Elizabeth Day: ‘I’ve finally learned to quit’

The older I get, the more I believe that knowing when to quit is an under-appreciated life skill. Growing up, we are constantly taught that we have to keep at it, to put the effort in, to clock up the necessary distance on life’s milometer.

But no one really talks about the simple pleasure of giving up. Nothing and no one lasts for ever, and yet we expect ourselves to plug away at unfulfilling jobs and disappointing relationships simply because there is culturally more value attached to finishing a task than to moving on.

Dan Kennedy

At school, I was constantly warned of the dangers of moving jobs too frequently when I got into the world of work. ‘It’ll look bad on your CV!’ the careers adviser would shriek. She ignored the fact that I’d put ‘salsa dancing’ on there as a hobby even though I’d only been to one lesson before… well, quitting.

As a result, I stayed in jobs that didn’t make me happy for far too long. During my 20s, I would let romantic relationships linger for years, even when my gut told me something wasn’t right. I was constitutionally incapable of ending a friendship, including the ones that turned out to be a bit toxic. I felt guilty if I left a party before anyone else.

In my 30s, all that changed. I divorced, and the world around me didn’t collapse. I realised that no one was going to judge me as harshly as I had imagined and that my life was my own to live.

Once I understood that, I embarked on a veritable fever of quitting. I quit my job. I quit my home. I moved countries. I changed book publishers, quitting halfway through a contract and paying back the advance. I started leaving parties when I wanted to go to bed (truly, there is no greater high as an adult than understanding that liking sleep is absolutely a valid excuse to go home). I did all of this because I didn’t want to waste one single second more trying to ‘stick at it’ according to someone else’s invented metric of how I should behave.

And here’s the thing: once I started quitting, I created space in my life to welcome in the prospects and people who brought me joy. I met my husband. I pursued friendships that were nourishing rather than draining. I launched a podcast. I wrote books I felt passionately about. Miraculously, I was given this column and I got to share whatever was on my mind, week after week, supported by incredible editors and readers. Along the way, some of you were kind enough to write me emails and cards and letters. I have kept them all among my most cherished possessions because even if we’ve never met, you know me better than some of my real-life acquaintances. I feel so seen and understood by you. I am so grateful for you.

These days, I get to quit for positive reasons – not because anything is wrong, but because many things are right and I want to see what happens when I say yes to new opportunities. Which is to say: I have loved every single second of writing this column over the past three years. During that time, my life has changed, both professionally and personally. If you’re a regular reader, you will know that one of my most profound desires is to become a mother. I feel, deep down, if there is a chance of this happening, I first need to create the space to beckon it in.

So this will be my last column for YOU magazine. For now, at least. Thank you for reading me. It has been one of the great privileges of my life to be a weekly part of yours. But let’s not be sad about it. Let’s simply celebrate the art of knowing when to go.

This week I’m…

Listening

To the Sweet Bobby podcast: the story of a decade-long catfishing scam. Utterly riveting.

Watching

The latest season of Selling Sunset on Netflix. If I have a guilty pleasure, then this is indubitably it.

Wearing

Mix-and-match charm earring hoops. Such a great idea to make your own. From £50, myfrkl.com.

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