U.S. News and World Report recently ran a feature called “50 Ways to Fix Your Life.” At #10 on their list, they invite those of you looking for new ways to entertain yourselves to “quit your job.” For the record, I am now officially cool: I abandoned my money-lined corporate cubicle almost two years ago, back when it was still indie.

The article asserts that quitting is no longer “the choice of losers and slackers,” but is now the domain of highly charged, type-A go-getters who know just what they want out of life and have concluded that since their current occupations are not going to get it for them, they’ll have to go and grab it themselves. Quitting has become daring, ambitious; staying at a job is for the meek and the unmotivated. In order to prolong the grand American tradition of inspired labor, we must be willing, like Abraham, to abandon our comfortable lives in order to seek out new, more fertile lands.

If that’s what turns your crank, I don’t want to discourage you; by all means, go follow your muse, chase that rainbow, torture that metaphor. Let’s just be clear on one thing: what you’re doing cannot be described as “quitting.” There are better names for this hard break between phases of your life, this now-fashionable pre-mid-life crisis: “changing careers,” “reallocating energies,” “repurposing the self.” Actually, those names really suck, but the point is that leaving a full-time job you don’t care about to pursue a more-than-full-time job you’re passionate about, while an admirable endeavor, is a lot of work, and if there’s one thing quitting is resolutely not about, it’s work.

Quitting is not about reallocating your energies, but about conserving them. Mark Slouka writes,

“the time grows short, the margin narrows; the white spaces on our calendars have been inked in for months. We’re angry about this, upset about that, but who has the time to do anything anymore? There are those reports to report on, memos to remember, emails to deflect or delete. They bury us like snow.”

There aren’t enough hours in the day to do all the things we need to do: the harder we work, the less free time we have; the less free time we have, the harder we play, in an effort to convince ourselves that we’ve used that time to its fullest; the harder we play, the more exhausted we become, until we fall asleep on the couch watching Trading Spaces or Extreme Makeover (that is to say, watching others work too hard). Quitting is a purgative for those trapped in this wearying cycle of “work hard, play hard.” It’s about breaking down the binaries of work/leisure or office/home and finding an in-between space where those structures don’t define us, don’t govern every minute of our lives.

Of course, quitting is a highly dangerous step to take, and not only in the cash-flow sense (not to underestimate money; for anyone with a mortgage or children, this whole train of thought I’m on is completely moot). Just as there’s a slippery slope that leads from working hard at work to working hard at everything, it’s awfully easy when quitting to slide from dropping out of work to dropping out completely. There’s no more virtue in being a mindless couch potato than there is in being a stressed-out workaholic. We’re trained to organize our lives around our jobs, and when we take that away from ourselves, it can seem like there’s nothing left, and that the only thing to do is sit around doing nothing. Again, if the work/leisure binary is to be challenged, indolence can’t be privileged any more than industriousness.

The key to understanding quitting is to recognize that it’s neither a task to be checked off of your to-do list on the way to your next job, nor an excuse to sit on your ass doing nothing more than eating processed snack foods and watching One Life to Live. It’s a chance to slow down, to take stock of things and figure out what you really want to be doing right now, be it frisbee, or television, or macrame. Who knows? It might turn out that you really like whatever it is you did for a living, and that the only problem was that you were spending too many hours a day doing it. Just remember that when you quit, you don’t need to freak if you don’t have the rest of your life planned out; you just need to get away from both stress and sloth, and find the avocation and pace that makes you happy.