One of my NYU students was facing a dilemma: A few chapters into a highly-recommended, award-winning, bestselling business book, she realized that she found it to be a boring and uninteresting waste of her limited and valuable time. Meanwhile she had a pile of other, much more engaging and tempting titles sitting right there on her nightstand calling her name. She was excited about diving into one of them, only to find that when she put the boring book aside to embark on a new reading adventure, she suddenly and inexpicably found herself feeling extremely guilty.
As she put it, “The culture where I come from is really uptight about winning. People who quit are looked upon as ‘failures’. And, so, quitting this book translated into a failure on my part. And this feeling of guilt comes in whenever I don’t finish something.”
“Always finish what you start.”
“Don’t be a quitter.”
“No pain, no gain.”
“Never, ever give up.”
“Winners never quit, and quitters never win.”
“Quitters are losers.”
“Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” (Thomas Edison)
“I hated every minute of training, but I said, 'Don't quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion’.” (Muhammad Ali)
“If you quit ONCE it becomes a habit. Never quit!!!” (Michael Jordan)
For those who grew up with parents, teachers, coaches, and/or other authority figures and motivational speakers drilling these mantras into our heads, no wonder we feel guilty when we decide not to continue with something!
But when is it ok to quit? How do we know when it’s better to cut our losses and move on? What about “sunk costs” that cause us to dig ourselves into an even deeper hole? How do we decide when to drop something and when to persevere? How do we determine whether to give something (or someone) a second or third or tenth chance vs. when to say, “that’s it…enough is enough”?
And, is there a difference between “quitting” and “being a quitter”?
Confession: I Am A Quitter
I’ve quit jobs that weren’t working out, and I’ve ended relationships that were dysfunctional. I’ve left many books unfinished, and I’ve walked out of many a bad play or movie. And I quit piano lessons when I realized that I wasn’t really very good. I recently quit eating foods loaded with sugar and carbs, and replaced them with nuts, fruits, and vegetables. And I quit reading the New York Times while laying on my couch, and instead now read it everyday while walking for 30 minutes on the treadmill.
So you can see where I’m going with this: When it comes to “quitting,” it’s all about context, and how you define and frame it.
In his classic leadership book, “What Got You Here, Won’t Get You There,” legendary management guru Marshall Goldsmith explores “the 20 Workplace Habits You Need to Break.” In other words: there are unproductive and counterproductive behaviors that successful people need to QUIT doing in order to enable them to become even more successful, and leaders are often successful not because of how they are, but in spite of how they are. And, so, to get from “here” to “there” they may need to “quit” doing the things that may be holding them back.
While it is admirable to keep on keepin’ on, there is no shame in movin’ on if what you’re doing just isn’t working for you anymore. If you are not engaged, if you are unhappy, if you have given it your all and see little or no possibility of sunnier skies, then, perhaps, the best choice you can make might just be to make a change. As you get older (and, hopefully, wiser), you come to realize that life is short: Too short to waste on books, or movies, or tv series, or projects, or jobs, or relationships that you no longer find valuable. The key, and the challenge, is that – though you can seek out others’ input, advice, and opinions – when it comes to your life, you are the only one who can make the determination on whether to pass or to play.
It often helps to think about the fact that ending something negative – though leaving a void – creates the time and space for the start of something new. And that it’s hard to start something new while our cup is full or when we’re tenuously hanging onto the past.
So I’m not talking about quitting on a person who is relying on you, walking out on someone, leaving a project half-way done, or storming out of the office while crooning the old country song, “Take this job and shove it, I ain’t workin’ here no more.” I’m talking about when you reach a point where, after much thoughtful consideration and deliberation you’ve made the well-thought-out, considered decision that it’s time to move on.
Why Didn’t You Just Quit?
As I wrote about in a previous post (“A Love Letter to All of my Horrible Bosses”), earlier in my career I worked at one of the tv networks as an administrative assisstant for an abusive, sadistic, insane and maniacal boss who treated me horribly on a daily basis, including, one time, throwing a box of pens at my head because they weren’t the kind she liked. (They were medium point; she wanted the fine point.)
When people hear these stories about her – after laughing in disbelief and horror – they typically ask, “Why didn’t you just quit?” This question can best be answered in the following old joke:
“This guy works at the circus and his only job is to clean up after the elephants. All day long, day after day, his job is, literally, nothing but shoveling sh*t. And, then, after work every night he would meet up with his friends at the bar and bend their ears for hours complaining about it. Finally, fed up with the endless complaints and unable to hear about it anymore, his best friend exclaims, “If you hate it so much, then why don’t you just quit???” To which he replies, “What…and leave show business!”
The Learning/Enjoyment Matrix
Going back to my student’s story about the feeings of guilt associated with “quitting” her boring book in order to pick up another, more interesting one, it got me thinking about it in this way:
Ideally, it’s great when we’re able to spend our valuable time doing what we love and loving what we do. When we’re “Learning & Loving it,” time flies, we’re truly engaged, in a state of “flow” or “in the zone,” we can’t wait for it to start, and hate for it to end. This could refer to a book, a class, a movie, a tv series that we’re binge-watching, a project, a job, or even a relationship.
Sometimes, though – let’s keep using the book example – we’re not, necessarily learning anything monumental from it, but we’re enjoying it. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with a little mindless entertainment, escapism, and fun.
But what about when we’re learning, but not, necessarily, enjoying it? Continuing with the book, maybe it’s taking a tremendous amount of effort to even pick it up again, a challenge to understand, and maybe even an exhausting struggle to get through every page. And, yet, little by little, you are learning something. Do you keep forging ahead…or do you quit?
Lastly, what about when you’re engaged in something where you are neither learning anything nor enjoying it? What then? And, what if it’s not a $14.95 paperback we’re talking about…but a hobby you were trying out that you’ve made an investment in, a project you’ve been working on, a relationship you are involved in, or…even your current job? Then what?
Again, there are no easy answers. And, again, only you can decide. But, perhaps framing your situation using this matix will help you to think things through.
Playing Quit & Seek: A Few Questions to Consider
When should you quit your job…and seek out a new opportunity?
When should you quit that bad relationship…and seek out a better one?
When should you quit a bad habit…and replace it with something more healthy and productive?
When should you quit complaining about problems…and start coming up with solutions?
When should you quit venting…and start in-venting?
How do you know whether to quit while you’re ahead (i.e., knowing when to hold ‘em, and when to fold ‘em)?
How should you quit (if or when the time comes, what’s the right way or the best way to do it)?
Why are you quitting (is it the right decision, and are you quitting for the right reasons)?
Who can you rely on and trust for counsel, advice, and support?
Have you weighed the pros and cons of quitting vs. persevering?
Have you explored all your alternatives?
Are you giving up too soon?
Or have you already stayed too long?
Have you given it your best shot?
Is it time?
The best distinction I’ve heard between “quitting” and “being a quitter”
In closing, quitting is never easy. It is often an emotional and wrenching and potentially-confusing decision with numerous variables and unlimited pros and cons. And though making the decision to quit something is a tough one, the decision to not decide can be equally as tough. As mentioned in my last post (“It’s Leap Year…So Why Not Take That Leap!”), I’ve found that being stuck in limbo is worse than anything. As the psychologist William James famously wrote, “There is no more miserable human being than one in whom nothing is habitual but indecision.”
Perhaps this inspirational quote will help to reframe what “quitting” is about, and help you to decide what road to take or what move – if any – to make:
“Quitting is not giving up, it's choosing to focus your attention on something more important. Quitting is not losing confidence, it's realizing that there are more valuable ways you can spend your time. Quitting is not making excuses, it's learning to be more productive, efficient and effective instead. Quitting is letting go of things (or people) that are sucking the life out of you, so you can do more things that will bring you strength.” ~Osayi Emokpae Lasisi, author of “Impossible Is Stupid”
To sum up, perhaps by ridding ourselves of the mindset that quitting is for losers, we will realize that sometimes, quitting is exactly what we need to do…in order to win.
For a little additional inspiration and a burst of confidence-boosting motivation, please see my recent post:
Play Ball! 20 Thought-Provoking Coaching Questions from the Baseball Field (to help you succeed at work and in life)
To those of us who love the game, baseball is more than just a sport. It’s a way of life. A part of our language. A lens through which we view the world. And a training ground for valuable life lessons.
For example, when we ponder why it is that more Major League Baseball managers previously played catcher than any other position, the answers provide us with insights that we might apply to our own workplace.
(Some of the key reasons, in case you were wondering: Catchers are uniquely positioned to see the whole field at once, giving them a singular, big-picture perspective; they are involved in every pitch of the game and need to always be strategically thinking a few steps ahead; they often act as the on-field general; they need to develop the technical skills, the communication skills, and the people skills to handle a pitching staff; and they need to be "on the ball" at all times. All of which trains them to begin to think and to act as a coach, a manager, and a leader.)
So, with that analogy in mind, you might ask yourself: What "catcher's skills" do I need to develop? And in what ways is what I'm doing today grooming me for tomorrow?
Continuing the baseball analogy, in the office you might need to consider such common questions as: Who on my team could I ask to "pinch run" for me when I'm too busy or unable to perform; when might I need to "sacrifice" for the good of the team; or when do I, perhaps, need some "relief" in terms of bringing in someone else to help seal the deal and "close" out the win?
When we have two strikes against us – whether on the field, at work, or in life – we need to have the wisdom to know when to bear down, choke up, and just try to make contact rather than swinging for the fences. To be able to recognize the difference between when we're needed to be the hero vs. when what's needed is for us to just find a way to get on base and let someone else drive us in.
Get ‘em on; get ‘em over; get ‘em in. That’s what it’s all about...in baseball, in business, and in life.
All in all, our great American pastime has, over the course of our lives, "coached" many of us to think about and get better at a wide range of life- and work-related skill sets including: time management, communication, innovation, strategic thinking, management, leadership, teamwork, and so much more -- all while enjoying some peanuts and Cracker Jacks (with the hope of finding a good prize inside!).
Both on the field and off, whether we realize it or not, baseball has become an inescapable part of our everyday language:
“Let’s touch base next week.”
“That marketing campaign was a home run.”
“The new guy is really on the ball.”
“Will you pinch hit for me at tomorrow’s meeting?”
“I really struck out with that proposal.”
“Can you give me a ballpark estimate of what it’s gonna cost?”
"That last-minute client request came out of left field."
“Your suggestion was a grand slam!”
So even if we don’t play professional baseball for a living, when challenged to "hit it out of the park" in our work or personal lives, baseball can serve as a powerful and inspirational metaphor.
So now, with Opening Day upon us, and with spring in the air, it’s a perfect time for reflection, renewal, and regeneration – and to think about how we might look to the baseball diamond for some answers. For those of you who may not have your own life coach or executive coach (let alone your own bench coach), we would like to suggest that you seek out some coaching wisdom from the ball field by pondering the following sampling of self-reflection questions from our coaching handbook, “What Would Your Baseball Ask?”
Before you slide head-first into answering these questions for yourself, take a moment to think about the personal and/or professional goals you're trying to reach and consider how, by exploring these questions from the various baseball-related perspectives, you can increase your odds of making it around the bases and scoring the winning run:
1. The “HOME PLATE” Perspective: What is your ultimate goal?
2. The “OUTFIELD FENCE” Perspective: What would “knocking it out of the park” look like for you?
3. The “FIRST BASE” Perspective: What is the first milestone you need to achieve?
4. The “BASEBALL BAT” Perspective: What tools do you need to get the job done?
5. The “PITCHING COACH” Perspective: Who can help you get ready?
6. The “BASEBALL MITT” Perspective: What opportunities might you be able to reach out and grab?
7. The “BASE LINE” Perspective: How will you know if you’re going in the right direction?
8. The “CATCHER’S MASK” Perspective: What realities do you need to face?
9. The “PINE TAR” Perspective: What are you going to do if you get in a sticky situation?”
10. The “BATTER’S BOX” Perspective: Where do you need to take a stand?
11. The “UMPIRE'S” Perspective: “What rules do you need to play by?”
12. The “SPIKES” Perspective: Where do you need more traction?
13. The “SECOND BASE” Perspective: How will you get yourself into scoring position?
14. The “HITTING COACH” Perspective: What adjustments do you need to make?
15. The “THIRD BASE COACH” Perspective: What signs do you need to pay attention to?
16. The “PITCHER’S MOUND” Perspective: Where could you use a new point of view?
17. The “THIRD BASE” Perspective: When you’re almost there…what do you need to do next to reach your goal?
18. The “BATTING GLOVES” Perspective: How are you going to get a grip on things?
19. The “BASEBALL CAP” Perspective: How do you keep your head in the game?
20. The “FANS” Perspective: “Who’s rooting for you?”
While there are plenty more where these came from (which ones that we didn't mention can YOU think of?), we hope that these few metaphorical questions from the baseball diamond have given you some valuable food for thought and helped you to focus your attention on some of the things that really matter.
With spring training now over, it’s time to get down to business with your eyes on the prize of a championship season...as you set off in pursuit of your own Field of Dreams, wherever or whatever that may be.
As I wrote last week in my post, “It’s Leap Year…So Why Not Take That Leap!” sometimes we just need something like a Leap Day to give us that extra nudge.
Last Friday’s March 4th date hinted that, despite the barriers and obstacles that may stand in our way, we need to continue to “march forth” towards our vision and our goals – even in the face of adversity.
And despite the fact that we have been forewarned to “Beware the Ides of March” (Julius Caesar, Act I scene ii), this Saturday as we set our clocks ahead by one hour, what better time is there to – both literally and metaphorically – “spring forward”!
After a long winter of hibernation, spring is traditionally a time of rebirth, regeneration, and rejuvenation. A time to re-evaluate priorities and start fresh. And all those New Year’s resolutions you made just a couple of months ago? If you haven’t started doing so already, with the weather starting to turn a little warmer and sunnier and with baseball’s Spring Training season in full gear, now is the perfect time to get serious about turning those ideas into actions.
But what often stands in the way of these good intentions and best laid plans is not necessarily external forces, but our own internal self-confidence. Einstein famously said that “Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.” And yet fear of the new and the unknown, doubts and insecurities, and the thought of pushing ourselves beyond the familiarity of our comfort zone is a scary thought that makes us rather “bear those ills we have, than fly to others that we know not of” (Hamlet, Act III scene i). And those “ills” could range from a bad relationship or undesirable apartment to an unsatisfying job situation, a horrible boss, or simply the fear of getting out there and going on a job interview.
So what keeps us trapped in a prison of dissatisfaction and unhappiness, and living a life of quiet desperation? It could be a variety of factors, but one of the biggest and most common is: a lack of confidence.
From my own personal experience, I’ve found, over the course of my career, that confidence is the single biggest differentiator between those who succeed and those who don’t. All things being equal, whether in business, sports, school, or life, the more confident person is often going to come out ahead more times than the one who isn’t. As Henry Ford once said, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.”
We’re talking about the person who has the confidence to raise their hand. The confidence to put themselves out there. The confidence to take risks and give it a try. The confidence to question authority. The confidence to ignore those who mock you. The confidence to get back up after getting knocked down. And the confidence to (as in the classic Apple “Think Different” commercial “Here’s to the Crazy Ones”) think they can change the world.
Years ago, when I lived in L.A., I went to watch a live taping of “Seinfeld” – which, as a huge fan of the show, was an amazing and unforgettable experience. But what made it most unforgettable – and regrettable all these years later – was something that didn’t happen that night:
During a break in the taping, the host whose job it was to keep the audience entertained in between scenes said, “It’s time for some Seinfeld trivia! If you can tell me the middle name of Elaine Benes, you win this Seinfeld t-shirt!” Having watched and pretty much memorized every single episode, I knew for certain that the answer was “Marie.” But while other audience members randomly shouted out one wrong guess after another, I sat there in anxious silence…while busting to call out the correct answer and claim my prize. But too shy to speak up, doubting myself, and afraid of the possibility of being wrong and embarrassing myself in front of a group of strangers who didn’t know me and who I would never see again, that window of opportunity quickly closed. So what kept me from winning that Seinfeld t-shirt that I wanted so badly? Absolutely nothing but a lack of confidence in myself, the fear of being wrong, and, simply, the fear of speaking up and speaking out.
I wish I had kept in mind that night the classic quote by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt who famously said that, “The only thing we have to fear…is fear itself,” as well as these motivational thoughts from his wife, First Lady and prolific author and world-changing social activist (despite all her many self-confessed fears and insecurities), Eleanor Roosevelt:
“You wouldn’t worry so much about what others think of you, if you realized how seldom they do.”
“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”
“What could we accomplish if we knew we could not fail?”
“Learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t live long enough to make them all yourself.”
“Courage is more exhilarating than fear and in the long run it is easier. We do not have to become heroes overnight. Just a step at a time, meeting each new thing that comes up, seeing it is not as dreadful as it appeared, discovering we have the strength to stare it down.”
“The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out, eagerly and without fear, for newer and richer experience.”
“You can often change your circumstances by changing your attitude.”
And, my favorite, and probably the most well-known (from her inspirational book, “You Learn By Living: Eleven Keys For A More Fulfilling Life”):
“Fear has always seemed to me to be the worst stumbling block which anyone has to face… The encouraging thing is that every time you meet a situation, though you may think at the time it is an impossibility…once you have met it and lived through it, you find that forever after you are freer than you ever were before. If you can live through that, you can live through anything. You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this…I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”
The word “confidence” comes from the Latin for “with trust or faith” (and is related to such other words as confide, confident, confidant, fidelity, fiduciary, etc.). So the key to keep in mind regarding this definition is that in order to instill confidence in others, it is so important to first trust and have faith in oneself.
Here’s the bad news: You are always going to struggle with your confidence. Why? Because EVERYONE does, at one time or another! Fear of the unknown is an absolutely normal, human emotional reaction. And, the future is always unknown!
The only way, really, to make yourself completely confident all of the time would be to just do the same old thing, the same old way every single day of your entire life. But that would be predictable and boring…and will lead us nowhere. The only way to grow is to try, to take risks, to fail, and to learn, and to push ourselves beyond our comfort zones…into the zone of the unknown.
Thomas Edison said, “I didn’t fail 10,000 times; I learned 10,000 ways how NOT to make a lightbulb.”
Wayne Gretzky said that “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”
Michael Jordan famously said: "I've missed over 9,000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times I've been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed."
And Dale Carnegie advised: Imagine the worst that can happen. Now imagine the likelihood of the worst happening, and be prepared in case it does. But realize that worst-case scenarios rarely happen. Think back on how many times in the past you’ve worried about something bad happening, how infrequently (if ever) it did, and how much time and energy you wasted worrying about it. Now use that time, that you would have spent worrying, more productively.
So, with spring almost upon us and opening day of the baseball season just around the corner, to paraphrase the famous words of Babe Ruth:
Don’t let the fear of striking out keep you from swinging for the fences!
For more on building your confidence, please see my blog post, “How to Regain Your Confidence and Recapture Your Mojo After a Layoff.”
There’s a classic riddle that I use in my leadership workshops that goes like this:
There are 5 frogs on a log.
One decides to jump into the pond.
How many are left on the log?
The answer: Still 5.
Because he DECIDED to jump in…but he didn’t actually DO it!
And it’s the DOING that counts.
When I was ten year’s old my family went to a local town pool club that had a high diving board. All the other kids were having so much fun scampering up that tall ladder and jumping into the water that, after much deliberation, I hesitantly decided to give it a try too, even though I had a debilitating fear of heights...and of other kids.
So I gingerly climbed the ladder and inched my way out to the edge of the diving board. But then I looked down…and it was even more terrifying than I was expecting it to be!
So I quickly changed my mind and turned around with the intent of going back down the ladder…only to find that about five other kids had already climbed up the ladder impatiently waiting their turn.
“COME ON…GO ALREADY!!!” they were all screaming at me. So, completely embarrassed, and with, really, no other choice, I turned back around again, ran the length of the board, and dove in – head first!
What do you think I did the rest of that summer afternoon? Yup. I kept on climbing that ladder and diving back in again and again and again until the sun went down and it was time to go home.
Writing this, I am reminded of one of my all-time favorite Seth Godin posts, and probably his shortest. It simply said: “You don’t need more time. You just need to decide.”
And after deciding, we actually need to act.
So often we are racked with indecision and/or paralyzed by fear that we put off making any decision, until the window of opportunity closes, and the decision is made for us.
In fact, if you think about it, NOT making a decision is a decision you've made.
And how many potentially positive, life-enhancing decisions might we have missed out on simply due to our own procrastination? We come up with excuse after excuse about why something can’t be done, but as futurist Joel Barker reminds us -- and as I experienced on that high diving board many years ago -- “Those who say ‘it can’t be done’ need to get out of the way of those who are doing it.”
The bottom line is that no one wants to Hear excuses; they only want to See results.
The psychologist William James famously wrote that “There is no more miserable human being than one in whom nothing is habitual but indecision.”
So on this Leap Day, think about what big decisions you need to make, make them…and proactively take the leap. My bet is that, in the long run, you’ll look back and be glad you did.
Or you can simply decide to just wait until next Leap Day.
After all, it's just four more years away.
That’s a Novel Idea! How Reading Literature (and Other Non-Business Books) Can Benefit You at Work and in Life
As an entrepreneur who runs a management consulting firm and teaches a graduate course in “Leadership & Team Building” at NYU, most people assume that I have a degree in business.
But I don’t.
I was an English literature major.
And while I LOVE reading business books (and average one a week), the truth is that today’s businessperson cannot – and should not – live by business books alone.
With the word “novel” having the same Latin root, “nov” (meaning “new”) as the word “innovation,” it follows that reading more non-business writing may be not only an engaging and enjoyable escape, but a catalyst for new business ideas.
Please click here to read my Hired Guns post on how reading Shakespeare, poetry, plays, novels, and other non-business books can benefit you at work and in life!