Have you ever heard the saying “winners never quit, and quitters never win”? It’s by Vince Lombardi, a famous and respected American football coach. He was the head coach of the Green Bay Packers of the National Football League from 1959-67, winning five league championships during his nine years at the head of the team.
Impressive stuff – but with all due respect to the memory of Mr. Lombardi, I think he was talking out of his trophy cabinet.
The truth is, winners do quit. In fact, they quit often, decisively, and with no trace of regret – but only for the right reasons: that is, when they realise that quitting will allow them to step onto a more fruitful path. Very often, it’s by quitting that they are then able to achieve the greatest successes of their lives.
What winners avoid is quitting just because the going gets a bit tough – and guess what? When you’re pursuing your dreams, the going will get tough, no matter how enthusiastic you are when you start out. After the initial flurry of excitement dies down – along with the energy that’s generated by any enjoyable new endeavour – it’s common to hit a slump, and to develop a profound case of the blahs.
Not only will your interest have diminished, but you may find that the feedback and encouragement you’ve been receiving from those around you has also gone quiet. That’s not because what you’re doing is any less worthwhile, but simply because it’s impossible to maintain that level of excitement on an ongoing basis, without burning out your adrenal glands – and you certainly wouldn’t want to do that.
So what do you do in order to turn quitting into a success strategy, rather than a cop-out? Simply put, you learn to quit the stuff that’s wrong for you, and to only ever stick with the stuff that’s right.
QUITTING: The principle of Positive Disengagement
If you’re starting out from Edinburgh with the intention of driving to Aberdeen, and all the road signs are telling you you’re heading towards London – wouldn’t you stop and head in a different direction? Of course you would. When you realise you’re on the wrong path, you get off it. What’s true for the road is just as true for life. Don’t quit when things get tough and you know the destination you’re heading towards is worthwhile. Do quit when things get tough, and you know the destination you’re heading for isn’t where you want to go.
Twice in my life, I’ve quit my job, without the guarantee of another job to go to. The first time was when I worked in retail, and was finding myself becoming more and more disenchanted with the restrictive and unfulfilling nature of the work, and becoming increasingly alarmed at the gloomy path my career seemed to be taking. One day, I literally couldn’t keep up the pretence any longer. I told my boss I wanted out, and then started looking for something else. I found another job to move to shortly after that, and so was able to move straight from one job to the other – but I’m convinced I’d have found it harder to find the new job had I not stated my intention of leaving first. The act of announcing my departure freed up the energy for me to find the right next step. The second time, I left the organisation I was managing when I realised I’d taken it as far as it could go, and found that it was no longer able to support my ideas. I outgrew it, and again set an end date which enabled me to focus on finding the right next step for me. I’m not advocating this approach – these were calculated risks, and they paid off – but I do advocate knowing when to disengage from a dead-end.
“Each of us has the right and the responsibility to assess the roads which lie ahead, and those over which we have travelled, and if the future road looms ominous or unpromising, and the roads back uninviting, then we need to gather our resolve and, carrying only the necessary baggage, step off that road into another direction. If the new choice is also unpalatable, without embarrassment, we must be ready to change that as well.”
– Maya Angelou
STICKING: The principle of Intelligent Determination
When you hit a slump in enthusiasm, yet you know deep down you’re on the right path – if only you could get yourself motivated – that is precisely not the time to quit. Not just because what you’re attempting is still worth the effort, but because it’s after exactly this type of slump that the greatest rewards await. Consider the process of studying for a tough qualification. The hardest part, often, is the set of hurdles at the end: the exams, the dissertations, the practical assessments. You can study and study and study, but you can only become a medical doctor once you’ve proven your expertise to the examiners. Yet most medical school drop-outs happen in the final year of study – just as exams are looming. Some may be due to people realising this life really isn’t for them – but I’m willing to bet that many occur not because people are scared of being a doctor, but because they’re scared of sitting an exam.
When I work out with weights, the part I hate the most is when I get to those last few repetitions just before the muscle becomes fatigued. Boy, are they uncomfortable. But I also know that those repetitions are the very ones that are encouraging my muscles to develop and strengthen. Without them – you could consider them the “slump”, because they are the least enjoyable of the routine – the entire procedure would lose its benefit, and would be a waste of energy. It’s only by being really clear about that that I’m able to keep going when my muscles are saying “stop!”. Here, sticking isn’t about preserving your pride or status as a “winner” – it’s about getting past that slump in order to reap the very real rewards beyond.
However, there may be times when you’re really struggling to keep going, even when you know you’re on the right path. If you find yourself in that position, you might need to take a break. If you need to take some time away from your grand schemes – take it. Give yourself permission to watch mindless flim-flam on the television, go out painting the town red and dancing your socks off, catch up with old friends – or even old flames. When you get back in the game, if you’re still struggling to get moving, you have a couple of options. Firstly, check that you really are on the right path. Do you need to apply the principle of positive disengagement after all? After some time out, you’ll probably find it easier to recognise that situation when it arises. Secondly, be prepared to deal with some inner resistance. You may genuinely want to move forward, but find it impossible because of some mysterious internal barrier. If you’re stuck, don’t worry – I’ve previously discussed ways round your resistance.
Applying the principles to your life
How will you know when to quit and when to stick? Sometimes it’s obvious, sometimes it isn’t – but it gets easier with practice. You may not get it right every time, and that’s okay. When you do – you’ll know it. When you don’t? You’ll know it! Pay attention, learn from your experiences, and move on. I started this post with a quote, so I’ll end with one which I think conveys exactly the kind of light-touch, light-hearted attitude I think might help you on your way:
“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Then quit. There’s no point in being a damn fool about it.”
– W.C. Fields
© Brian Cormack Carr, 2009
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