Do you hate to quit?

Me too.

That’s why I was so intrigued by the Freakonomics podcast on The Upside of Quitting. Doesn’t that title just make your brain go, “What??!?

If you’re a fellow achiever (and my friend Jen Gresham would say I mean fellow over-achiever!), then this podcast could be for you too (warning: it’s 58 minutes long).

The three most interesting points they raised were:

  • Our tendency is to “persist” rather than “quit” because we’ve got things backwards:
    • We tend to see our years of investment in an activity as being a reason to continue when instead, these are “sunk costs” that we can’t get back (i.e., what’s done is done) and shouldn’t factor into our decisions going forward. We get caught in the fallacy of, “I can’t quit now, I’ve spent so much time getting to where I’ve gotten.”
    • We lose sight of the fact that continuing to do what we are doing carries an “opportunity cost” of keeping us from pursuing another opportunity that could be even more valuable to us.
  • Research shows that quitting unattainable goals can be good for our health*.
  • Don’t be afraid to quit – in fact, we’re probably not doing enough of it.

Whether you quit or persist, it’s okay in my book as long as it’s a conscious decision.

What gets us in trouble is the unintentional “thought-less” (as in not having thought about it at all), “gut-less” (as in not listening to your gut feel) tapering off or trundling along.

Basically, don’t sleepwalk through your life, whether guided by “shoulds”, sheer force of habit, or the slippery slope of making micro choices without paying attention to how they add up over time.

When I think about the things that simply stopped happening in my life, most of it resulted from a combination of “shoulds”, habit and the slippery slope:

  • No longer exercising when I started working: I ended up with a decade of back and neck pain, missing work for weeks at a time when the stress of the job caused flare-ups
  • No longer keeping in touch with friends: granted, they were equally busy, but I had few people to go to when the going got tough and I needed a friendly ear (my saintly husband bore the brunt along with my parents and sister)
  • No longer carving out time to invest in my development: I believe I would have learned more and advanced faster from taking up those countless opportunities to read more, attend trainings, and meet people

No one asked me to stop doing those things. I just allowed it to happen in the name of producing results. While I did produce some good results, I wonder if the cost was necessary.

On the other hand, the few things that I’ve consciously quit have been great moves: pursuing classical piano as a career (realized I was never going to be good enough to make a living as a concert pianist), pursuing investment banking as a career (decided to quit while I was ahead after 24 years), being a board member of a small charity (too much time for too little impact).

For many of us, the greater danger is in persisting too much. Sure, some things are like getting ketchup out of a bottle: nothing comes out for the longest time, and then all of a sudden, your efforts are rewarded when it all comes out in a whoosh.

But while you’re waiting, one way to tell if you’re persisting beyond reason is to ask yourself these questions:

  • Am I experiencing positive growth from my efforts?
  • Have I had any encouragement for my efforts?
  • Am I experiencing any joy?
  • Do I still feel that it matters?
  • Am I harming my relationships with the people who matter the most to me?
  • Is it still a net positive?
  • Is it a “must do”?

In the end, quitting is a highly personal decision that only you can make.

Just remember…

For me, that’s one of the best upsides to quitting.