She now knows the importance of bowing out.

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It goes against my nature to leave a task incomplete. I’ve only recently been able to let myself give up on a book I don’t like without reaching the last page, and to do so I had to convince myself that because my job involves evaluating books, I technically am completing the task by deciding which books are worth reading to the end. I’ve set my phone to chime and go dark at 10:20 p.m. because I know I have a habit of checking Twitter before bed. Without a reminder to put my phone away, I’m in danger of scroll-scroll-scrolling infinitely, scanning screen after screen of tweets as if there’s a last tweet coming, a window that will pop up and say, “All done. You finished the internet. Good night.”

But maybe the trick isn’t sticking everything out. The trick is quitting the right thing at the right time. The trick is understanding that saying “No, thank you” to something you’re expected to accept isn’t failure. It’s a whole other level of success.

It takes courage to quit something, but often you get that courage back with dividends. The older I get, the more I find that a good quit feels powerful. Deciding what you won’t have in your life is as important as deciding what you will have. Trying out something you expect to love, realizing you don’t really love it, and giving it back—that takes guts. It means understanding that success isn’t about nailing every role; it’s about choosing the roles you’ll play and how well you want to play them.

Mary Laura Philpott is a national best-selling author whose work has been featured in the New York Times, in the Washington Post, and on NPR. This essay is excerpted from I Miss You When I Blink ($15,; $16,, published by Atria Books, a division of Simon & Schuster. Copyright © 2019 by Mary Laura Philpott.

This story originally appeared in the September 2020 issue of Real Simple.