Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Quitters Never Win . . . Or Do They?

About a month ago, I tweeted what you see on the right. In a period of a couple of weeks, I watched people I respected quit things that appeared dear to them. It left me wondering how people know when to quit, especially because I practically never do. In fact, I can only think of about three things I have quit in my adult life.

The responses from Twitter were what you might expect:
"When it no longer fuels your passion and purpose - then its time to move on. Sometimes you just need to move on because you need a new challenge or better balance. There is no simple answer...but something tells me you know that already"
"I find that it's best to quit something when the idea of it causes you undue stress or despair. If, when you think about said thing, you immediately frown or panic, then it's time. I think that people will respect you for the work that you've done and understand that it's not the right commitment for you at this time. And if they don't, you don't owe anyone an explanation."
"Just say no to things that bring anxiety and no joy! You do way too much for too many people! No one will judge you for stepping down and letting others step up!"
Undue stress or despair? Anxiety and no joy? No passion or purpose? I would hope that if I (or others) felt that way about a commitment, quitting would be obvious! For different answers, I turned to a book: The Dip: A Little Book that Teaches You When to Quit (And When to Stick) by Seth Godin.

Godin's premise is simple: If you can't be the best in the world at something, you should quit. I passed this nugget on to a colleague whom I love to banter with and he responded immediately as I knew he would. "That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard." But wait, hear me (Godin) out.

Being the best in the world, to Godin, means being the best in your world, however big or small that may be. Your world could be your classroom or your school or your community or the actual world. Knowing what to quit and quitting it gives you the time and resources you need to become the best in the world in a different area. Guilty as charged: I do tend to take on too much, to try to do everything I can do instead of focusing on a few important things that I want to do really well. And I don't quit even when I should. It's hard to be the best in the world. It's takes a lot of work, so you'll need all the time and resources you can gather.

Godin explains that strategic quitting is the secret of successful organizations. The Dip is a place where people find themselves, a place between starting and mastery, where progress becomes difficult. Sometimes extra effort can help you out of the Dip. In those cases, people should pursue that with passion. Sometimes extra effort won't help. Circumstances can prevent progress from being made. The trick, of course, is to recognize the Dip and predict (or weigh) your ability to overcome it. That's a place where I am still struggling. Godin provides some questions to help with that.


Three questions to ask before quitting:

Am I panicking?  "The reason so many of us quit in the Dip is that without a compass or a plan, the easiest thing to do is give up." Don't quit when you're panicking. Revisit when the panic has passed.
Who am I trying to influence? "Influencing one person is like scaling a wall. If you get over the wall in the first few tries, you're in. If you don't, often you'll find that the wall gets higher with each attempt. Influencing a market is more of a hill that a wall. You can make progress, one step at a time, and as you get higher, it gets easier." Knowing who you're trying to influence will help you see if progress can be made.
What sort of measurable progress am I making? "Measurable progress doesn't have to be a raise or a promotion. It can be more subtle than that, but it needs to be more than 'surviving is succeeding.'" Look for measurable progress. If you're not making any, is it possible to make progress?

And one last bit of advice

Decide in advance when to quit: Godin says that if quitting is going to be a strategic decision, you should decide in advance under which conditions you will quit.

My parents have recited this phrase (attributed to my grandfather) for as long as I can remember:

Once a job has just begun,
Never leave it 'til it's done.
Be it large or be it small,
Do it right, or not at all.

I've been focusing on the "never leave it 'til it's done" part for my entire life. In 2019, I'm going to try to shift toward "or not at all." In 2019, I will quit something. Maybe even a few things.

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