You may have heard the infamous words of legendary football coach Vince Lombardi. Lombardi once said, “a quitter never wins and a winner never quits.”
There are two problems with this quote. First, Lombardi stole the quote from a self-help pundit named Napoleon Hill, who wrote the words in his book Think and Grow Rich from 1937. Second, Lombardi is wrong.
Quitters win all the time. And winners quit all the time.
3 Examples of Winners Who Quit
When Jack Welch took over General Electric, he made the commitment that GE would get out of every business where they couldn’t be number one or number two in that category. Sure, this and other tactics earned him the title Neutron Jack but quitting where they couldn’t win led to huge growth (and success) for GE under his leadership.
After high school, Billy Beane famously quit football, foregoing a scholarship to play quarterback at Stanford Universit, to instead pursue his dreams as a pro baseball player. As told in the book by Michael Lewis and the film starring Brad Pitt, Billy Beane transformed the game of baseball by using statistics known as sabermetrics. He quit thinking like every other baseball team and came up with a new approach to winning.
In his best-selling biography, Walter Isaacson describes one of the first moves Steve Jobs made when he regained control of Apple in the mid-90s. Jobs led his team to quit making most of their products.
When Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, it was producing a random array of computers and peripherals, including a dozen different versions of the Macintosh. After a few weeks of product review sessions, he’d finally had enough. “Stop!” he shouted. “This is crazy.” He grabbed a Magic Marker, padded in his bare feet to a whiteboard, and drew a two-by-two grid. “Here’s what we need,” he declared. Atop the two columns, he wrote “Consumer” and “Pro.” He labeled the two rows “Desktop” and “Portable.” Their job, he told his team members, was to focus on four great products, one for each quadrant. All other products should be canceled. There was a stunned silence. But by getting Apple to focus on making just four computers, he saved the company.
This idea may sound crazy, but it’s true. It hasn’t just worked in the world of sports. Quitting is a secret to success.
Whatever You Do, Don’t Quit in The Dip!
Seth Godin is the first person who exposed me to the power of quitting. In his best-selling book, The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit (and When to Stick), Godin talks about the importance of knowing when to quit and when to keep going.
Godin describes the difference between The Dip and The Cul-de-sac or The Cliff (see illustrations below). One requires perseverance in order to finish strong, while the other requires the courage to quit and get out before disaster results.
There are good times to quit, according to Godin. We should quit when we’re stuck in a cul-de-sac or about to head off a cliff. It is wise to quit when the costs of the dip are greater than the reward. It is wise to quit when the dip isn’t a dip, but a dead-end. When you cannot emerge from the Dip with something great, it’s time to quit.
I encourage you to pick up a copy of The Dip. It’s currently $5 on Kindle and just a little more in hardcover. It’s a little book, but a powerful concept. Don’t let the size deceive you!
Decide You Need to Become a Quitter
I recently re-read The Dip as I turned the corner and looked towards the final months of this year.
In several areas, I want to finish especially strong. However, a little bit of reflection caused me to realize (hence the re-read of the book) that I cannot finish strong in every area of my life this year. I’m going to have to quit some things to find the time, energy and focus during this short period to devote to the areas where I want to finish well.
Maybe you’re realizing the same thing.
You’re a limited resource – you only have so much time and energy. This year is a limited resource – there are only so many days left. (Check this site for the exact number of days, hours, minutes and seconds left) And this season in life is a limited resource. You will never live this stage in your life again. Your spouse/kids/friends/parents/grandparents/grandkids will never be this age again.
I do not understand people who live without urgency. It makes no sense to me. Life is not guaranteed; it is incredibly fragile. Why do we waste what is most precious on what is so meaningless? Why do we keep doing things which do not matter?!
A Framework for Quitting
If we’re going to finish strong in the areas which matter most, then we need to decide when to quit and what to quit.
I’ve been trying to build my own framework to help me make these kinds of decisions.
I haven’t decided all that I’m going to quit to finish strong this year, but I have built a partial framework. I share it with you as either a model to follow or a challenge to consider your own.
1. Embrace strategic quitting.
The first step is getting over the stigma our culture attaches to quitting. We have to get over the “no quitting” and “quitting is bad” mentality. If we embrace the “if you quit today, you’ll quit for the rest of your life” mindset, we’ll never embrace the wisdom and power of strategic quitting. We must begin by acknowledging the leverage quitting gives us in pursuing what matters most. We’re not quitting out of a lack of resolve or laziness; we’re embracing strategic quitting.
2. Establish in advance what you’ll quit or when you’ll quit.
Marathon runners are well-known for deciding in advance when they will and will not quit. They decide what events will cause them to give up their pursuit of the finish line and which ones won’t. Hitting the wall at mile 20 is typically on the list of items that won’t cause them to quit!
I know one church planter who decided in advance he’d quit planting when he ran out of money. He knew he was not wired (nor was his family) to be bi-vocational (serving as a church planter and working a normal full-time job too). Before the crisis came where he needed more money and was offered a side job, he decided that would be his time to quit.
For me, I’m looking for things to quit which A) work against me B) don’t support my goal or C) speed up my pursuit.
I have experiences with each of these.
When my wife and I paid off $25,000 in consumer debt in 22 months, we quit many things which worked against the goal of being free of consumer debt. We quit smartphones. having two cars, and the “buy a house when you get married” dream. We quit cable TV, expensive vacations, new clothes, buying coffee each morning, and eating out for lunch every day. Each of these worked against us and over time (and for a time – not all quitting is permanent), we quit them.
I quit playing baseball after high school. I was offered a chance to play fall ball during my first semester of college and compete for a chance to walk on as a freshman in the spring. But I quit my baseball dreams because I realized baseball wouldn’t support my goal of getting out of college debt-free; maintaining my GPA requirement for my full-ride academic scholarship would make that goal a reality. I quit one dream because it didn’t support another one, which was more important.\
I quit watching TV shows several years ago when a guy named Ben challenged me to track how many hours per month I was watching TV and repurpose that time to pursue my dreams. I started writing instead of watching all my shows. Now, I write 12-15 thousand words per month, publishing 6-8 new articles per month. I’ve created a new eBook each of the last three years and increased my email subscribers 10x in the process. I quit the things which enabled me to speed up my pursuit of being a writer and published author.
How about you? What will you quit? When will you quit? Make your decision in advance.
Establish in advance the things you’ll quit and watch how easy those decisions become. You’ll be surprised to find how quitting moves you forwards, not backwards, as you finish strong.
3. Evaluate whose voices should and should not hold you back from quitting.
The opinions of other people are often the greatest tether, holding us back from what we long to do.
Sometimes, we hear those opinions and those people exert an unhealthy influence on us. Other times, we make up the words of others in our minds and project responses onto them.
Some of us need to quit listening to the destructive voices in our lives, which are toxic to our present and our future. Others of us need to start listening to the voices which matter most in our lives, who are trying to tell us something we desperately need to hear.
There are people who don’t want you to quit “their thing” because it makes life more difficult for them. Have empathy for them, but don’t take on their burden. Sometimes, people who say they care about us will try to influence our decisions not out of what is best for us (finishing strong at what matters most), but what is best for them.
Start Quitting, So You Can Finish Strong
If you want to succeed, one of the most important decisions you can make is when and what to quit. The secret to persevering is knowing when and what to quit.
As I was doing research for this article, I was reminded of a passage of Scripture I memorized as a child. I found the New Living Translation of Hebrews 12:1 especially appropriate to our discussion here.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.”
So, before you finish how to finish strong in the areas which matter most (and we’ll get to that in the next three posts), work on stripping of every weight (i.e. quitting – strategic quitting).
Remember, the strongest finishers are often the boldest quitters.