To say winners never quit is WRONG…instead, they know when and how to do it.

The saying “winners never quit” has been thrown around with much weight and certainty. I have heard that line so often, and it’s hardly ever argued. Instead, it’s asserted.

This saying is often seen as an absolute truth, with no room for doubt or question. I have had people in workshops become quite defensive when the suggestion of quitting is made. Well-considered individuals, with sternness and confidence state that they don’t have a ‘quitting bone’ in their body. Come ‘hell or high water’ they push through. This badge of honour is proclaimed as the cornerstone of their success and cultural heritage and often reasserted by the leaders in our workplaces.

But is it true that winners never quit?

Grit is a wonderful quality. Without grit we fail to achieve anything of worth, because facing hardships and overcoming them is a necessity within that pursuit.

Grit comes from passion. Seeing passion demonstrated invariably inspires. Joseph Campbell articulates this beautifully when he says,

‘Passion will move men beyond themselves, beyond their shortcomings, beyond their failures.’

We want passion. We need passion. Without it, the world wouldn’t move forward. But can there be too much passion? Is it possible that unbridled passion can lead us away from wholeheartedness? The answer is a clear YES, and I’m sure you’re probably nodding in agreement with me right now. 

And yet, “succeed at all costs” runs deep within the bones of organizational systems. And whilst most the time we need to be cheerleaders of tenacity and determination, sometimes you need to know when to quit. Sometimes, the best answer is not to persist. Quitting is underrated. To believe winners never quit is wrong. You can learn how to lose like a winner, too.

What are good reasons to quit something?

To say winners never quit is WRONG...instead, they know when and how to do it

I wonder how much regret people have today, that would not exist, if the option of stopping, or changing direction, was considered more carefully. Have you ever been in a hole, and your passion for continuance, just made it deeper? If you are in a hole…stop digging. Because in the end, the prize for grit and determination is shallow if the outcome is not positive.

The escalation of commitment ” is a term used to describe our stubborn actions to keep seeking focused achievement, even when the signs are showing we should stop or reconsider. The drive to continue often comes because we have already invested so much into getting a given outcome – this is commonly known as “sunk costs”. Coupled with pride and the desire to protect our reputation, we, like the fiery bull terroir, bite down and don’t let go. And so, the hole gets bigger.

Famed Norwegian explored, Amundsen, was the first man to reach the South Pole. He believed that bad luck is often the result of insufficient preparation, and famously said,

“When conditions are not right, it is better to turn back rather than rely on hope and luck.”

We live in a world where our reason for doing anything is to get somewhere or achieve something. This is certainly the western mindset. This obsession about outcome can dim our attentiveness to what is here now and to our purpose. We focus so much on the result that we miss the process.

When we are mindful of the process, we begin to find subtleties that are missed when all the attention is on outcome alone. When this focus is shifted, suddenly we notice our environment more. Suddenly, our perspective is opened and might even lead us to a bold awareness: that more often than not, our perceptions are wrong.

Consider this most amazing thinking by author Seth Godin:

“Which is better: Feeling like you were right the first time or actually being correct now? When we double down on our original estimate, defend our sunk costs and rally behind the home team, we’re doing this because it’s satisfying to feel as though we were right all along. On the other hand, if the outcome is important and we’re brave enough to learn, we can say, “based on when we know now, we should change course, because the other path is actually a better way to go forward.”

More often than not, there are moments when we’re wrong. We can either acknowledge that we were wrong yesterday, or we can curse ourselves by choosing to be wrong going forward. Flexibility in the face of change is where resilience comes from.

Some have said that the willingness to change our minds is a sign of genius. And often, changing your mind is more difficult than holding onto your first thoughts or ideas. To thoughtfully change your mind you need a willingness to consider other information and changing events. It’s far easier to simply hold your course and ignore what’s going on around you. To deny and become attached to your way of thinking. Mental agility is the willingness to embrace context and to refuse prefabricated solutions and methods. 

When to quit and how to lose like a winner?

When do we quit and when do we grit? This is not always easy to answer, and this is where the BIG word wisdom comes in. Here’s some questions you can ask to gain some: 

  1. A pattern of quitting is telling you something.
    When quitting is a default, you need to add more grit. You might also need to carefully consider what you commit too. A history of quitting lowers your confidence and leads to quitting getting a bad name. If you find yourself in a downward spiral of quitting, begin to set small, short-term goals that stoke the hunger for achievement and completion. As human beings we need to experience the feeling of getting trophies. No trophies in the cabinet will bring us down.

2. Your reasons for quitting should come from quality questions like…

  • Has achieving this goal become less important or relevant to you?
    Sometimes, what you are chasing becomes less relevant, due to changing circumstances. For example, good corporate strategy is often founded on a set of assumptions. But sometimes, we discover that those assumptions are wrong. To persist with the strategy, would now be costly or even detrimental. Polaroid went bankrupt, because they refused to quit the strategy on instant photography, within an emerging digital world.                                                                                                                                                                           
  • Does my pursuit of this achievement conflict with my most important values?
    Sometimes you embark on a journey, only to discover that it jeopardizes the values that you hold most dear. Here, achievement will be hollow, and probably accompanied with regret. Our values are great sources of clarity and act as a sturdy guide for what we must say no to – even if the journey’s already begun.
  • Are you confident that you can win? 
    The act of doing should create insight. Insight should influence your decision making. There are times where you must journey for a while before reaching the stop sign. For example, take a hiker who embarks on a strenuous journey. At the start she believed that she could do the journey. But as time goes on, she realizes that she was possibly over ambitious about it. In the movie Everest, we hear the tragic true story of a climber who would not quit, and whose actions caused not only the loss of his life, but others as well.                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • How much of what you’re doing is about looking good?
    We all need a baseline of ego. But too much ego can cause you to follow a path that is destructive. Questions like, ‘why I am doing this’ and ‘who am I doing this for’ need to be pondered. American president Lyndon Johnstone had enough evidence that the Viet Nam war was unwinnable. Yet he kept sending soldiers to their death, refusing to become the first American President to lose a war. 
  • Where is the joy?
    Whilst we all know there are things that we do based on levels of duty, a life wholly dutiful leads you to despair. Desire is the engine that fuels success and achievement. And although there are many ways we can reignite the fun and joy, sometimes seasons end, and you need to let them go. They have lost their joy. Loyalty is a great virtue, but some things you are loyal to, may be the very things that stop you from moving into new and wonderful places. Some people refuse to quit their job, even though they hate it, and other options exist. The absence of joy is informative. Sometimes it calls for us to transform, and sometimes it calls for us to know when to quit.                                                   

    Finally, the absence of a quit resume might be an indication of compliance and resignation. Adam Grant powerfully says,

‘The more you value achievement the more you come to dread failure. Instead of aiming for unique accomplishments, the intense desire to succeed leads us to strive for guaranteed success.

Still think winners never quit? It’s clear to see that outstanding achievement is always couched within an array of failed ventures. If two out of ten dreams come true, the failed 8 efforts you chose to drop are probably worth it. When we refuse to quit, we just might live into that prophecy by refusing to do anything that might test that resolve. It would be better to allow a venture to fail and leave when you need to so that you can gain insight and set your next journey toward success.

May you add to your hand the freedom of choosing to PERSIST, PIVOT, or QUIT. Each of these have their place.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *