If you have been a regular reader of my columns over the years, you know that I have always been a proponent of grit and resilience. However, I have also been written of the value of failure and what we can learn from it.
One of my favorite podcasts is Freakonomics Radio, hosted by one of the co-authors of the enormously successful #1 bestselling book of the same name, “Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything.”
This weekend, I listened to an episode of the four-part series, “How to Succeed at Failing.” In addition to the four main episodes of the series, there are five additional “plus” episodes that focused on specific cases of failure. While I would recommend each of the nine episodes, I was intrigued by the third main episode entitled, “Grit vs. Quit.”
In today’s column, I will focus on what you should consider when faced with the dilemma of quitting versus sticking with your current situation in a business environment based on some life experiences that I have had.
Most of us have been involved in pursuits that we deemed challenging and difficult, and because of that, considered quitting. I can think of a number of situations in my own life. When I was in high school, I tried out for the freshman football team. About half of the over 300 boys in my freshman class showed up on the first day of tryouts. The coaches said that there would be no cuts, but that the next couple of weeks would be tough, and they were. During that time, more than one-third of the original 150 who showed up on the first day quit, and by the end of our freshman season, a total of approximately 90 players remained on our two freshman teams. By the end of our sophomore season, just under 50 of us remained on our junior varsity team, and by the time we were seniors, less than 30 out of the original 150 remained on the varsity team. Despite being undersized and having limited natural talent, my enjoyment of football, the toughness it developed in me, and the friends I made, motivated me to gut out the difficult times that made some of the other 120 quit.
At least two other times in my life, I considered quitting and shouldered on. After my second year of college, I had to decide if I wanted to continue on my Air Force ROTC scholarship, although I really did not like being in ROTC. While the scholarship had already paid the tuition for my first two years of college, I had the option of walking away without owing any payback either financially or in years of service. However, if I walked away, I would have had to take loans to pay for school or possibly transfer. The combination of financial and educational benefits and the opportunity to serve my country while gaining great experience convinced me to hang in there. Finally, there were many times when the difficulty of my Ph.D. program and particularly completing my dissertation brought me close to quitting, but my desire to teach and pursue a career in higher education drove me to continue.
In each of the cases above, there were times when I really struggled and at times, hated what I was doing. The struggles and difficulties led me to consider quitting each endeavor. However, in each instance, there were two major reasons why I continued on:
- I saw that success was possible if I continued working hard or if I worked harder.
- I believed that if successful, the ends achieved would be worth the effort.
More recently, I came to a different conclusion when I stepped down as dean of the Hull College of Business at Augusta University (AU). Similar to the instances above, it was not an easy decision and one that evolved over a number of months and was aided by AU’s Provost. It was not clear to me that success was likely, nor that the ends would be necessarily fulfilling to me. But, what also helped drive my decision not to continue was having the option to do something more fulfilling. I was able to return to the full-time faculty, where I knew I could make a difference in individual student lives and do research that might help businesses and healthcare perform better.
If you have reached a point in your business career, either as a business owner or entrepreneur in which you are challenged as to whether you should continue, or you are in a job in which you are unhappy or burnt out and you are considering quitting, ask yourself the following questions before you decide whether to quit or persist:
- Is success possible? If I work harder and/or smarter, can I achieve success? Sometimes, factors outside of your control limit your possibilities. If success is not possible, it is probably time to move on.
- Is the “juice worth the squeeze”? If you keep at it, working hard at something you do not necessarily like, is the outcome worth it? It is important to reflect on why we do things. Sometimes, it is necessary to do something we really do not like for the betterment of our family and those around us. However, we should not be doing things because others might think we are a failure if we are not doing them.
- Reflect on what you would rather be doing. If you quit, have your next steps in mind. Will you need additional skills? Are opportunities available? You may need to keep grinding until the time is right.
While I have always valued resilience over quitting, that is not always the right answer. However, sometimes quitting can be the easy way out. Before you decide whether to quit or carry on, reflect on the above to help you make a more informed choice.