Why Quitting Can be Good

3 min read

Yes, quitting can be good. It can be the best thing you ever do. It’s like playing poker…sometimes you raise the bet and sometimes you fold.

But what about in the workplace? I just finished reading the book, “Quit” by Annie Duke. Fascinating read. Her main message: Grit and determination have their place, but sometimes, all things considered, the best thing one can do is quit.

Ms. Duke goes on to explain that while grit and determination can help you stick to the things that are worthwhile, it also causes you to waste valuable time on something that, in the end, is not in your best interest.

Quitting can, and often is, the best and honest thing to do. To be perfectly clear: this is not Quiet Quitting…this is REALLY quitting.

I recently worked on a highly-paid leadership consulting gig in a faraway, exotic foreign country… five-star hotel, limo, white sandy beaches – the whole works, but I woke up one morning not as excited as I usually found myself to be. This feeling lingered for several days. I was conflicted about what to do.

I was working with captains of business and all sorts of other highly successful people coaching them on how to make big changes in their lives. I was really good at this and well-liked, but the routine became, well…routine. My clients all started looking alike. I was bored. My energy level was low. Then I remember one day sitting out by the pool and it suddenly came to me: “I’m done here.” I could no longer take my client’s money and feel good about it. Couldn’t do it. It would have been intellectually dishonest. I took the weekend to carefully consider what I was about to do. On Monday morning, I gave them all the bad news and flew home that night. It was over. Just like that. I quit.

Think about the game of poker. Winners and losers are largely determined by how and when a player quits (or holds) at the right time. Military operations are the same way.

I always like military examples because they are mostly life-and-death situations and there is a certain amount of objective clarity when speaking of life and death. Sometimes you win the battle but lose the war. Pyrrhic victories happen all the time.

The phrase, Pyrrhic Victory, was coined when French forces lost the Battle of Malplaquet in September 1709 when the Grand Empire, a European alliance of nations, won a narrow victory. Although victorious, the Allies suffered heavy casualties and never really recovered while the French retreated living to fight another day emboldened by weakened Alliance forces. Pearl Harbor is another example of a pyrrhic victory. The Japanese destroyed most of the American Navy, but awoke a sleeping giant of a nation to face surrender less than five years later. The lesson here is that sometimes victory (or a promotion) is not worth the effort.

What can you do so that you don’t fall into this same trap? When will you know it is no longer worth the effort? I go back to Ms. Ruth’s book.

Some things she recommends:

1. Set up a set of benchmarks or metrics prior to your engagement. If you are not hitting them, it may be time to rethink your efforts.

2. Don’t fret over sunk costs (previous costs/investment) but think also about future outlays in financial and people resources.

3. Have a coach or similar independent outsider provide you with objective feedback on the cost/benefit of moving forward.

My approach is to have a trusted group of personal and professional advisors who are willing and able to give me unbiased advice. During the weekend I was considering quitting my consulting gig in the UAE, I called up three of my best and trusted friends and reviewed the pros and cons with them. I consider these three friends my personal advisory board. We are always there for each other.

They all came at it from a different perspective but their answers were the same: Quit.

How did that decision turn out? What were the ramifications? Find out in next week’s blog for a major announcement!!

Rob Houghton

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