Recently I was talking to a friend who wanted to leave a group he had been part of. One of the questions I asked him was, “Are you quitting or completing?” This brought the obvious response, “What’s the difference?” From my perspective, both are ways to end something, but they come from different places and produce different results. It’s important to know the difference between quitting and completing whether you’re leaving a job, a marriage, a friendship or a party (yes, it’s possible to complete your experience at a party versus cutting and running - quitting). Before we describe how to know whether you're completing or quitting, let’s consider the results of leaving from these two different states of consciousness.
When we quit something or someone, we are leaving before we are done, or more accurately, before life is done with us. We are leaving before we have learned what the person or situation is in our lives to teach us.
Then it’s possible that all of the circumstances of life are simply the curriculum of the waking up course. When we quit we don’t get all the learnings; often we have to re-enroll in the same class, maybe with a different teacher, but with the same curriculum.
If you quit your marriage because your partner isn’t doing something you want them to do, or has done something that damages your trust, and you leave blaming them and not taking responsibility for how you co-created the result, you’ll often find that your next partner doesn’t meet your expectations or violates your trust. You’ve just re-enrolled in the same class with a different teacher. You can’t take consciousness 401 until you’ve learned what you were meant to learn in consciousness 301.
When you complete with someone or something before you leave, you have received all the gifts that situation was there to give you. You have learned all the lessons and been shaped by the experience into a more complete version of yourself. You are free to move to the next set of learnings.
Checklist for how to know if you’re quitting or completing.
All relationships have agreements (who, will do what, by when) whether spoken (preferred) or unspoken, whether entered into consciously (preferred) or unconsciously. If you made an agreement with your manager that you would create documentation for a process and you didn’t, you’ve broken an agreement; to leave without cleaning up that broken agreement is to quit and not complete. If you made an agreement with your partner that you would only have sex with them and you leave without owning your broken agreement, you’re quiting and not completing. If you made an agreement that you’d say good-bye to a friend before you left the party and you didn’t, you're quitting and not completing.
A key sign that people are quitting and not completing is that they leave with withholds, unsaids, or having spoken half-truths. When I coach couples on completing their relationship before they leave, we often spend several sessions saying what hasn’t been said. When relationships, be they professional or personal, fall apart, you discover that there have often been withholds ---- things that haven’t been said. Part of completing is to voice all of these withholds.
A reminder: sharing withholds—speaking candidly—is not about being RIGHT. It’s not about dumping your judgments on another. Speaking candidly is about revealing yourself and holding all of your stories lightly. It is an act of vulnerability, not power or dominance. You are complete when you are fully revealed.
One difficulty is that often by the time people are ready to leave a relationship trust has been eroded to the point where the thought of saying what hasn’t been said seems difficult at best, and ridiculous at worst. People use this as an excuse to justify quitting verses completing. On many occasions I have seen people become willing to complete and then request a completion conversation where they risk revealing themselves only to find that they leave with respect for each other, and understanding of how they co-created all that occurred. They get their leanings.
Often when we quit a relationship we have stopped listening to the other person some time ago. We have closed ourselves, our minds, hearts and bodies from taking in their feedback, learning and growing, and from truly seeing the other person. Deep authentic listening is the flip side of revealing. We don’t reveal ourselves then just leave. We don’t dump and run. We tell our truth and then we stay and listen to the other’s truth.
Quite simply we quit because we don’t want to feel something painful and difficult, both in our hearts and in our bodies. It’s just easier and more familiar to leave. But if we don’t complete and release the feelings, we carry them in our bodies into the next relationship. If I resented my boss and had anger and rage about how I was treated and I don’t release it, I'll suppress it and carry it into my next job and begin to project it on to my new manager, and/or authority figures in general. If I don’t feel my jealousy (a combo of anger, fear and sadness) all the way through I’ll find myself jealous in my next relationship. In fact, I’ll have an ever shorter jealousy fuse in the next relationship because I’m carrying jealousy from a past relationship. I’ll hear myself saying in my head, “Oh my god, he’s as bad as the last guy, maybe worse; I need to get out of here.”
Completing before leaving is based on owning that you co-created whatever occurred. Quitters often see themselves as victims who are at the effect of what happened to them. A key way to not get all your learnings before you leave is to continue to blame someone else for what happened. Another way to block learnings is to blame yourself for what happened, “I messed up and picked another addict as a partner.” “I should have listened to the reviews on Glassdoor and I wouldn't have joined this company.” Blaming yourself keeps you from knowing things about yourself that are often deep and important. Most self-blame is just the same inner critic saying virtually the same things over and over.
Simply put, “What haven’t you fully faced about yourself, the other person, or the situation?” Quitting is a substitute for fully facing. If I quit I don’t have to look at my broken heart, addictive patterns, lust, greed, co-dependency...or my brilliance, genius, deepest wants, creative self or power. I don’t have to face their deceit, abusiveness, lack of care, what they really value, how I was used and used them...or how much I love them, how brilliant they are, how they stood for me and were a great ally.
Most suffering comes from our unwillingness to fully face, feel, and deal with what is real.
Completing involves asking ourselves the question, “What did I enter into this relationship to get?” and “What was under that or what was that a means to getting?” If I didn’t get what I came to get it’s important to acknowledge that. Then your inquiry can go one layer deeper with a question such as, “Am I looking to someone or something to give me something that I need to give myself, or something that I already have but am not looking deep enough to see?” If I don’t ask these questions I’ll move on to the next job or relationship expecting the next situation to give me what I think is missing. Ignoring self-reflection sows the seeds of discontent into the next situation.
One key to great relationships is mutuality. The natural flow of giving and receiving. At your deepest level you know that you came into the relationship or situation you’re leaving to give something. What was it that you came there to give? Did you fully give it? Maybe you came to the party to give your hospitality, presence, humor, playfulness, or undivided attention to one person. Did you give it? Are you complete? The experiencing of giving, fully giving, what is ours to give is a wonderful experience. It’s what athletes talk about when they say they left it all on the field. I might have lost and it might not have turned out as I had hoped by I gave what was mine to give … no holding back.
This is really the capstone question. It is the one that all the others lead to. I’m complete when I have learned what this situation has to teach me. Another way of saying this is: Have I grown and expanded to the version of myself this relationship came to offer me?
In my ideal world every exit interview would include these questions, and every divorce and break-up would include a conversation on these topics. Everyone would end in a state of completion.
I know this can seem like a daunting list. Someone could ask, “Who really completes and doesn’t quit?” A couple of thoughts: First, it’s not either or. Either I completed or I quit. It’s more like a continuum. The more complete I am, the more learning I experienced. The less complete, the less learning. Second—personally I’m so grateful for this—you can complete after you have left. You can revisit a relationship, either with the other person and sometimes without, and complete. You can do the checklist above anytime, about any relationship, including with people who are no longer living. It’s never too late to be complete.