Quitting gets a bad rap. We tend to associate it with failure, but quitting and failing are not the same. I’ve always been one to persevere – diligent at work and loyal to friends and family. I don’t give up easily and I don’t like to take “no” for an answer. I’ve weathered professional low points to enjoy later successes. Yet, I’ve quit certain sports, clients and relationships.
We tend to face this dilemma in the “murky middle,” the phase of a project, entrepreneurial idea or relationship, when our initial enthusiasm wanes. It’s a proverbial fork in the road where the future is uncertain – and you need to decide whether to stay the course, navigate differently or simply jump ship. In “The Dip,” Seth Godin writes about “strategic quitting.” He outlines the difference between “dips,” something really difficult but with the potential to become something great, and “cul-de-sacs,” where continued time and effort doesn’t get you anywhere. “Dips” are the situations worth persevering through. Those who recognize “cul-de-sacs” for the time and resource drain that they are quit fast, often, and without guilt. Godin states, “we fail when we get distracted by tasks we don’t have the guts to quit.”
Another factor in knowing when to quit is what economist call “opportunity costs,” or the benefit that a person could have received (what they could have gained), but gave up, to take another course of action. Similarly, research by Northwestern University psychologists Daniel Molden and Chin Ming Hui presents a way to make the best decisions: focus on what you have to gain by moving on, rather than what you have to lose.
Here are a few questions to ask yourself to determine “when to fold ‘em” as the gambler in Kenny Roger’s song suggests:
- Will more effort produce real gains?
- Is it worth the cost? Are the benefits worth the sacrifice?
- Is it fun? Does it provide some level of enjoyment or satisfaction?
- Are you doing it for the right reasons? Does it fit with your priorities?
- Is there a real, viable future?
If the answers are mostly No, then cut your losses and move on.