Quitters never prosper. Never give up. If at first, you don’t succeed, try, try again.
There are so many sayings with the same basic message: quitting is bad. This idea is instilled in kids, internalized by adults, and generally just considered common sense.
It’s also often wrong.
I once had a job that, in retrospect, I should have quit earlier. I stuck around two years longer than made sense, all because I thought giving up would be a personal failure on my part. That was wrong. When I finally left, I was happier, more productive, and better off.
I quit, and then I prospered.
Why did I keep doing a job that wasn’t working for so long—even when I had other options? Because of the prevailing cultural norm that quitting is bad. I felt like walking away would be a failure on my part, so I put off doing it.
This idea — that quitting is bad — deserves to be questioned.
The sunk cost fallacy is real
Let’s lower the stakes a little. My Zapier coworker Katie recently told me that she used to force herself to finish books she hated. That’s relatable. If you spent money on a book, then spent a bunch of time reading it, it feels like you have to finish it. Wouldn’t that time and money be wasted otherwise?
It sounds logical, but it isn’t. It’s an example of the sunk cost fallacy, a cognitive bias that causes us to commit to continuing to do something we’ve already invested in.
It’s easy to think that, by not finishing a book you started, you’re somehow losing all the time you put into the book so far. That’s not true: your time is already gone, regardless of how you spend it going forward. Finishing the book won’t retroactively justify the bad time you’ve had reading it so far — it just means you’ll have more of a bad time.
Ask yourself: is reading more of a book that you hate the best thing you could be spending your time on going forward? Because that’s what you can control. You can’t change how you spent time in the past, but you can decide what you want to do going forward. You could spend time reading something you actually enjoy but only if you quit reading the thing you hate.
It’s also not true that the time you spent reading the book was wasted if you stop reading. You learned something about the kinds of books you don’t like, which is a good thing to know. You also tried something new, which is valuable in and of itself. And you now have the opportunity to write a scathing review on Goodreads or make jokes with your friends about the terrible book you never finished. These results apply regardless of whether you finish the book.
Quit. You’ll be better off.
It’s also true in business
All of this same logic applies to work, or running a company. It’s easy if you’ve put many hours into a project or career path, to think that you should continue working on that indefinitely — even if it’s not working out. After all, quitting means admitting that something isn’t working, and that’s a really hard line to cross.
The thinking here is exactly the same: if you stop now, all of the time you spent on the project or opportunity is wasted. It’s way too easy for this mentality to lead to spinning your wheels on something that’s not working.
Cortney, executive assistant here at Zapier, told me she had to do this before finding her current profession:
I thought because I got a degree in marketing, and because my first few jobs were in marketing, that I had to stick with it, even though it was making me really unhappy. I quit, and I am much better for it now! Very happy and my current role is much more aligned with my interests and skill set.
In some cases, you can salvage a project if you put more time into it — and some books have twist endings that retroactively justify how hard the beginning was to read. But not every time.
I’m not going to pretend I can tell you how to know which situation you’re in, but it’s important to consider the possibility that quitting is the best option.
Sometimes you have to move on — and learn from it
I already threw out a bunch of cliches, so here’s another one: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.” Einstein never said this, but someone did, at some point, and people attribute it to Einstein because they think it’s smart.
There’s no sense in continuing to do something that’s not working for you, and quitting is the easiest way to not continue. Another Zapier colleague Breetel put it well in a message she sent me:
To quit means you have to honor your instincts and the desire for something else, but it also demands that you take a leap of faith. It requires you to trust yourself and the world enough to believe you will be ok without whatever membership, credential, activity, situation, or person you are walking away from.
This isn’t just true when it comes to reading books or doing your job. It’s true in every aspect of your life. Sometimes you’re going to put work into something — a hobby, say, or even a relationship — only to realize it’s not working. Knowing when to walk away is an essential life skill.
This isn’t to say that everyone reading this should quit their jobs if they don’t like them — there are good reasons to keep doing something that’s not perfect, or even far from ideal. But it’s too easy to keep on doing things that aren’t working, and our culture’s emphasis on not giving up only plays into this.
Keep this in mind, and maybe be a little less afraid of quitting in the future.
Published April 9, 2021 — 08:31 UTC