A quitter never wins, and a winner never quits. This is impossible to argue with, right? Winners press on, winners keep going long after others have given up, these are the people we admire. Athletes, entrepreneurs, scientists, the only way to achieve something monumental is to plow ahead and make things happen!
Just like every other time you put “never” or “always” in a statement, there are bound to be instances where that statement is proven wrong. Quitting is a topic explored in the research of Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt in their Freakonomics series of books and podcasts. The Upside of Quitting explores many situations where quitting is not only a perfectly logical course of action, but actually proves MORE beneficial to the person and to the goal they are trying to achieve.
Most people I know are spread too thin in regards to their calendars. Many people I know are better at setting lots of goals than actually achieving any of them, and almost everyone I know wants to quit something it their lives, but are afraid to because of the internal and external stigma that relates quitting to failure.
But what if we started to see quitting in a more positive light? One of the hallmarks of all economic study is a term called “opportunity cost.” Within the framework of this blog’s topic, opportunity cost can be described this way: “For every dollar or hour or brain cell you spend on one thing, you surrender the opportunity to spend it elsewhere.” (source: Think Like a Freak: The Authors of Freakonomics Offer to Retrain Your Brain) That helps take away some of the sting associated with the word “quitting,” doesn’t it?
Failure is not necessarily a barrier between you and success. Think of some of the positive things that might come out of quitting something. First, you may begin to understand that the probability of success in a certain area may not be high enough to justify the amount of energy you’ve already put in or will put in. You’ll have more dollars or hours or brain cells to give to something else, something with a higher chance of success or something more rewarding.
“People who quit their unattainable goals experience physical and psychological benefits. They have, for example, less depressive symptoms, less negative affect overtime. They also have a lower cortisol levels, and they have lower levels of systemic inflammation, which is a marker of immune functioning. And they develop fewer physical health problems over time.”
When you look at it that way, holding on to something out of obligation or guilt or a fear of failure carries more harmful effects than just letting go. Humans are hard-wired to achieve things. The problems begin when we find ourselves in a constant cycle of seeking approval from society or ourselves by chasing many “achievements,” most of which are fleeting at best, meaningless at worst.
If you’re like most people, you are very, very good at something. This is something that you enjoy working towards and find a great deal of fulfillment in. But there are lots of other things that you are pretty average at, and some area where you just stink. Doesn’t it make sense that you should pursue the things you are really good at like a laser beam — the things that you contribute to others, the things that make you proud? Is there something in your life that is sapping your energy and your resources? A job, a job function, a relationship, a hobby, a social obligation? Maybe you should consider quitting.
I actually have some experience with this topic, which is probably why it appealed to me in the first place. From my earliest memories, I had always known I would be an architect. It was clear that the skills I had been blessed with were heavily weighted in the artistic/creative buckets and severely lacking in others. I realize now that it was comforting to know my aptitude from an early age through high school, I’m sure it allowed me the space to worry less about my future than some of the other students.
So signing up for an architecture major was an easy choice, because I was made to do this. Or was I? Like the other architecture majors, I poured everything I had into that program. I gave my energy, my money, my valuable college-experience time, and even blood on several occasions. (Exact-o blades still haunt me.) But something wasn’t clicking. I wasn’t particularly (at all) good at calculus and physics, but it was more than that, the skills I had just weren’t translating in the right way. The economic term “sunk costs” definitely entered my mind: I’d already given so much to this goal, to quit would be an absolute failure, right?
My choice was a difficult one, but after spending 14 years as a graphic designer, I am so glad I made it. In my creative career, I am so fulfilled in doing the work and in seeing how our clients use it to positively affect their own businesses. Had I remained rigidly attached to my previous goal of becoming an architect, I’m not sure I would be as happy. I followed a direction, gave it enough of a try to truly visualize what the outcome would be, and I quit. I am a quitter.
When you apply this type of thinking to all areas of your life, it might prove valuable. Why are you where you are? Are you happy there? Are you good at what you’re doing, are your current goals attainable, or do they actually have a negative effect on your energy level and your ability to feel accomplishments? Should you step aside and let someone else organize that event? Should you ask your boss if you can focus on a different area?
Still think quitters will never accomplish anything? Go back and examine success stories more closely. Thomas Edison? Quitter. Steve Jobs? Quitter. Winston Churchill, who claims the single most famous quote about not-quitting in history? Total quitter.
There is nothing wrong with quitting. Sometimes it’s the best way to get somewhere.