Motivational speakers and books are very popular. Do they really help people achieve or is it better to give up sometimes? Gerhard Erasmus considers when it is better to let go, and looks at when quitting makes you a winner.
When I was much younger (a teenager to be precise), I did holiday work at motor dealerships for pocket money. The lead salesman at one of these dealerships shared a gem with me, ‘If you want to be successful in life, you have to get up one more time than you get knocked down by life.’ While I appreciate the intention of the statement, my mathematical brain exploded, simply because it makes no sense. If life knocks you down, you need to get up. Knocked down once. Get up once. Not one more time that you get knocked down, the same number of times. And so started my extreme dislike of motivational quotes. ‘You can do anything you set your mind to.’ Not true. ‘Only dead fish go with the flow.’ Not true. And there are lots more.
What it has made me realise is that we are so caught up in trying to feel good and ‘chasing our dreams’ that we now even have names for things that might not have existed before. Toxic positivity is one. Failure to understand sunk cost is another. I am completely for being positive, remaining focus even when challenges seem very intimidating, and following your dreams, but, I have also seen too many times that people destroy themselves, their families, and their self-belief because they don’t know when to quit. This blog is intentionally contrarian, demotivational, and will encourage you to quit.
Toxic positivity is the pressure to only display positive emotions. Naturally, that means negative emotions are hidden, not absent. People experience guilt for feeling sad, angry, or disappointed. They dismiss the difficulties others face, often with motivational quotes like ‘Just stay positive.’ ‘It takes nothing to smile.’ Perhaps the worst is they ignore their problems, and they ignore evidence that they should be considering when making decisions.
You don’t have to be positive all the time. Rather than ‘Just stay positive.’ think about ‘Just be honest with yourself.’ If you are in a relationship or a job where you are no longer happy, it is OK to get out. It is OK to quit. And you will feel absolutely terrible, but that is fine as well. Because you will feel better eventually, and more than likely end up in a relationship, job, or career where you are happier, more fulfilled, and make better use of your talents and experience.
Sunk cost is what you have invested in something that you cannot get back. This could be money, other resources, time, or your emotional investment. One of the biggest mistakes companies or people make is considering what you are going to lose if you walk away rather than what you stand to lose if you continue along the wrong track.
A great example of this is the image of the person digging a hole and then giving up just before he reaches a massive treasure or diamond. We look at this and think ‘If he kept going a little more, he would have been successful.’ But the reality is, if he kept going there might ever have been a treasure. And all the lost time he could have pursued something else, or spent time with his family or children, is lost forever. But if he gives up, then all the time he spent on this already will be lost! And that is the key point.
It will be lost. Everything you have put into it will be lost other than the experience you have gained. But if the only thing driving you forward is the extremely low likelihood that there might be something, then quit. You win by quitting because you have looked at the evidence, and decided to spend your money, time, resources, and emotional investment elsewhere. Hopefully in a place that makes you happy. Don’t get dragged into the sunk cost emotional rollercoaster.
Can you play poker?
I realise quite a few of you might not really play poker. It is a game I quite enjoy, so I am using an example from Poker that everyone will understand. There are certain cards, for example a 2 and an 8 that means you don’t play the hand. You just give up or fold as it is called. The statistics around this is very clear. It is basically never a good idea to bet and play this hand. Now, whenever we talk about poker, someone brings up a story of many years ago when they played and won with a 2-8 hand.
And that is exactly what annoys me about anecdotes when people are facing difficulties. Play the numbers, not the heartwarming story. Often, the person telling you about how they were successful against all odds have completely underestimated how amazingly lucky they were. If you are done with playing luck, find the numbers, and if the numbers say quit, then do just that. Walk away. More often than not you will have made the right decision.
But quitting is easy
Quitting is not the easy way out and if anything, it is often very difficult. It is not easy to walk away form an abusive work or personal relationship. It is not easy to walk away from a job if you need the pay check.
The idea that quitters have just taken the easy way out is false and should not impact your decision.
So, what kinds of things can teachers quit?
- A relationship that you feel stuck in.
- A job that you no longer enjoy.
- A company that doesn’t value you.
- A career you are no longer satisfied with.
- Working with a colleague you no longer respect or trust.
- A textbook you have been using for years.
And many other things. I hope this blog has given you the courage to at least consider quitting as a viable option and to know that sometimes quitters win.
I generally end my blog with a forward-looking comment. There is a nice poem by Edgar Albert Guest written in 1922, first published in the Detroit Free Press, about not quitting called ‘Don’t quit’ which is now fortuitously in the public domain.
When things go wrong, as they sometimes will,
When the road you’re trudging seems all uphill,
When the funds are low but the debts are high,
And you want to smile but you have to sigh,
When care is pressing you down a bit,
Rest if you must, but don’t you quit.
Life is strange with its twists and turns,
As every one of us sometimes learns,
And many failures turn about
When we might have won had we stuck it out.
Don’t give up though the pace seems slow –
You may succeed with another blow.
Success is failure turned inside out –
The silver tint of the clouds of doubt,
You can never tell how close you are,
It may be near when it seems so far;
So stick to the fight when you’re hardest hit –
It’s when things seem worst that you must not quit.
In response, I have attempted a poem called ‘When quitters win.’ I hope you enjoy it. You might also like to (re)read a previous post I wrote about dealing with regrets.
When quitters win
When things go wrong as they sometimes will,
And the road ahead seems all uphill,
When it feels like nothing is going right,
And your dreams are shrouded in the darkest night.
When you feel the road is no longer fit,
It’s OK. Say it. Just say, ‘I quit.’
When hope is lost and doubts do creep,
And promises you made are hard to keep,
When you know you’ll fail and quit your quest,
And your heart is broken cause you’ve tried your best.
When the odds against you are stacked sky high,
It’s OK to quit. It’s OK to cry.
When you feel you’re losing yourself in your cause,
Don’t fight to win or for the applause,
Failure is an event. Not a person. NOT you!
So, do what’s best – be honest and true.
When you realise quitting is not a sin,
Quit, cause that’s when quitters win.