Friday, March 18, 2011

Quit Happens

Look at some of the popular "wisdom," in the form of one-liner clichés, about quitting:

1. Winners never quit, and quitters never win. False. First of all, winners sometimes quit. Especially after they win. Second, quitters sometimes win. Sure, maybe if you quit playing baseball, you won't win at baseball anymore. But you can win at other stuff because you aren't wasting your time playing baseball when you don't really want to. And third, what if you don't care about winning? Or what if happiness is a win for you? Then quitting something that takes away from your happiness is an automatic win.

I prefer: Quit while you are ahead. As in, if you have achieved what seems to you to be a satisfactory level of success, and you don't want to do something anymore, then it's ok to quit. Also, if you realize that you are not enjoying something, then quit before you waste too much more time doing it.

2. If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. I think there is something missing from the end of this one: if you want to. You don't have to succeed at everything you do. Wait, if you do succeed (win), then you can never quit (see #1). That's confusing.

I prefer this from a guy named Albert Einstein: Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Sometimes trying again and again doesn't help. Sometimes it's ok to admit that you are just not going to or don't care to succeed at something.

3. When the going gets tough, the tough get going. This usually gets interpreted to mean "the tough keep doing what they are doing." But you could also read it to mean "the tough get the hell out of what they are doing."

I prefer: If you can't take the heat, get out of the kitchen. Don't get burned. Getting burned doesn't prove you are tough. It hurts, and it makes you wonder, why didn't I just get out of the kitchen?

4. Never give up. Really? Never? "Never" is a dangerous word. I would say, at least sometimes, giving up is the smartest thing to do.

I prefer: Cut your losses. Or Know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em.  It's fitting that these two are both related to gambling. Because that is one area where it is actually respectable to know when to quit. As for anything else in life, "cutting your losses" might refer to the time you lose doing things that you aren't enjoying. And look at the hand you were dealt. Sometimes it makes more sense to fold.

And here is a new saying for you: Quit happens. By this I mean it happens inside a person. If you have already decided that you definitely want to quit something, then the quitting has essentially already happened. The physical act of leaving a team or not showing up for an activity is secondary to the mental quitting. Think about this the next time your child says he wants to quit something. If his mind is made up, then he has already quit. You can force his body to go to soccer practice, but you can't force his mind to like it.

Are the most successful people you know the ones who never quit anything? Or are they the ones who latch onto something they really believe in, have a talent for, care about, or love, and cut out the rest?

You can read more about this topic in I'm a Quitter and A Kid Who's Not a Quitter?


  1. I agree with everything in this post and I am not just saying that because I want this discussion to end. I swear, scouts honor (I think that honor still stands even though I quit the girl scouts).

  2. You just made me think about another thing when it comes to quitting. Sometimes, when you are quitting something where others are involved, it actually might be the very thing that keeps you going. You might indeed have had a different view or interpretation of your value on the team or some other such thing. Stating your quitting, can often result in others trying to convince you why it's not a good idea and sometimes, they may end up changing your mind...and if you didn't quit you would never have had this perspective.

    I have a personal experience in mind.

    I quit my job two years ago. It was the middle of a recession, I was making good money (by education career standards) and in a pension-bearing job. I had nothing else lined up. I just wanted out! It seemed insane, but I just wasn't happy. It seemed like the wrong fit. I felt like I was doing a horrible job, and I wasn't getting the support I needed to change that. I was completely miserable.

    So...I went in and quit.

    My superiors convinced me to give it some more time and assured me that despite my assessment they thought I was doing a great job and they would work to get me the support I needed.

    I stayed! If I hadn't quit, I would not be happy in the position I have now.

    So, the latest lesson for me, is sometimes quitting enables you to gain perspective and stick with something more effectively than if you never had.

  3. @Innovative Educator, That is awesome. I hadn't thought about that either. That has happened to me before. I actually quit a job and went back to it two times! And each time I went back, I knew it was because I really wanted to go back. Not just because I felt stuck or was "sticking it out."

  4. One of the things that a non-coercive parenting path gave me was the idea to stop coercing myself, to see what happened if I stopped making myself do things I thought I should do. The experience, done mindfully, was quite fascinating. I found, among other things, that if I waited for it, in most cases the will to do some chore or task eventually arose, and when it did, I actually enjoyed the work, it flowed, and I got through it more quickly. I think many of the things I was coercing myself to do were programmed into me, they were not authentic impulses, and honestly many of them never needed to be done, achieved or accomplished.
    To me now, most (of your "before") sayings around quitting and perseverance seem to be about trying to reinforce compliance with externally imposed goals, projects and conformity.