Throughout my career I prided myself on sticking with it, come what may. If I said I was going to do it, I would make sure it happened, by sheer will if necessary. Quitting is for losers!
I have a different perspective these days, perhaps from maturity or painful experience. Reading Seth Godin’s book, ‘The Dip’, provoked me to reflect on my experience and share it with you. My viewpoint has clearly shifted , there is a time to quit and a time to stick. I would have a lot less grey hairs If I had realized this earlier in my career.
When should you quit?
Seth describes three situations when you should quit. The dead end path, the cliff and when the reward doesn’t offset what is required to succeed. I’m going to take these one by one.
The Dead End Path
This is a situation where in spite of how hard you work or what you do, the outcome doesn’t change. Some people refer to this as being stuck. Some of your needs are being met, for example you are getting a regular pay check, but you aren’t growing or getting closer to your goals. The dead end path is taking away your time and energy to pursue your true goals.
This describes a situation that gets progressively worse over time and it gets harder and harder to quit. The best example I can think of is a start up you’ve formed that is failing but because you are so heavily invested you can’t see it and instead work harder and harder. The cliff results in a big breakdown, and in the example, usually a state of personal exhaustion.
The dip is ‘the long slog between starting and mastery’. The excitement of starting has worn off and the challenge ahead becomes evident. This is the time when most people quit and Seth makes a strong argument that it is exactly the wrong time to quit. Those who persevere and succeed take a large share of the available rewards.
In contrast, if you are in a dip and the effort to succeed far outweighs the ultimate reward then now is the time to quit. This is tricky because the challenges and effort required to overcome them always seem much bigger when you are wrestling with them.
My personal experience
Looking back at my career, I didn’t realize I was on a dead end path at the end of my career at Intel. I had what many people would describe as a great role, setting strategy for a global six thousand person industry leading IT organization. The job wasn’t a dead end, far from it, but it was for me because I wasn’t truly excited about it. My boss summed it up well when she observed I was lacking ambition. I argued with her about it, but she was right and I see that now, especially compared to my ambition today. I did ‘quit’ months later although it would have been easier to continue to maintain the status quo.
My current situation is much more challenging than I faced at Intel, no doubt I am in the dip. I am definitely sticking with it because it aligns with what I care about and the upside for me is huge. And my ambition is strong.
Seth’s book closed with an assignment. “Write down under what circumstances you’re willing to quit. And when. And then stick with it.” Sage advice.
What is your experience with quitting? Are you a quitter?