Test them. I was interested in the idea of writing a personal finance blog. So I tested it. For 2 months before I launched, I wrote blog posts. I read blogs about starting blogs. I watched interviews. That worked out ok. So then I decided to test the idea for 6 months. The only questions to this test were 1. Do I like it? 2. Do others like it?

 If your just “testing” an idea, you can’t fail.

What would financial freedom look like for you? What would you do during a year off? How would you spend your time in early retirement? If you wanted to become self employed, or have a side hustle that provided financial flexibility, what would that be? Want to renovate or manage rentals? You can test all these ideas. If you have a few years between now and then, start by testing out the ideas.

2. Scale

If you test 100 ideas, you will know which 90 to quite, like right away. Then you keep testing. You slowly scale each idea. With each test, the goal is to learn one new thing about the idea, or yourself.

Say you are interested in living full time in an RV. Before you jump in, test it. Read books. Read blogs. Rent one for a week, or borrow one from a friend. Go camping. Take a long road trip rather than fly.

8 years ago, I had this idea of traveling in an RV for 6-12 months with my kids. But now we have 5 little kids. 5 seems like a lot of chaos for a camper. So we tested the idea, then scaled it. We started taking 2 hour road trips. We started doing more things where we needed to be “out and about” with the kids all day. Last summer we took a 6 week trip.

You know what, if half way through the trip things were going horribly, I would have turned around and drove home. We test things, we get answers to the questions we have, we adjust course, we test again. (The trip was awesome!)

Part of scaling is to test something with vigor. This isn’t a wishy-washy, “I’ll think about it but not really jump in.”

A few years ago I ran into an old high school friend. I hadn’t seen him in a dozen years. And without missing a beat he said, with all seriousness, “I’m surprised I haven’t seen your name on the New York Times bestsellers list.” Um… what? Now it’s easy to shrug off an obviously misguided and ill-informed comment like that. I had hardly written in high school and very sporadically since. Sure the idea of writing a book had rolled around in my head for a few years in my 20’s. But the space between an idea rolling around and finished product is about a million miles.

But how do you know if you don’t test it and continue to slowly scale the idea?

I tested writing a blog. I tested writing more words each day. Then I scaled. This year I plan to write about 100,000-150,000 words. The average non fiction book is about 60-80k. So I will test writing words. I will experiment with finding my voice and message. Maybe I will like it, maybe I won’t. Maybe I will find it, maybe I won’t. But I’m 100% committed to the test. I’m a committed quitter.

3.  Clarify

As you test and experiment with this idea, you will gain clarity. Look at it as a learning experience. Like a high school science class, look at your hypothesis, test it, then evaluate. Gather data. Make notes.

I have tried a lot of things, some to figure out certain questions, others to gain a wider perspective. I signed up for classes that didn’t fit into my major. I read books I had little initial interest in. I traveled to places not recommended in the guide books. Each time I gain clarity into what I did and didn’t want.

I took a week long art history class in Amsterdam on Van Gogh.

I love history. I love Van Gogh. But this class had almost none of either of those. It was more art than history. As in our homework each day was to produce art. And not Van Gogh-ish art. The teacher was smitten with Pollock. So after only 20 minutes of lecture we had to spend the next 8 hours on assignments like, “Go out and look for that which is missing and paint the absence.” Um… my personality type almost had a panic attack! “Paint the absence….absence of what!!!!” No help, no instruction. Just, “Sometimes that which is missing adds more value than that which we see.” I could feel my heart rate skyrocket and I was starting to break out in a cold sweat. This was like trying to paint Taoism. So I bought some watercolors and painted tulips instead.

And I never took another expressionist painting class. Because I learned something. Something about me, my interests and my talents. I enjoy trying to “paint the absence” with words, but not watercolors. I love creating stories more than splatter. I really do appreciate Pollack. When I was 12, I went out and bought a Pollock print with my first real paycheck. But I’m not Pollock. If art had been my major I would have quit. But I was just “testing” a class. Testing brings clarity.

4. Change Course

The scariest part of saying, “I would like this to be on my highlight reel in 10 years,” is writing it down then having to change that plan later. But that is the crazy talk.

If we are constantly testing things, trying things, and gaining clarity, why would we use none of that information? The whole point is to apply the new insights. Our plans have to be a living document. With each new piece of information, a small correction ripples through our plans.

Here is the amazing thing about it all. The more you test and try things out, the clearer your path gets. Because it is tested. Because it’s not just some random idea, but slowly and surely battle tested. With each small experiment, your plan becomes stronger. You can rule a few things out. You can add some new things to test.

We don’t magically arrive in amazing places. Our highlight reel doesn’t get filled if we are too scared to even start something. Give being a committed quitter a try. Write down a 10 year dream. Run some experiments. Test it. Scale it. Clarify the idea and the path it will take to get there. And change course. Rule some options out. Try some new options again.

For Conversation:

1. Anything you have “tested” or “scaled” lately?

2.What holds you back from jumping into something?

3. Do you hesitate to start things you might quit?

4. Do you have ideas for a gap year, or early retirement that you could test?

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36 thoughts on “Be a Committed Quitter

  1. Part of the reason I like doing all these sharing economy side hustles is because they let you test things out. When I started dog sitting, the idea was, if it was a disaster, I’d just quit doing it. No harm, no foul. Same with doing Airbnb, or any of the bike delivery stuff I do.

    I did sign up to do Instacart a while back – basically an app where you shop for groceries for people. When I tried it out, I realized it wasn’t for me, so I just quit doing it. Sure, I lost some time with that endeavor, but at least I gave it a try.

    • That is awesome! I think just being willing to test things, and try things is a unique gift. Plus with the bike messenger side hustle, you have found something that you really enjoy. =) I think if people really wanted to find a great side hustle, the best way is to follow your example and test 5 or 6 out. See what works and stop the rest.

    • I’m so happy to hear that! I wrote these as a pair. I have used both idea in tandem to help me overcome fear of starting. Let me know if you end up “testing” a few things. =)

  2. The quitter mindset is a great one to have. Most people would not think that way. Unless you try something out you’ll never truly know if its for you or not. I left a long term position with a company, and so wish I would have sooner. So happy with my new one, and different responsibilities. I’m much happier now, but I was more than content to stay at the old place. Its all about making the mind set shift. I recently gave the advice to someone else, letting them know you’ll never know what’s out there unless you look.

    • I’m so glad that you found something that is a better fit! I think a lot of people get scared because they think it’s all or nothing. Start small and test little things. One of the kind of crazy things I have done when I was thinking about leaving a job, was to apply to other jobs and go on interviews. I wasn’t really sure I wanted to leave my current job, but I wanted to test the water and see what else was out there. Not just on paper, but in the company in an interview. Was there another company culture I would like better, a boss I might like better, better structure, better pay? It was a great way to test the idea out.

      I got into freelance writing by writing a few articles for free for other places. Then I got a paid offer. I said I would test it out by doing one post for them. I like that so I scaled to do more work, and different kinds of work. Then I scaled again. If at any point, I found out it wasn’t a great fit, I would have said, “Thanks but no thanks.” Life is too short to stay stuck. =)

  3. Loved this article!
    There are advantages galore to being a committed quitter. You have more interesting stories to tell, you become a more interesting person for all the things that you have tried. You get good at trying – this means that over time you will become more efficient at it – you will fail faster, and decide to move on to the next thing. You keep your brain young because you keep throwing new things at it.

    The one thing that I find myself completely unable to quit is a book once I have started reading it. No matter how crappy, I find myself driven to reach the end. It is a terribly affliction and resulted in me consuming an entire Twilight book, sparkly vampires and all. Scooping my eyeballs out of my head with an ice cream scoop would have been less painful.

    • All those top points are GOLD! And I have personally seen the benefits of all of them. I think we also learn how to test things faster, in really small ways. Like what are three super small things I could do this weekend to test this idea?

      And that book stuff cracks me up!!! I don’t read fiction, so maybe I am safe from vampire books. =) But I’ve read some really random non-fiction books! Although, on almost any imaginable topic that someone brings up, I can probably say, “Oh, yeah, I read a book about that idea.” I’ll never admit that the book was torture. But it buys me some common ground. =)

  4. Getting started is the biggest hurdle for me. I tend to want things to happen perfectly even though I know they rarely do. That can hold me back at times. Taking the time to plan is always good, but sometimes it’s just better to jump in and learn as you go. Failure is the best teacher after all.

  5. Great post! My younger self didn’t test things nearly as much as she could have. The fear of failure won out too often. But, this has changed – pretty drastically, in fact. I’ll try (almost) anything at least once. I absolutely the idea of testing and now I do it all the time. Right now, I’m testing a freelance gig. If it doesn’t work out, that’s okay. And Alan and I have been tossing around the idea of testing some side hustles to replace income for an earlier exit from his 9-5.

    • That is great! I find I’m more prone to try things, and better at finding small ways to test an idea. Even silly things…my friend sent me a video of this guy exercising by dancing while walking around NYC and I was like, “Sure, I’ll try that!” So while I was in Vegas on my life planning retreat I figured the Vegas strip at night is the perfect place to test this dance walking out. And it was awesome! My walk-dance moves were so epicly bad that random people joined in. Just pure fun. A few people shot some video, so hopefully it doesn’t end up on Youtube. I’m not sure the rest of the world is ready for my dance walking just yet. =)

  6. I’m about to test myself on Monday. I am taking a huge leap into a new job that I definitely have some nervousness about. Although I have to admit every new job I take I get nervous. This one though if I do well will set me on a new path which I hope will potentially open some new doors. However, there is a chance that I’ll hate it and want to quit. But I keep telling myself, if that’s the case at least I tried and know.

    BTW…I can definitely tell why your friend thought you were going to be on the NY Times best seller list. I can really hear your voice through each one of your posts getting stronger and stronger. Keep up the awesome work.

    • Congrats on the new job! That is so exciting, I hope you like it. =) Since I started writing a year ago, I’ve written about 100k words. Funny thing…it’s getting better. Who knew? =) After another 200k-300k words, I might be able to put something together. =) You don’t know unless you test it.

  7. Love this post! I’ve tried a lot of things that never worked out, or maybe just didn’t work out for the time. Right now I’m teasing more monetization for my blog by increasing traffic through Pinterest. I bit the bullet and I’m paying a VA, something I was very uncomfortable doing because I’ve been holding on tightly to money. But the thing is, if it doesn’t work out or I don’t see a difference, I can always stop and pivot!

    • Absolutely to testing and adjusting course! I heard a very successful business lady say in an interview “Scared money doesn’t make money.” I started my blog with a little nest egg of cash from my last side hustle gig. Sometimes I sell off some product from my side hustle gig before that to add some capitol. Then I reinvest everything I bring in. In the beginning there is always a fine line between an expensive hobby and side hustle. =)

  8. Really great post! It was only recently that I even became aware I had the better-not-start-because-I-might-fail mindset. Trying to change it has been a real struggle. I expect a lot of myself and worry that I’ll be letting the people I care about down. I now try to approach new things with a little more compassion for myself and the idea of seeing how they might contribute to make a more me-shaped life. The non-successes teach me something I didn’t know before and I appreciate that and move on to the next idea.

    • Such a good perspective! Make sure you read the link for mindsets that overcome fears of failure. These two posts are meant to work together. =) I find myself getting better at failing faster and smaller than I did 10 or even 6 years ago. I would fail much slower and bigger. Over time I think we can find smaller faster ways to test things, then start to scale. Read one book. Talk to one person. Try one thing. I’ve learned a TON from each “failure” but one of the greatest lessons was to test small and fast. Then scale. =)

  9. Wonderful post, Ms. M. Mr. Groovy and I like to say we’re very good at “adjusting” which is shorthand for taking a step back, redirecting, or even bailing out, depending on the situation. No harm in that. I think perhaps many of us have gotten so used to the idea of accountability, especially if we say we’re going to do “this, this and this” that we get gun shy about trying new things.

    • Absolutely! The quote, at the very bottom of my site, is from a book I read 10 years ago. It really stuck with me and shed light on what was getting me hung up. I wanted to write EVERYTHING in Sharpie. But then I was to scared to try. It’s been a decade long process of learning to use words like “maybe” and write things in pencil. =)

  10. That’s an interesting perspective. I still don’t like quitting, though. You won’t know if you’ll succeed unless you really give it your all. I’m trying to teach that to our kid. He doesn’t have much grit right now.
    However, there is a big opportunity cost if you don’t try something new. It’s tough to find a good balance.

    • I think there is a fine line between realizing something doesn’t have potential or is a bad fit, and wanting to quite because something is hard and takes work. Being willing to test things small then scale them up. Being committed. But being a quitter. Like if we try 10 hobbies, one might really stick. Leaning in a going deep with that one, and being ok walking away from the other 9. It’s hard to hold that paradox. Because there is danger on either side. 1. Never trying anything. Or Staying with the 1 thing we tried but wasn’t right for us. Or 2. being so flaky that you try everything but never stick around to really test it out and never get to scaling the idea/hobby/relationship.

  11. Love your attitude! Teddy Roosevelt had a great quote about taking action and understanding that failure is part of the process. It was something to the effect of ‘The only man who has never failed is a man who has never tried anything’.

    • Thanks for stopping by! That is such a great quote. And that would be my biggest regret at the end of my life. If I looked back and saw that I never tried anything.

  12. This is what I love so much about reading and taking classes. I love learning new ideas, going new places, and trying new things. Most of the time I have no inclination to continue long-term, but I love the steep early learning curve of figuring things out.

  13. I have had this problem lately with quitting my job to retire. I am trying to get over the work addiction, but pulling the trigger seems to come with lots of obstacles when you are married. So, step one was to stop the 529 contributions and invest in taxable accounts instead, done. Step two, which happened today, was I dropped 401k contributions to zero (only matched if employed on last day of year, I hope to not be).

    Third step will be trying to engineer my layoff, but I am going to wait until my large bonus is paid out, end of March, before I start this discussion with my boss.

    • Pulling the plug is HARD! One way we eased the transition was by “just taking a year off.” It was our way to test it out, see how it goes, and then have permission to quite and go back to the 9-5 if we wanted to. Mr. Mt got a lot of really great work offers during our time off, and it would have been easy to jump back in if that is what we would have wanted. It was a great way to test the water. Then scale.

      Good luck on that transition! It was harder than I expected it to be! Especially once you start having to explain it to peers and professional friends. =/

  14. Very inspirational post, and I’m completely supportive of the idea of turning the “if-you-start-it-you-better-stick-with-it” mindset upside-down. Every activity has its challenges and downsides, of course, and we probably shouldn’t quit any time something gets hard for the first time, but that’s no reason to keep doing things that we don’t enjoy. One of the most empowering moments of my life was when I decided halfway through high school to quit the school band. I had always felt a ton of pressure to maintain activities like that, even when I didn’t enjoy them. Feeling good about making that decision for myself was life-changing. Like you said here, I think the key is to try things out in low-risk ways. Pay for a few riding lessons; don’t go out and buy a horse — that kind of thing!

    • I agree that there needs to be earnestness in the testing. But after you figure out the info from the test, you should probably quite or scale it. And the horse is a great example! Geesh those are expensive, high maintenance hobbies! I can think of 10 small “tests” to run before you actually buy one. One test would be volunteering a stable for an hour a day for 2 months. Cause if that isn’t the funnest hour of your life each day, you might not like owning a horse!

  15. Great article! I have been trying to become a great Quitter by taking classes via udemy this year. Last year it was try 1 Pinterest idea I viewed a week. Trying new things has been slot of fun!

  16. I agree with you about quitting! 🙂 I first heard about it from Bob Goff, the author of the book Love Does. He quits something every Thursday! (Quitting is #5 on this list of things Bob does.) http://archives.relevantmagazine.com/life/whole-life/10-ways-live-extraordinary-life

    It’s not easy for me to think about quitting something. I had a college professor who wouldn’t sign the drop papers for his class until I said out loud that I was a quitter. (rude prof, I’d say!) He attached such shame to the act of quitting a class. Time for me to let go of that shame!!

    • Oh my goodness, I love Bob Goff so much! =) He’s just delightful. I heard an interview when he was talking about quitting, and said people have stopped taking his calls on that day. Ha! And yes, let go of the shame! =)

      • Ha ha! That’s so great! I had not heard that some people don’t take calls from him on Thursdays! Interesting contrast to Bob’s policy of always answering the phone!

        • Yeah, I think any place he volunteers knows the gig now. =) If he serves on a board there, they don’t pick up the call. Let him call the next commitment on his list! =)

  17. I have always wanted to own my own business. But my direction is blurry. I feel like I have tested stuff out… But then I feel like your #2 point . I feel like the effort has been wishy washy and so it’s not really tested… I can’t decided if my endeavor is failing because it’s not for me. Or because I haven’t really jumped all in.