Sometimes, You Have to Quit

September 28, 2020

Vince Lombardi is often attributed to the famous quote, “Quitters never win. Winners never quit.”

Most of my childhood playing baseball, basketball, and football (I know, three sport athlete, no big deal), that quote was often rehearsed by every single one of my coaches, my dad, and even my mom said it once. For awhile, no one really questioned it. It made sense. Winners only win if they don’t quit, and people who quit, aren’t winners. Fair enough, right?

No one questioned it until, of course, Seth Godin came along and published an interesting book titled, “The Dip: The Art and Science of Knowing When to Quit and When to Stick”.¹ I can imagine it peaked most people’s interest because no one had ever given advice on when to quit - it was always to never quit.

Godin broke down some common misperceptions people have about quitters and unlocked a new perspective to view those who start things, those who stop things, and those who are wildly successful at what they do.

First, winners quit all the time. They just quit the right things and know when to quit. Michael Jordan, one of the all-time greatest NBA players quit football. Was he ashamed? I don’t know, maybe. But I can guarantee you he doesn’t regret any shame he got from peers in high school now that he’s the Jumpan for Nike, sponsoring shoes and many other endorsements to live on.

In life, whether it be learning a new skill, going back to school, or getting a new job, there are two curves that most people face in their journey’s. The Dip or the Cul-De-Sac.

Curve 1 The Dip.

Often times when you start on a new venture, there is an initial thrill of excitement. That feeling someone gets when they play their first bridge of a popular song on a guitar, or that first nice drive one gets after a golf lesson or two. You’ve been there.

What happens after that initial excitement, that’s the dip. It’s the busy work of learning musical theory to actually write your own songs, or learning how to properly chip to be an all-around great golfer and not just a far driver. It's the paperwork or tests you have to take for certifications in certain knowledge fields. This is the point most people drop off. They don’t want to learn how to chip, or won’t study to take the classes, or take the time to learn the theory of music so they either: (1) Lose interest because they can’t get any better or (2) Stay completely average in their skills.

This is the person who can only play five songs on the guitar after three years of practicing, or the person who knows a lot of programming but won’t study the other skills to land a coding interview, so they just end up making mindless loops on their laptops.

Curve 2: The Cul De Sac

The second curve most people face is the Cul De Sac. They go round and round and round in the same job or venture and don’t really get anywhere. This is the guy who started as an intern at a company and has been promoted a few times over the years, and although he’s an incredible leader, he will not be senior management because he’s still viewed at as ‘The guy who was an intern’.

If you’re in a Cul De Sac, quit. That’s an easy thing to do. If you’re in a dip, stay and ride it out. That decision is easy. The hard thing is figuring out whether you’re in a dip or a cul de sac. There often isn’t a definitive answer so starting a new venture with a Quit Goal in mind is the best thing to do.

A quit goal is a term you come up with that measures success. If by a certain amount of time you don’t hit that landmark, you’re going to quit. Until you hit that landmark, you know to not quit, no matter how hard it gets. For example if I start a new company and my quit goal is a loss of $5,000 or more, if I loss $5,000 I quit. But, until I hit that point, no matter how hard it gets or how busy life seems to be, I won't quit.

The phrase shouldn’t be, “Winners never quit.” It should say, “Never quit anything that’s going to have massive long-term gains, just because you can’t handle the short-term pain.”

FOOTNOTES

1. Godin, S., & Macleod, H. (2007). The Dip. New York: Portfolio.