The Quitting Way

A beginner’s guide to perfect disengagement

| September-October 1996

In the spring of 1994 I left my job as a library assistant in Manhattan and became a serious student of the quit. I was 24 at the time, and until that point the idea of quitting had never even crossed my mind. I had yet to appreciate the power of the quit as a force of (human) nature, a force not to be taken lightly.

I had been craving some kind of upheaval, but my fear of the unknown had been keeping me from bolting. In the end, though, despair about my dead-end situation overtook my fear of change. After resigning my job, I quit my apartment, my boyfriend, and most of my worldly possessions. Then I threw what was left in the back of my pickup and quit New York City. When my favorite green sweater flew off the bed of the truck somewhere in Nevada, I chalked it up to a passive quit and drove on, singing “These Boots Are Made for Walking” at the top of my lungs. Every mile marker was an accomplishment, every state line a feather in my quitter’s cap.

I had used the polyquit to change my life. In the process, the quitting way became my central focus, and I began to see how whenever a bridge is burned, there’s a quitter who lit the match. Moving on, cutting losses, getting fed up: These are not only euphemisms for the quit, they are quitter mainstays.

When I arrived at my new address in Port Angeles, Washington, albeit without the benefit of my favorite green sweater, I created a life in which no barriers to quitting were tolerated: I signed no lease, started no love affair, and took a job as a waitress, which is nothing if not highly quittable. I acquired no kitchen equipment, did not hang a single picture on the wall; none of the bills were in my name. In the absence of the things that had formerly defined and given structure to my life—the companion, the job, the permanent address—I made a home of impermanence and nonattachment. For inspiration, I turned to Emerson, who said that “a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”

From my new vantage point, I discovered a world full of quitters. Some came to visit and plot upcoming quits. Others told me amusing stories of dramatic quits they had witnessed. It became clear to me that sympathy for the quitting way is widespread and growing. There is a whole army of potential quitters out there ready to march, albeit each in a different direction.

Quitting is a hallowed American tradition: The country was settled by Puritans, a group of separatists who quit England. The Declaration of Independence is a quitter’s document. Westward expansion was one big locational quit.