We’ve all seen motivational posters and quotes extolling the virtue of persistence and determination, and there’s no doubt that – when pursuing the right task – those qualities are essential. But are there times when it’s really better to quit? Give up altogether?
The answer is yes.
Blindly sticking to a job or task is not smart, and eliminating unachievable goals is your first step towards success. Sticking it out in something you’re not good at, or trying to close a deal that isn’t going to happen, will only frustrate you and take your concentration away from productive work.
An episode of Freakonomics Radio, a podcast by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner the authors of the best-selling book Freakonomics, talked about the value of quitting and how most people don’t let themselves quit often enough.
Most of the time people don’t want to quit something because they’ve already invested so much time and effort into it. That’s what economists call a sunk cost. Levitt and Dubner describe this concept:
Sunk cost is about the past – it’s the time or money or sweat equity you’ve put into a job or relationship or a project, and which makes quitting hard. Opportunity cost is about the future. It means that for every hour or dollar you spend on one thing, you’re giving up the opportunity to spend that hour or dollar on something else – something that might make your life better.
We’ve all had this experience at work. You don’t want to give up a deal because you’ve spent so much time working on it, but you know in the back of your mind that it’s not going to close. Don’t get caught in this trap. Just because you’ve invested a lot of time in something doesn’t mean you should invest more!
This concept has strong career implications as well. It takes a lot of self awareness to realize when you are not suited for a particular task or role, and discovering that sooner rather than later is a huge asset – and it’s not always easy.
Take the time to consider what you love to do and what you’re successful at and pursue that. That’s not to say you shouldn’t try to improve yourself in areas of weakness, but be realistic and weigh the pros and cons. Focus on improving in areas of interest to you and areas where you already have a basic aptitude.
Ask for feedback from co-workers and supervisors to get insight into your strengths and weakness. Make a plan to improve your weaknesses – but also make a timeline for how long you’re going to work on this particular skill. Set attainable goals and give up on unattainable goals – Don’t worry, you can always go back to them in the future.