I Quit! 11 Quotes on the Luxury of Giving Up

Image from “The Wizard of Oz” (1939) by Metro-Goldwin-Mayer

Editor's Note:

Who doesn’t love a good quote? For more like this, check out our quotations archive.

In the intro to one of his exhibitions, Jasper Johns once wrote: “To be an artist you have to give up everything, including the desire to be a good artist.” This runs counter to everything we’re taught from a young age about conceding failure, which overlooks the valuable role that surrender plays in forging the path ahead.

While nothing great is accomplished by those who abandon ship too easily, it takes tremendous fortitude to admit failure – to give up and start over. In the following quotes about giving up, authors write from that vulnerable place where the road forward is increasingly uncertain, exploring the beauty, as well as the misery, in that state of complete undoing. Isn’t it funny how much better we feel about occupying that liminal space, once we have words to describe it?

Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, 1969
“At fifteen life had taught me undeniably that surrender, in its place, was as honorable as resistance, especially if one had no choice.”

Victoria Schwab, Vicious, 2013
“By the time the first bell rang, signaling the end of Victor’s art elective, he’d turned his parents’ lectures on how to start the day into:
Be lost. Give up. Give In. in the end It would be better to surrender before you begin. be lost. Be lost And then you will not care if you are ever found.

F. Scott Fitzgerald, A Short Autobiography, 2011
“The decision as to when to quit, as to when one is merely floundering around and causing other people trouble, has to be made frequently in a lifetime. In youth we are taught the rather simple rule never to quit, because we are presumably following programmes made by people wiser than ourselves. My own conclusion is that when one has embarked on a course that grows increasingly doubtful and one feels the vital forces beginning to be used up, it is best to ask advice if decent advice is in range.”

Jean-Paul Sartre, No Exit and Three Other Plays, 1982
“Love or hatred calls for self-surrender. He cuts a fine figure, the warm-blooded, prosperous man, solidly entrenched in his well-being, who one fine day surrenders all to love – or to hatred; himself, his house, his land, his memories.”

Pat Conroy, The Prince of Tides, 1986
“A man’s only got so many yeses inside him before he uses them all up.”

Virginia Woolf, The Waves, 1931
“This self now as I leant over the gate looking down over fields rolling in waves of colour beneath me made no answer. He threw up no opposition. He attempted no phrase. His fist did not form. I waited. I listened. Nothing came, nothing. I cried then with a sudden conviction of complete desertion. Now there is nothing. No fin breaks the waste of this immeasurable sea. Life has destroyed me. No echo comes when I speak, no varied words. This is more truly death than the death of friends, than the death of youth.”

James Baldwin, Nobody Knows My Name, 1961
“Many have given up. They stay home and watch the TV screen, living on the earnings of their parents, cousins, brothers, or uncles, and only leave the house to go to the movies or to the nearest bar. ‘How’re you making it?’ one may ask, running into them along the block, or in the bar. ‘Oh, I’m TV-ing it’; with the saddest, sweetest, most shamefaced of smiles, and from a great distance. This distance one is compelled to respect; anyone who has traveled so far will not easily be dragged again into the world.”

Anne Lamott, Joe Jones, 1985
“I just gave up one day. Around the time the news about toxic shock came out. I thought, Fuck me, man, I give up. Come and get me.”

Deepak Chopra, The Book of Secrets: Unlocking the Hidden Dimensions of Your Life, 2004
“If all of the steps of surrender are present, then a great Rembrandt or Monet will evoke love because the artist is simply there in all his naked humanity.”

Carson McCullers, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, 1940
“He waited for the black, terrible anger as though for some beast out of the night. But it did not come to him. His bowels seemed weighted with lead, and he walked slowly and lingered against fences and the cold, wet walls of buildings by the way. Descent into the depths until at last there was no further chasm below. He touched the solid bottom of despair and there took ease.”

Iris Murdoch, The Sea, the Sea, 1978
“Her eyes, which refused to meet mine, had the defensive coldness of those who are determined to lose hope.”