The Upside of Quitting: Tell Us Your Quitting Stories

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You know the bromide: winners never quit and quitters never win. To which we say: are you sure?

We’re working on an hour-long Freakonomics Radio show about the upside of quitting. Sometimes quitting is strategic, and it might even be the best possible thing you can do. (I may be a bit biased, as I’ve done some major-league quitting in my life and am generally happier for it.) It’s all about opportunity cost: the time and resources you spend doing one thing can’t be spent doing another. So when do you quit the one and start the other?

We’ll take a look at a broad survey of quitting data, and talk to a variety of people — minor-league baseball players, prostitutes, lawyers, husbands-and-wives, etc. — who quit strategically.

But we’re looking for more stories, and that’s where you come in. Tell us your quitting stories in the comments section below, and maybe we’ll turn a few of them into radio. Thanks in advance.


Harriet R

I quit my postgrad economics course at a top university to go back to my undergrad college. I won as far as my utility function goes. Ok, so it'll impair my long-run ability to publish in top economics journals, but it's boosted my expected lifetime utility enourmously (excuse the cheeky economics jargon).

Seriously, winning is not just about success in careers, but also about feeling that overall you're living a life that suits you. I was putting myself through hell and damaging my health for a particular prize, which I have since decided I don't need. Qutting was me changing my goal, so I went from a loser to a winner, pretty much overnight.

I'm still studying economics, still getting a lot out of it, but now I'm doing it in an environment which helps me live differently and more happily. I may never publish in Econometrica, but that doesn't mean I'm not a winner. :D

Carl Brown

Seth Godin talks about this very issue in the book "The DIp" which I read right before a great quitting experience that let to starting my own business.

I quit a job that was with a company that had forgotten it's core values in order to save my reputation in my industry space. hands down one of the best decisions i ever made. Sometimes when you can no longer affect change within an organization you must find (or create) a new one.

Christopher Lee

I played Little League baseball for ten years. I had one more year of eligibility, and I decided not to take advantage of that opportunity despite being on the championship team from the year previous and being one of the strongest players in the upcoming year. My reasoning was simple: I didn't want to play for two racist coaches. To me, having to endure their racial slurs (not toward me) was more than I was willing to pay for possibly being on another championship team and being a leader on that team.

patrick

I quit fights with my wife all the time. The energy wasted on arguments about how to sort the laundry give me more time with the kids and my video games. Sometimes it makes sense to just let her win.

Side note: on the podcast I would hope to hear about some great military quitting. I do not believe there is a "worlds greatest retreats" book out there.

Michael M

December 1991, quit a corporate job of 6 years. The position wasn't difficult, money was good, but wasn't feeling challenged, or happy. Set a target date and worked toward saving money and relishing the thought I would on that date walk into H.R. and give my notice.

When the day came, I was elated. Couldn't stop grinning. I'd never felt such freedom.

My plan was to freelance and, as you say, spend more of my time and resources on another way of life. I was sure that the old bromide "Jump and a net will appear" would prove true. Instead, I faced 3 difficult years trying to make money, pay bills and rent, and explore what I wanted to do. Money is freeing. But having the time to explore other opportunities is also freeing.

Harriet R makes a great point: "winning is about feeling you're living a life that suits you." That means entirely different things for different people.

Lexie

I strategically quit ALOT. After a trip to Australia in 2005, I came home with a super high credit card and needed to get a job asap! I found a position at a small ad agency but after a few months, the economy really started to heat up and other colleagues were cashing in on big salaries in the corporate sector. Having been in the industry for a few years, I knew I could probably find a better paying role - and I did.

It was great until management at my new job started to crumble. Several senior staff left and their replacements were blaming all of the department problems on the account managers, designers and writers. It was a bad scene. Suddenly other departments were blaming us all the time for very minor and fixable problems, and I knewl if I stuck around too long, I would start developing a bad reputation and my relationships would suffer because new management painted us all like morons. So, I had to jump ship again before it got worse.

The irony is that when I moved to another company - the economy crashed about a year into my new role and most of us were laid off. I actually ended up returning to my old company but in a different role, and in a different department. I still have to work with many of the same people I worked with before, and still I often work with the bad management I originally wanted to distance myself from. What's been great, is that I now work for a great manager and with some really great people. I have developed stronger relationships with my coworkers and I feel it was because of that one year break I had to distance myself from those bad managers. To this day, those managers are still blaming their staff and calling them morons. And I know this because they frequently tell me about it when I have meetings with them. Turns out quitting was the best option for me!

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tim47

i quit my job at a top management consulting firm because i found i didn't like the job at all. i found research infinitely more exciting and invigorating, so i went back to school and became a research assistant. best decision i ever made.

Kirsten

Haha! In 2008, I quit my job at Raytheon after 11+ years as a reliability engineer. I cashed out my 401k, sold my house in Arizona for a small profit during the housing crisis, and moved to Montana. I am now making a lot less money but have a lot more control over my life. I no longer live in the 100-mile Constitution-free zone where the United States Border Patrol has more or less free reign to abuse citizens without any repercussions, I am no longer driving through the police state gauntlet had I to traverse to get to and from work. I am no longer being asked to concoct engineering analyses to support pre-determined conclusions specified by management, and I am no longer making PowerPoint charts explaining what that is wrong which are subsequently ignored or bastardized. I now make my living by advocating for freedom instead of doing the bidding of corrupt, profiteering government and corporate masters. I breathe clean air, and have a gorgeous natural playground I get to by stepping out my door. My creativity which I'd feared was gone while I was stuck in the corporate cubicle farm has returned. I am working on projects that interest me. I learn something new every single day. I think I've gotten a pretty good deal out of quitting. :-)

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matt

Recently quit a new business and I'm happy I did. I got into the business with 2 partners who although were much older, did little work and didn't commit to the new business even though they funded it. Reasons for 'quitting': no support from business partners, no desire by partners to strategically plan for future success, no commitment to success. Although you could say I quit, I feel the partners quit on their own business and I jumped ship before it struck the iceburg.

Lisandro Gaertner

I am a very accomplished quitter. I have been quitting jobs and places for almost 20 years and my life, with a few minor setbacks, always got better. I switched carrers in favor of others just to quit the monotony of getting better in a known path. When I switch carrers I believe, I am more prone to produce revolutonary improvements instead of incremental ones. That really motivates me. To make a real difference. But this kind of life is not for everyone. You have to ignore the social sucess babble and not be a status seeker. Your main goal, to quit and be happy, should be the life you lead and not what you gain from it.

Mary W

People looking at quitting to be a bad thing, but many of us have bad things in our lives that we are better off if we quit them. Addicts quit the substance they are using and it is for the better. I quit using herion about 3 months ago, and I have learned a life lesson at the age of 24, that most people have not experienced. I saw a side of the world many people look down at. But what it taught me is that if you get that low in life in which you feel like it is easier to give up then to continue, and are able to get out of that. You have nothing else to worry about. I have learned a whole new appreciation toward life that I don't believe I would have seen if I did not hit rock bottom (At least rock bottom for me.) I may have a hard time getting jobs because I have a record, thankfully only a misdemeanor, but it makes me realize how hard I have to fight for what I want. If I would not have started to use in the first place I would not have learned how to fight for what I want. In the past, When things came into my life I took advantage of it. I trully did not care about the little things, but now I want to live and fight for what I believe because life now has meaning. This may not be the right path for many people,many people are never able to get out once they start, but for me qutting was trully the best things that could have ever happened to me. I have goals and plan on finishing school, starting a business that is community orientated that helps reduce and someday eliminate garbage. Now the only thing is I need to save money to invest in my goals.

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Nick M.

I quit the football team during my sophomore year in college. Although it was a sport I loved, I wasn't going to the NFL. This allowed for more time to have fun and "be a college kid" as well focusing more on academics.

Never had any regrets.

Kahomono

The hardest thing to learn -- and the best thing for your bankroll -- at poker is, FOLD.

Chris

When I was a sophomore in high school, I quit a full-time swim team in order to more exclusively pursue academics. In hindsight, my choice was economically rational: I was a good swimmer with a good work ethic, but I was a better student. I had a comparative advantage in school and thus made the correct decision in abandoning swimming, and in the long run, I ended up at a very good school and have been very happy with the outcome of that juncture.

However, when you discuss quitting, make sure you consider the fact that when you quit an activity, you frequently quit a community. I found that many of my friends from swim team took my departure as an act of betrayal: it was as if I had left a commune of artists in order to pursue a career on wall street. While my decision was made correctly with regards to my personal incentives and abilities, I struggled to regain the social capital that I lost when I left the team. Even though I remained close to many of my friends from swimming, I had to find other contexts in which to cement our friendship, because the ties that bound us together were partially dissolved by my retirement, so to speak.

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Kate

Usually quitting is seen as bad because it shakes up the status quo. It's really no one else's business- they have to figure out their own path in life. I quit a well paid job to have more time with my children. I quit a job I loved to live overseas for 4+ years. I quit a marriage because I was deeply unhappy. I quit reading books I don't enjoy. There are all sorts of other ways of framing the concept of quitting - letting go, moving forward, taking opportunities etc....

Mike

I had just graduated with a degree in cs with strong emphasis in simulations, and I was looking around for a game programming job, and having terrible luck. There was one company where I had about a half-dozen good friends working at, but their main hobby was bitching about their job, so I didn't really consider it a viable place. 5 long months later, I finally broke down and applied there.

There was no interview. I just joined my friends on their commute the next day, met the owner of the company, and my first thing to do that morning was to build the desk that I would use. We went out to a company lunch, where I kept my footprint low - ordered an appetizer and nothing else - and then had an all-hands meeting when we got back to work.

The topic was that he was instituting a 6-month rotating contract, from which it was contractually forbidden to quit before that 6 month period was up. I understand the motivation - they were working on short product cycles, average of 3 months or so, and a person up and leaving a month before the product was due could doom the whole thing. But he underestimated the pride his employees took in his work - pride far and beyond what was merited by what they put out. It was understood - a gentle-person's agreement, if you will - that if you were to quit, you'd wait until the project you were on was done first. The engineers took the lead in trying to convince him that he was undermining this gentle-persons' agreement, because if your 6 month period elapsed in the middle of a project, you had to quit then and there, or hang on for another 6 months, only to be faced with the option of quitting during the middle of a different project. After some heated dialogue, he left, and the employees continued talking to try and make sense among themselves about the topic, degenerating into a conversation about how "he always tries to do this stuff."

In the midst of all the fracas, he had given me the employment contracts and such that you get when you are a new employee, but hadn't given me time to read or sign them. That night, I told my friend to tell him that I wasn't going sign and wasn't going back in with him the next morning. And that is how I quite before I was even officially hired.

I started my job search again, and two months later, I managed to land my dream job, a place I stayed at for 6 years until I needed to scale back my commute. To this day, I am so glad I managed to find it within myself to keep looking until I found something worth having instead of having the first thing I found.

[Note: feel free to edit for brevity, etc]

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Matt

Another vote for poker. Not just folding, but deciding to play based off of your mood (stop if you lost a big hand, or otherwise got into a bad mood while playing), if different players enter/leave the game (leave if weaker players leave, leave if good players enter). Poker guru Tommy Angelo has written extensively about how important it is to quit.

Two nice articles/stories: http://tommyangelo.com/articles/the-quitter/
http://www.tommyangelo.com/articles/reciprocality/ (entire section on quitting a few sections down, "Quitting Reciprocality")

matt

I quit an American Legion-sponsored summer camp on the first day, as soon as I realized that it had military-esque structure and activities. Should have known better.

Stephen B.

I had been a math nerd all through high school and I started university as a computer science major. Four quarters in, I quit that major and switched to drama. I got to build things that made me happy, I studied art and literature and carpentry, and the improv and acting skills prepped me very well for job interviews later. I am working as a software engineer and have done for nearly twenty years. I've continued to study programming, but I never regret quitting that major to get a broader education. Also, when I'm interviewing now and the interviewers ask me about my twenty year old degree and not about my twenty years of experience I know that I don't actually want to work for them.

Nate C.

Cycling races are frequently set up in what's called an "omnium" format. A three-stage omnium might have a criterium, a road race, and a time trial. Prizes are given to the winner of the omnium (all three stages) as well as to winners of the individual stages.

Often, in the event of a mechanical failure, flat tire, or simple lack of energy, riders will quit one of the three omnium stages. Thus, they forgo the opportunity to win the omnium but retain the opportunity to win the subsequent omnium stages. To prove this point, rarely does a rider quit the third leg of the omnium.

The tradeoff is energy expenditure versus rest.