How to Know When to Persevere and When to Quit


Vince Lombardi said that "winners never quit, and quitters never win." Lombardi was a great man, but he lied.

Look at the life stories of successful people, and you will see that many of them have had to abandon ventures that just did not work out. On the flip side, clinging to an impossible dream has wasted many an otherwise promising life. In fact, research has shown that people who can successfully "disengage from unattainable goals" (translation: quit) are healthier.

The tough thing is, quitting is like Alzheimer's Disease, which can only be definitively diagnosed post-mortem. Only in retrospect — if then — can you know for sure if you made the right decision by cutting losses and moving on. (See also: How to Quit Your Job in 5 Steps)

What, then, can we do when faced with the question of whether to keep plugging at a project or cut our losses?

Deciding When to Quit

Fortunately, I'm not the only one who's ever wondered. Here are some tips from experts and ordinary people on knowing when to hold 'em and knowing when to fold 'em:

Make a Checklist

Am I consistently experiencing more negative than positive feelings from this project or job? Are all my friends telling me to quit? LifeHacker has a good list including these and other signs that it might be time to walk.

Watch Yourself

Entrepreneur and author Daniel Gulati offered these signs to watch for that tell you it's time to quit a job:

  • You find yourself deciding to quit and changing your mind repeatedly;
  • Your performance stagnates; and,
  • Lack of boss envy — "If you cast your eye at roles two to three rungs up the ladder and aren't excited, your tenure is likely limited."

(See also: 10 Signs That Your Job Sucks)

"Dip" or "Cul de Sac"?

Seth Godin differentiates between two main kinds of challenges. Everyone experiences moments of wanting to quit when striving for goals. If we're in a "dip," we need to keep pushing and will ultimately succeed. If we're in a "cul de sac," we should quit. How to tell the difference? Read the book.

Ask Hard Questions

The Harvard Business Review came up with a list of 12 questions to ask when deciding whether to quit a business venture, including, "Is the working team motivated to keep going?" and "Is the vision attracting more adherents? If the answers are mostly yes, they advise, don't give up.

Calculate the Cost of Reaching Your Goal

I don't mean just the financial cost. Psychologist Heidi Grant Halvorson writes in the Wall Street Journal that would-be quitters need to come up with an honest estimate of the resources it will take to achieve a goal — the time, the money, and the work. Then we need to ask: Can we get those resources, and, if we can get them, is the cost too great to leave us happy and satisfied if we reach our goal? If not, it's time to drop the dream. (See also: Set the Right Goals to Make Saving Money Easy)

A Blogging Dilemma

I was faced with this situation myself less than two years ago. I had created several blogs as moneymaking and professional ventures, and I had had my ups and downs. (See also: How to Start a Blog)

I was determined to make my new blog the best and most profitable so far. I worked with a designer to create a great-looking site, I got legal advice on the best way to structure my new company, and poured in lots and lots of work. But unlike past blogs, in which I had invested less, this one stubbornly refused to take off. I just didn't see the growth in readership I'd seen before.

Now, many successful bloggers say they worked in obscurity for a year or more before they started to gain readers. I knew I might be able to keep plugging and eventually build an audience. But what if it never happened? What if I poured 30 hours a week into this blog for years and was never compensated for my work? (See also: How Do Bloggers Make Money?)

In my case, life made the decision for me. Our family had to move for my husband's job, and I suddenly had no time to work on the blog. The blog was a local one, and I decided not to start blogging daily again in our new location. I gave up on making my website into a business.

This turned out to be a great decision for me professionally. With more free time, I reconnected with past colleagues in media — I had previously worked as a newspaper reporter — and started working part-time as a freelance writer. I found the work more financially rewarding and more interesting than writing my blog had been. I had loved blogging for the first couple of years, but eventually, I realized in retrospect, I had gotten tired of writing about the same topic day after day. (Maybe that's why the new blog had not taken off.)

So for me, quitting a venture and moving on had great results.

It's hard to walk away from a project in which you have invested money and time. These objective exercises can help you come to the most logical conclusion. Sometimes, you really do need to keep plugging. But if you're not headed for success, sometimes it's better to pull the bandage off quickly than to waste another year failing.

How do you decide between pressing on and throwing in the towel?

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