Winners Often Quit


“If you can’t do it, give up!” ~Sigmund Freud

I know this is contrary to most of that advice you’ve ever heard. But then, when is anything I write not a little contrary?

A lot of the success and motivational material out there have to do with never giving up or quitting. You know, “Winners never quit” and such. I am coming to find out that winners do quit. They really do! And, all the success stories out there are of winners who have quit!

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” ~Thomas Edison

For most people, this quote insinuates, “don’t quit.” I have to disagree. He actually had to quit several times. Can you imagine him not quitting? “Sir the platinum filament didn’t work again.” “Keep trying. It will work eventually!”

“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” ~Albert Einstein

This “success” quote is basically telling you, if something is not working, stop it! This is what Edison did when something didn’t work, he quit and tried something else. He didn’t quit his overall goal though and this is what’s important.

In a recent article, I published (that nobody read), 5 Lessons Learned from Reading “Endurance,” I claim that one of my lessons learned was “Never Give Up.” So how am I now writing an article entitled “Winners Often Quit?” Well, another lesson learned from Endurance was “As a leader, sometimes you have to tell your troops things they don’t want to hear.” Specifically, I was referring to the times Shackleton lead his men on grueling treks on foot in harsh conditions for hours or even days only to discover they had to turn around and go back. Though he did not give up his ultimate goal, getting everyone home alive, there were some things he had to quit along the way.

So the big question is, how do I know when to quit? I am definitely not the expert on this but I have been looking into it and this is what I started to come up with.

Is it getting you to your ultimate goal?

Edison wanted a cost-effective lightbulb. Shackleton wanted to get his men home alive. When the task at hand did not get them closer to their ultimate goal, they quit those efforts and moved on to something else.

After being a bad real estate agent for four years, I gave it up. My ultimate goal was to do the work I love and have the ability to travel while I do it. When I realized that being a real estate agent was the exact opposite of what I wanted, I just stopped. And, when my phone stopped ringing, I was grateful for it.

Is that ultimate goal yours?

This is very important. If what you are doing is getting you closer to realizing your ultimate goal but that ultimate goal is not actually yours, you are wasting your time. The easiest example here is the student who is studying a subject because it’s what their parents wanted them to study. There are numerous physicians, dentist, and lawyers out there who have no interest in what they are doing but are stuck in their profession because of the amount of debt they accrued achieving someone else’s goal.

I once advised someone very close to me to quit school. When he told me what he was studying I said, “why are you studying that?” He response was, “So I can get a job and be able to pay the student loan back.” I saved him from not only years of misery studying a field he had no interest in but years of misery having to work in that field paying back the debt he had gotten into studying it in the first place.

In case you are associating dropping out of school with being a loser, here is a list of high school and college dropouts for you:

Richard Branson
Quinten Tarantino
Bill Gates
Mark Zuckerburg
Oprah Winfrey
Steve Jobs
Rachael Ray
Ralph Lauren
Henry Ford
And of course… Thomas Edison

Do you have the talent or skills to achieve that goal?

In his recent release, Born For This, Chris Guillebeau pointed out something that I thought was very interesting. As children, we are told we can be anything we want to be but as adults, we are expected to be realistic and get a respectable job. Well, which is it? And, where is that line drawn?

I think the telling of children they can be whatever they want to be only to have them abruptly hit with the reality that they actually can’t, is leading to a lot disappointed and depressed individuals. Mike Rowe, of Dirty Jobs and the Mike Rowe Works Foundation, makes a very good point with regards to this. He gave the example of the young kids who get their heart broken on American Idol when they are told, for the first time in their life, that they are not a very good singer. We’ve all seen the tears shed. We may have even laughed at them.

I think it comes down to natural talent and skill. Do you have it or not? As a kid, I wanted to be a pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Well, I didn’t make it. In fact, I couldn’t even make the high school baseball team. I didn’t have the talent or skill to do so. Would I get better if I worked at the skills required to pursue this career? Sure, but so would the person who it came naturally to. If we both put in 10,000 hours, I’d be good but still not as good as the person who had the natural talent. Luckily I came to the realization that I was not a good athlete early in my life. This allowed me to see that I couldn’t be whatever I wanted. I was able to give up on being Fernando Valenzuela. Of course, maybe I could be him now, what is he up to these days?

Now, here is the good news. If I really wanted to pursue a career in professional baseball, I could. I could have been a groundskeeper, a physical therapist, an agent, or a commentator. Just because I didn’t have the talent or skill to be a baseball player didn’t mean I could work in the field of baseball. This is what we need to tell our children. Instead of telling them they can be anything they want, how about telling them they can work in any field they want.

Do you love doing it or would you do it if it didn’t pay anything?

There are butt loads of stories of authors who’s novel was rejected a bunch of times but they “never gave up” and eventually got published. Among the most famous, J.K. Rowling, who was rejected for her first Harry Potter installment 12 times and Stephen King who rejected 30 times for Carrie.

This is a perfect example of not quitting, right? Kind of. You see, what they didn’t quit doing was writing and that’s because the loved doing it. If they were doing it for the money they probably would have or should have quit. Carrie was King’s first novel but he had already been writing since the age of six. Rowling began writing stories as a child and would read them to her sister. She got the idea for Harry Potter in 1990 and finished her manuscript in 1995. In those five years, she went through hell. She endured a failed marriage, the death of her mother, hopped from job to job, diagnosed with depression, and was even on welfare. In my opinion, writing is what kept her going. Writing brought her joy. They weren’t doing it for the money; they were doing it because the loved it. And, you just don’t simply quit doing something you love.

The one sentence that sums it up.

I have been sitting on this article for a while, rereading and editing it. I have been reluctant to post it because I felt like something was missing, like a point. But then, I thought of this:

“Never give up but quit often!”

Yes, keep striving towards your ultimate goal but be able to see when what you are doing isn’t working and quit doing that.

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