The Upside of Quitting: Tell Us Your Quitting Stories

Photo: Medioimages/Photodisc

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.

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  1. Harriet R says:

    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. 😀

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  2. Carl Brown says:

    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.

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  3. Christopher Lee says:

    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.

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  4. patrick says:

    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.

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    • grumpy says:

      Oh but there are. The Russians retreated out of Moscow before Napoleon got there and won that battle. They even burned the city down themselves to deny him winter quarters. Dunkirk? A win by running away.

      The principle seems to be to cut your losses and try to preserve as much strength as possible for later while retreating to a position that the enemy can’t easily assault.

      I used that stratagem myself when I had my burnout experience. Got away from the lousy boss, rebuilt my strength, then got hired at a better place when I was ready. Worked fine all in all. It was quitting or dying, literally – that bully of a boss would have caused a heart attack or worse at some point.

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  5. Michael M says:

    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.

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  6. Lexie says:

    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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  7. tim47 says:

    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.

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  8. Kirsten says:

    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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