Veterans and Quitting: The Paradox of Letting Go to Move Forward

It’s been said ‘winners never quit.’ But is that always true?
Veterans and Quitting: The Paradox of Letting Go to Move Forward
A recruit advances towards the next objective in a simulated battle during "the Crucible," on Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, South Carolina, on Aug. 22, 2019. The Crucible tests recruits mentally and physically, and is the final step in earning the title United States Marine. (Lance Cpl. Ryan Hageali, U.S. Marine Corps)
Battlefields Staff


The notion of quitting has been painted with broad strokes of negativity. The adage rings loud: “Quitters never win, and winners never quit.” Yet, the etymological roots of the word “quit” hint at a different perspective—one of liberation and peace. Derived from the Medieval Latin “quietus,” it originally meant to be free from burdens like war or debt. Today, it’s time to weave a more nuanced understanding of what it means to quit, recognizing that sometimes, letting go can set us free.

The dichotomy of quitting as either wholly good or bad is a misstep. It overlooks the complexities of human experience. Consider the soldier enduring the rigors of ranger school. The immediate discomfort and challenges are undeniable, yet the long-term regret of quitting could outweigh the temporary relief. Conversely, stepping away from a destructive relationship, while acutely painful, might pave the way for a healthier, happier life. The scale of discomfort against the potential for positive outcomes is a delicate balance.

When it comes to the trials faced by the young, the decision to quit becomes even more intricate. For a child under the tutelage of a less-than-inspiring coach, the argument for building resilience by enduring hardship competes with the belief in the sanctity of childhood joy. Should the young be subjected to misery in the name of growth, or should their fleeting years of youth be protected as a time of happiness and exploration?

The complication continues as the young mature toward adulthood. Think about the collegiate athlete who stands at the crossroads of obligation and passion. When the sport that once ignited their spirit becomes a source of dread, the decision to walk away is not one of simple resignation. It is about self-discovery, about honoring the journey of finding what makes one’s heart beat fastest. College, after all, is not just about formal education; it’s about learning who we are and what we desire from the myriad paths that life offers.

(Sgt. Adrian Borunda, Arizona National Guard)
(Sgt. Adrian Borunda, Arizona National Guard)

The blanket decree of “never quit” fails to acknowledge the individual’s unique circumstances. It is a decision that should be weighed with introspection and care, not measured against a universal standard. The valor lies not in the act of quitting or persisting but in the courage to make the right choice for oneself, to discern when the cost to our well-being outweighs the benefits of continuance.

Let this serve as an invitation to reassess the connotations of quitting. It’s a call to view each situation through a lens of thoughtful consideration, to understand when perseverance transforms into folly and when quitting can indeed be an act of winning—an act of reclaiming one’s freedom and the right to choose a different battle, one that resonates with the core of one’s being.

Ultimately, the true measure of our decisions lies in their alignment with our values and the fulfillment they bring. May we all find the wisdom to know when to hold on and the strength to know when to let go.

The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement.

JC Glick served in the Army as an infantry officer for 20 years, primarily in special operations and special missions units. He saw more than 11 combat tours. Since retiring from the military, JC has brought his innovative and unconventional thoughts on education, leadership, and resiliency into the private sector, consulting with Fortune 500 companies, the NFL, and professional sports teams, including the Denver Broncos and the Carolina Panthers. He is the author of two books: "A Light in the Darkness: Leadership Development for the Unknown" (with Sarah Ngu), and "Meditations of an Army Ranger: A Warrior Philosophy for Everyone," (with Dr. Alice Atalanta) both published by Hatteras Press.
Related Topics