Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Quit Happens

Vickie Bergman blogs about education and parenting at Demand Euphoria.

Look at some of the popular "wisdom," in the form of one-liner clich├ęs, about quitting:

1. Winners never quit, and quitters never win. False. First of all, winners sometimes quit. Especially after they win. Second, quitters sometimes win. Sure, maybe if you quit playing baseball, you won't win at baseball anymore. But you can win at other stuff because you aren't wasting your time playing baseball when you don't really want to. And third, what if you don't care about winning? Or what if happiness is a win for you? Then quitting something that takes away from your happiness is an automatic win.

I prefer: Quit while you are ahead. As in, if you have achieved what seems to you to be a satisfactory level of success, and you don't want to do something anymore, then it's ok to quit. Also, if you realize that you are not enjoying something, then quit before you waste too much more time doing it.

2. If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. I think there is something missing from the end of this one: if you want to. You don't have to succeed at everything you do. Wait, if you do succeed (win), then you can never quit (see #1). That's confusing.

I prefer this from a guy named Albert Einstein: Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Sometimes trying again and again doesn't help. Sometimes it's ok to admit that you are just not going to or don't care to succeed at something.

3. When the going gets tough, the tough get going. This usually gets interpreted to mean "the tough keep doing what they are doing." But you could also read it to mean "the tough get the hell out of what they are doing."

I prefer: If you can't take the heat, get out of the kitchen. Don't get burned. Getting burned doesn't prove you are tough. It hurts, and it makes you wonder, why didn't I just get out of the kitchen?

4. Never give up. Really? Never? "Never" is a dangerous word. I would say, at least sometimes, giving up is the smartest thing to do.

I prefer: Cut your losses. Or Know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em.  It's fitting that these two are both related to gambling. Because that is one area where it is actually respectable to know when to quit. As for anything else in life, "cutting your losses" might refer to the time you lose doing things that you aren't enjoying. And look at the hand you were dealt. Sometimes it makes more sense to fold.

And here is a new saying for you: Quit happens. By this I mean it happens inside a person. If you have already decided that you definitely want to quit something, then the quitting has essentially already happened. The physical act of leaving a team or not showing up for an activity is secondary to the mental quitting. Think about this the next time your child says he wants to quit something. If his mind is made up, then he has already quit. You can force his body to go to soccer practice, but you can't force his mind to like it.

Are the most successful people you know the ones who never quit anything? Or are they the ones who latch onto something they really believe in, have a talent for, care about, or love, and cut out the rest?

You can read more about this topic in I'm a Quitter and A Kid Who's Not a Quitter?


  1. For # 2, you could also just add, "Maybe look at the way you're approaching it differently."

    There are certainly cases where we do want to do something, but it simply is not working, and the Einstein quote kicks in. But if we want to succeed at a task, and our approach isn't working, we might need to reconsider our approach to doing it and possibly embark on some radical changes. Generally there are some false or uninformed assumptions, in these cases, underpinning our methods that we would do well to reconsider. "Trying again" simply won't cut it.

    One obvious example of this is education and education funding. Supposedly we all want educated citizens (though definitions for what that means vary *widely,* which of course is what recommends homeschooling so highly). But pouring more money into the system, building new schools, getting more computers, etc. has only made the problem worse. And yet we keep hearing that we have to "try harder."

    This is madness, of course. What we really need to do is what's happening on these discussion boards: challenge our assumptions and "try" something different.

    (Fwiw, there are some instances where 'staying in the kitchen' may not be so bad and perseverance is what is required. But generally if you are motivated intrinsically, you don't need much imploring to stick with it. You push yourself past the plateaus or the "initiation rites" with the knowledge that even greater satisfaction lies on the far side of the pain. {This may be a male bias, but I'm not sure- even granted that most guys stay out of the kitchen anyway unless it's time to eat!})

  2. @D-blog, I agree with you completely. Especially the part about the intrinsic motivation. I think that is what all of this comes down to. And it's hard to accept that we can't do anything about another person's intrinsic motivation (not even our own children).

    That's why I have a problem with people who say that perseverance is a quality that some people have and others don't. I think perseverance is more situation-based. I think all people have the ability to keep going at something they deem worthy of the effort. No one else is in a position to judge the appropriateness of someone else quitting something.