Never Quit Without Weighing the Cost

By Rick Forbus, Ph.D.

Quitting seems, at times, the easiest thing to do. When we look around and see pressures, challenges and obstacles peering over every hilltop, it is easy to give up. In certain work environments it may seem as if the only alternative is to leave the organization. This article will not attempt to analyze every work situation and give you the correct alternatives. Rather, it will take a higher view of the progression called quitting.

For the sake of self-disclosure, let me confess that there have been times in my career when leaving an organization or quitting the assignment was the best thing to do. After considering all choices, including the climate and direction of the organization, leaving was the best choice. But, what is the difference between quitting and transitioning to another role or assignment? 

Examine the emotional implications of quitting anything. Someone strong in emotional control would be less likely to act impulsively, and more likely to deliberate the situation. Regulating your emotional responses to stress and pressures is not as easy for everyone, but can be developed. Psychological research calls the ability to experience negative-eliciting stimuli and stay on task, emotional reserve. Do you know someone with strong emotional reserve? Is there someone you admire that seems to be able to push through cultural challenges and stress at work? Of course, this reserve or lack-of-reserve is revealed in our ACL assessment on the Emotional Intelligence pages, but, all of us have seen someone reveal this reserve.

Three things interplay during stress and pressures:

  1.  emotion-triggering events or culture
  2.  a person’s emotional arousability
  3.  a person’s emotional control

Someone with a large emotional reserve can handle negative situations, cultural stress and workload issues and stay the course. The opposite is also true. A person with little emotional reserve will think of quitting at every turn. Employees and leaders that develop, through coaching and training, larger capacities to handle stress with a developed emotional reserve, are more satisfied at work and usually continue longer. Tenured people are more apt to be promoted and have greater capability to establish themselves in their organization. The psychologists who speak to this in articles, (Charles L. Hulin, Jeanne M. Brett, Fritz Drasgow – 2002 – Psychology), also have found that “quitters” usually move from job to job.

So, what is the emotional price we pay for quitting? I believe the range of emotions that can come into play as a person deals with quitting something could be anywhere from defeat to capricious. The result of what quitting does to a person is also of a wide spectrum. If you feel defeated every time you quit something, especially prematurely, you may develop an attitude of defeatism that nurtures despondency, restlessness and pessimism. If, on the other hand, you have a light-hearted and capricious view of quitting you may be nurturing such conduct as whimsical actions, unreliable behaviors, making you unpredictable and easily influenced.

When quitting becomes an absolute defeat for us, we could say that the situation became the victor over us and our emotions. Defeatism brings guilt, pessimistic thoughts and a restless lifestyle. The practice of this defeatism can prolong our impatience with any and all challenges. When quitting becomes as familiar as changing shoes then the lack of a sustaining loyalty to anything may be absent. This can lead to a series of quick decisions and lots of variables constantly in play in our lives.

Long-time actress and comedienne Gracie Allen once received a small, live alligator as a gag. Not knowing what to do with it, Gracie placed it in the bathtub and then left for an appointment. When she returned home, she found this note from her maid: ‘Dear Miss Allen: Sorry, but I have quit. I don’t work in houses where there is an alligator. I’d a told you this when I took on, but I never thought it would come up.

Alligators show up for all of us at work, at home and in our general relationships. How we deal with them will make us stronger, more self-aware of our ability to win, or, deteriorate our optimism and our reliability on our emotional reserve.

Quitting and Emotional Intelligence

This article is not intended to unpack extensively the Emotional Intelligence significance to all of this. It will be helpful to look at the scales briefly that would impact quitting in the workplace and in personal scenarios.

The scales that are important to note here are:

  •  self-awareness
  •  optimism
  •  self-confidence
  •  empathy
  •  initiative
  •  change catalyst

When coaching clients, our company always uses the ACL assessment which contains some Emotional Intelligence scales. If you are not familiar with these scales the synopsis from Dr. Daniel Goleman is this: Goleman (Emotional Intelligence, 1995; Primal Leadership, 2002) states that IQ contributes 20% or less to the factors determining life success. The remaining 80% includes a set of emotionally based behaviors which determine how effectively intellectual ability can be utilized. It is usually desirable to be in the upper end of the average range or above, but not too high as then a strength may become an overpowering detriment. 

Your ability to quit or your resistance to quitting is determined sometimes by these emotional intelligence scales. Suffice it to say, a coach can certainly help you navigate through these emotional issues and even provide developmental plans to overcome some of the lurking issues of defeating and impulsive behaviors. One thing I have noticed in my own life is this; quitting prematurely brings feelings of guilt, pessimism, lack of trust in my own discernment and at times even emptiness. Quitting is not just a management decision it is an emotional one.

Who is Clint Courtney?

If you’re unsure, don’t bother requesting the answer from Cooperstown, N.Y. Clint never came close to making it into the Baseball Hall of Fame. In fact, it’s very doubtful that his picture appeared on any bubble gum cards.

This guy wasn’t a legend in his own time, not even in his own mind. He was only a memory maker for his family, and a few die-hard fans who were inspired by his tremendous fortitude. Clint played catcher for the Baltimore Orioles in the 1950s. During his career he earned the nickname of Scrap Iron, implying that he was hard, weathered, and tough. Old Scrap broke no records, only bones. He had little power or speed on the base paths. As for grace and style, he made the easiest play look rather difficult. But armed with mitt and mask, Scrap Iron never flinched from any challenge. Batters often missed the ball and caught his shin. Their foul tips nipped his elbow. Runners fiercely plowed into him, spikes first, as he defended home plate.

Though often doubled over in agony, and flattened in a heap of dust, Clint Courtney never quit. Invariably, he’d slowly get up, shake off the dust, punch the pocket of his mitt once, twice, and nod to his pitcher to throw another one. The game would go on and Courtney with it, scarred, bruised, clutching his arm in pain, but determined to continue. He resembled a POW with tape, splints, braces, and other kinds of paraphernalia that wounded people wear. Some made fun of him, calling him a masochist and insane. Others remember him as a true champion.

Every time you consider the options before you and conquer the urge to quit, you also gain some emotional reserve. This does not imply that quitting is always bad, but discerning the scenario and weighing the alternatives is a healthy activity. When I coach someone through a transition we always use a weighted decision development plan. In other words, what weight does leaving get versus the weight of staying in place? In essence, what are the pros and what are the cons of the decision. It is not as simple as noted here, but this is an emotionally healthy exercise. When we quickly leave or quit in a flippant manner without the weighing of all options, we have a tendency to betray our own abilities and feelings. This leaves us with guilt, weakened self-confidence and some illusions of reality.

When the United States Women’s Softball team won the gold medal in Atlanta’s 1996 Olympic Games, they lost only one game, but from that loss emerges a remarkable story about perseverance. In the fifth inning against Australia, Danielle Tyler hit a home run over the center-field fence. The American third baseman floated around the bases with a rush of adrenaline. When she was greeted by a swarm of well-wishing teammates at home plate she let the excitement distract her focus and she did not touch the base. When all of the yelling subsided, the Australian team quietly appealed to the umpire who dramatically called Tyler out. Rather than scoring a run, Tyler’s blast over the fence netted her team an out. As it ended up, had the lady slugger stepped on home plate, her team would have won 1-0. Instead, after seven innings of regulation play the game was tied at 0-0. In extra innings, Australia emerged with a 2-1 win and the U.S. team took their only loss of the Olympics. That disaster on the diamond reminds us of an important lesson in life—it’s important that we finish. It’s not enough to hit a ball into the cheap seats; you have to touch all of the bases as well. Whether you’re talking about a day, a project, a year, or a life, it’s important that we finish. To excel for a while is no guarantee of success.

Quitting prematurely without careful weighing of all the decision points, could mean a missed opportunity right where you are. Weighing everything carefully can also give you the confidence that transitioning out is the best case scenario. Then, your change brings confidence and not guilt. Wise counsel and a decision partner are strategic in these cases.

William Arthur Ward said,

Before you speak listen,

Before you write, think.

Before you spend, earn.

Before you invest, investigate.

Before you criticize, wait.

Before you pray, forgive.

Before you QUIT, try.

Before you retire, save.

Before you die, give.

I encourage you to begin to list reasons you should stay and reasons you should leave your situation, if transition is breathing down your neck. Strong forethought and attentive considerations help to keep you from being emotionalized by a quitting scenario. A coach can certainly help you get these ideas and actions in good order.

Whenever you make a mistake or get knocked down by life, don’t look back at it too long. Mistakes are life’s way of teaching you. Your capacity for occasional blunders is inseparable from your capacity to reach your goals. No one wins them all, and your failures, when they happen, are just part of your growth. Shake off your blunders. How will you know your limits without an occasional failure? Never quit. Your turn will come.”  Og Mandino

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