How many of us have heard these shameful words pass our lips? On the other hand, many tenacious, hard-working souls do not know the meaning of the word. To you, quit reading this article and go look up the definition of quit. The rest of us want you to understand the context.

A person quits many different ways. The most used method is not to start. If we do not begin, it cannot be said of us that we quit. I have not quit playing golf. I am so bad at this game of bragging males, I do not pick up a club in the first place. My brother’s father-in-law says he is able to tell the type of person someone is by how they golf. I guess he also has an opinion about those who do not try.

Everyone has his or her own story of quitting without whispering it. A potential leader does not run for public office because she thinks she will lose. A kid in school fails math not because he is dumb but because he is too embarrassed to ask. Some husbands do not help around the house because a hammer confuses them, and wrench is not in their vocabulary. Capable people do not try because they may only get second place. That is not good enough for them to be in the game. Some do not pursue their dreams because it would be too hard and demands some sacrifice.

A person also quits subconsciously by doing so poorly at a task they might as well have not started. Dragging their feet or lagging behind is not quitting. They recite, “Quitters never win, and winners never quit.” The outcome is that we see shoddy workmanship, a slopping job of service or an inadequately prepared professional. A recent failed restoration of an antique painting was so bad it was grotesque. But the painter didn’t quit.

In bureaucracies, the code words for not quitting are to stay low. Do not do too little and do not do too much. The benefits are too good to quit, but not to work. Wally in Dilbert comics is the best non-working, non-quitting employee that the pointy-hair boss has.

We quit without really quitting when we blame the problem on someone else. “I didn’t quit; they threw me out,” we say. One member of a relationship may act so rudely that the other leaves. Forcing someone else to quit preserves that image of the non-quitter. The distorted thinking goes, “I don’t believe in divorce, but I will be so mean the other one will leave first.”

However, there are times to quit. A popular economic game goes like this: “Who will buy a dollar for a penny?” One asks that question in a crowded bar or with a group of law students. Bidding one penny after another, it is surprising how many dollar bills are sold for more than their worth. At first, one penny for one hundred is a great deal. Then prideful, competitive egos kick in. The battle is to see who quits first.

Silly you say, but look around at wars. They start cheap and then become a cause more valuable than the cost of the conflict.

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Finally, there are the quitters who are heroes. Recently I met a grandfather whose grandchild was in the hospital for asthma. He knows tobacco smoke triggers coughing, wheezing and difficult breathing in his loved one. This man is quitting smoking. He has tried a laundry list of remedies with limited success, but he has not given up. He is a quitter who we do not want to quit quitting.

This time, quitters are winners and winners quit. Now I must quit, or you quit reading a long time ago.

Joseph Cramer, M.D., is a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, a practicing pediatrician for 30 years, and an adjunct professor of pediatrics at the University of Utah. He can be reached at jgcramermd@yahoo.com.