Written by Hazel Davis


Why I ❤️ quitting

Never give up is a mantra drilled into us from childhood. Sod that, says Hazel Davis, who isn’t afraid of stopping what she’s started.

Illustration of three friends watching a boring opera

Illustration by Louise Boulter.

It’s an easy anecdote to tell and it’s mostly true: I quit my PhD five months in because I was reading a really gripping Ruth Rendell and I didn’t want to be fagged with putting it down. Of course, that’s not entirely what happened (scholarships office, if you’re reading); it goes waaay deeper than that. Well, a bit.

That’s right, I had a scholarship to do a PhD, funded for three years. It’s the stuff of dreams. It basically doesn’t happen. So, I’m really sorry White Rose Scholarships office. AT THE TIME I totally wanted the funding. I totally wanted to do my PhD but, really, it wasn’t quite exactly the topic I had in mind. Plus my Ruth Rendell was exactly what I had in mind. So I quit. I woke up one morning and threw the towel in, with barely a second thought.

And, do you know what? I don’t really feel that bad about it.

I have always been a quitter. Well, ever since I realised I could be, at least. I wasn’t raised to be a quitter. I was definitely raised to never try new things, but instead to stick to the things you are already doing. Bitterly and miserably. To the end. This included Girl Guides, soggy carrots and books you really aren’t enjoying.

I was around 18 when I realised that if something wasn’t making you happy you could just stop doing it. I’d decided that living at home was making me miserable and that, having forgotten to apply for university (read: massively fucked up my academic future), I had to escape for a bit. So I quit working at Oxfam and the part-time music A level I was doing and sodded off to Scotland to work on a farm (more on that later*).

“Things I have quit include Breaking Bad, Harry Potter and taking one photo of my children every week for their whole lives for posterity. Lasted about three months. Booooring.”

Since then I have quit a lot of things. I miraculously finished my degree without abandoning it, but I was all set to go to Edinburgh and do my MA when my boyfriend told me there was a house to rent near where he lived and so I abandoned that plan and hotfooted it up to Yorkshire instead. The PhD thing happened and then I decided I was going to start at the bottom and train to be a social worker instead. I got through several rounds of interviews and was all set to take up a job for the local authority (I do feel a bit bad about this) when I remembered I actually wanted to be a writer instead. So I got a secretarial job and began writing for the local listings mag for free. This bagged me an entry-level job on a magazine. I worked here for nearly two years but my dad dying gave me the perfect opportunity to quit (despite the fact he lived hundreds of miles away and I didn’t see him that much) and try my hand freelancing.

Other things I have quit include Breaking Bad (watched three episodes, decided life was too short), Harry Potter (read three books, got the gist, moved on) and taking one photo of my children every week for their whole lives for posterity. Lasted about three months. Booooring.

Two friends and I were once in the middle of a really dull opera. We’d paid handsomely for the privilege but none of us were enjoying it. We had gone with a large group of people, none of whom were enjoying it either. “Let’s leave,” we said in the interval, “B…b…but we can’t!” the others cried. “Can’t we?” we said and went and drank absinthe in the street. It remains one of the best nights ever.

The thing is, that although nobody likes to be let down, neither do they want to be around people who are bogged down in the wrong decisions or sticking around because they feel they can’t leave.

Though it might not always sound like it, I do take my friendships seriously. However, really, if it’s making nobody happy then, sorry, I’m not going to stick it out to the bitter end – and I don’t expect them to either. I don’t care if we’ve shared our darkest secrets. We don’t make each other happy any more, let’s move on. No hard feelings.

The key to doing quitting properly is not always or never doing, but knowing when to. It’s all about writing off the ‘sunk cost’, apparently (I’m not making this up, although I am totally bluffing my level of understanding) and considering the ‘opportunity cost’. Basically, sunk cost is the time and effort you’ve sunk into something and opportunity cost is what that sunk cost is, well, costing you. Economists define sunk cost as a cost that can never be recovered. Can never be recovered. So move on. Quit, walk away, breathe a sigh of relief and use the time and effort you’ve saved on something else.

And finally, once you’ve started doing it, quitting is SO liberating. The faint knowledge that when you enter any situation/contract/party/theatrical experience you can walk out at any time makes the experience much more enjoyable.

*couldn’t be arsed, sorry.


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Written by Hazel Davis

Hazel Davis is a freelance writer from West Yorkshire. She has two tiny children but the majority of her hours are taken up with thinking about Alec Baldwin singing sea shanties and the time someone once called her "moreishly interesting".