Want to be More Successful? Learn How to Quit

Some things are counterintuitive. For instance, conventional wisdom tells us to never quit. Keep at it, until you get it right.

We’ve all heard the saying:

Quitters never win, and winners never quit.”

Consider the author Malcolm Gladwell, whose book Outliers popularized the 10,000 hour rule. Gladwell argued that it takes approximately 10,000 hours to achieve expertise in a discipline.

Some have questioned the 10,000 hour rule, but most agree that attaining expertise takes a lot of time, hard work and discipline.

Practice may lead to perfection, but what if you’re pursuing the wrong thing? What if you failed to examine the underlying reasons why you’re pursuing a particular career, discipline or personal goal?

Los Angeles is full of undiscovered actors waiting tables and working in coffee shops. Many of them have been acting for years. Celebrating the bit parts and commercials they appear in. Still waiting for their big break.

How many of these aspiring actors closely examined their “why.” Why do they want to be actors? Are they in love with the craft of acting? Or, are they only driven by dreams of fame and fortune?

A lot of good people delude themselves into pursuing dreams that are fueled by flawed motivations. Motivations that come from insecurities, fragile egos or the desire to please others.

Sunk costs vs. opportunity costs

Freakanomics.com did a podcast titled, “The Upside of Quitting.” They examined the economic concepts of sunk costs and opportunity costs. The introduction to the podcast notes:

“Sunk cost is about the past — it’s the time or money or sweat equity you’ve put into a job or relationship or a project, and which makes quitting hard. Opportunity cost is about the future. It means that for every hour or dollar you spend on one thing, you’re giving up the opportunity to spend that hour or dollar on something else — something that might make your life better. If only you weren’t so worried about the sunk cost. If only you could …. quit.”

The reality is that nobody likes to quit. Especially when you’ve sunk a great deal of time and effort into something.

It takes courage and honesty to reevaluate if the thing you’re working so hard at is worth it.

Sometimes the answer is yes. Other times, if you’re brutally honest with yourself, you realize that you’re spinning your wheels.

You conclude that it’s time to cut your losses, and free yourself to pursue something that’s a better fit.

Writer Kristian Henderson examined the topic of quitting in her Huffingtonpost.com article Quit. Go Ahead. It’s Okay. Here’s an excerpt:

I am not sure why we were taught that there is honor in finishing things that are unfulfilling, toxic, and stressful as long as you don’t quit.

Sometimes, the reason we avoid quitting is because we don’t want to disappoint others. Be it our parents, spouses, bosses or friends.

Other times, we’re just plain stubborn. We soldier on, like Sisyphus, pointlessly pushing that boulder uphill.

We fear quitting, because we don’t want to feel like a failure. The tragedy is that some people are chasing the wrong things. Stuff they’ll never succeed at. Or maybe they will eventually succeed, but discover that it doesn’t make them happy.

Kristian Henderson noted the following:

“Here’s the danger in being fearful of quitting. You can get stuck. Instead of focusing on what is important to you, what makes you feel happy, healthy, and free, you just focus on not quitting. You stop being strategic. You stop thinking about whether your decisions will lead you to the life you want to live.”

Sometimes, not quitting is failing. By sticking it out, we prevent ourselves from moving on to the thing we should really be doing.

The power of quitting

Dr. Rachael Horner gave a Ted talk about “The Power of Quitting.” She argued that quitting can help us gain back time and energy that we’ve been wasting on a dead end pursuit.

The reality is that people quit all the time. And sometimes it’s the right thing to do. In fact, quitting can be downright freeing.

Some people quit an unfulfilling job. Others finally hang up those violin lessons, much to the pleasure of loved ones who endured the effort.

I quit the martial arts. I got all the way to my brown belt in Dan Zan Ryu Jujitsu. It took years. But then, I injured my back one night and had to be carried home.

Another time, I was thrown so hard onto the mat that it knocked my heart into super ventricular tachycardia. That led to a scary ambulance ride to an emergency room where they gave me an injection that corrected the heart rhythm.

After that, I did some soul searching.

I concluded that as much as I wanted to get that black belt, it wasn’t worth destroying my health. I also realized that, while I was a decent martial artist, I wasn’t playing to my strengths.

I was a much better artist than martial artist. So, I focused my efforts on painting, cartooning and writing.

Quitting the martial arts, while disappointing, freed a tremendous amount of time to pursue my true talents in the creative arts.

Laziness vs. quitting

It’s very important to know the difference between healthy quitting and unhealthy quitting. Healthy quitting is all about letting go of something that’s not a good fit for you.

Unhealthy quitting is all about laziness. It’s about avoiding hard work, taking the path of least resistance, and falling short of your goal.

The reality is that many worthwhile pursuits require hard work. Like losing weight or completing your university degree.

When you know in your heart that you are pursuing something important in your life, then you must fight the lure of laziness. You must work hard and refuse to quit.

However, when you pursue a university degree solely to please your parents, quitting is something different. It might be exactly what you need to do, in order to get on a life path that better suits you.

There’s a big difference between quitters and choosers. For example, I know an athlete who used to be a dedicated runner.

He ran marathons and triathlons. He trained hard, and refused to quit. Except his knees were shot and required surgery. So, he did some soul searching.

He realized that the reason he got into running was to improve his health and physical fitness. He realized that he didn’t need to destroy his knees to stay fit. Finally, he made the choice to quit running.

He got the knee surgery and transitioned to biking. Had he refused to quit his running, he probably would have destroyed his knees, needed more surgeries and diminished his overall health.

Letting go is freedom

Sometimes you have to quit people. Maybe it’s a toxic relationship or a fair weather friend.

I‘m not advocating that you abandon good friends. But sometimes we surround ourselves with people that aren’t good for us.

I read somewhere that we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with. Who do you spend your time with? Do they bring out the best in you?

Quitting unhealthy relationships frees us to develop new ones. Hopefully, with quality people who inspire and bring out the best in us.

The late author David Wallace Foster wrote:

“Everything I ever let go of has claw marks on it.”

We hold onto things. It’s admirable that none of us want to quit. We want to see things through and succeed.

But what’s your definition of success? Money and fame? Those goals sound appealing, but often don’t satisfy our souls. Just look at all the divorces, substance abuse and suicides among the wealthy elites of Hollywood.

Better to listen to your heart and pursue the thing that feeds your passion, not your ego.

Sometimes, we need to quit in order to succeed. We need to cut our losses and walk away from the wrong pursuits.

Doing so frees us to open new doors, new opportunities, and the life that we were meant to pursue.

If you want to be more successful, quit the things that are holding you back from becoming the person you always wanted to be!

I’m John P. Weiss. I draw cartoons and write about life! Thanks for reading.