The Upside of Quitting (Ep. 42 Rebroadcast)

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(Photo: Kate Haskell)

(Photo: Kate Haskell)

This week’s podcast is a rebroadcast of our episode called “The Upside of Quitting.”  (You can subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, or listen via the media player above. You can also read the transcript.)

You know the saying “a winner never quits, and a quitter never wins.” To which Freakonomics Radio says … Are you sure? Sometimes quitting is strategic, and sometimes it can be your best possible plan. To help us understand quitting, we look at a couple of key economic concepts in this episode: sunk costs and opportunity costs.

There’s also a large cast of characters in this episode, ranging from prostitutes and baseball players to former government officials and a couple of Amish women who left the fold. You’ll hear Steve Levitt talk about his quitting strategies, and Stephen Dubner describe his life as a serial quitter, having abandoned, in order, the rock band to which he devoted his youth, Catholicism, and The New York Times.

We hope you enjoy listening to this episode as much as we enjoyed making it. You might, of course, quit listening right in the middle.


I'm wondering if the odds of becoming a baseball player are significantly different than the odds of becoming a multimillionaire in business when you adjust for the size of the starting population. For instance, what percentage of MBAs wind up in the upper ranks of large companies.

There seems to be this assumption that the odds of succeeding in sports are really small at the top levels but I'm not sure it's much different than reaching the top of any other field. It's just you can still have a reasonable life as a manager even if you don't run a company while in baseball you may be on food stamps. Perhaps a better comparison is movie stars and the number that really make the big bucks vs. the total population of actors.


Your recent podcast discussed a question from someone regarding the new ways bacon is used in foods, and even in vodka. I am not troubled that people are eating too much bacon. I am troubled by the fact that many of these foods do not have bacon, but rather, "bacon flavor". Chemists have created artificial flavorings for virtually any type of food flavor that there is. I wonder if these artificial flavorings found in so many foods and beverages will be found to have cancer causing properties in some future research.

Liz M

So here's the thing: I want to quit; I really do. I have been a middle school science teacher for the last 14 years, but I feel I've reached my limit. For all of the talk of teaching being a noble profession and aren't we changing the future and influencing lives, it is no longer enjoyable. The new laws and expectations (especially in Connecticut) have a strangle-hold on most teachers, and the constraints of time, curriculum and expectations make teaching much more difficult than it was even 10 years ago.
Sounds like a no-brainer to quit? Yup.
Except teacher education is highly constricted. A degree in teaching is just that: A degree in teaching. Even more so, it is frequently constricted for subject and grade level. Case in point: I can only teach science or middle level math grades 4-8.
My degree is not useful for anything else. Certainly not for the income, or even vaguely comparable, like within 50%.
So, quitting sounds divine. Except I've nowhere to go.



There are quite a number of well-paying jobs that don't even require a degree. See e.g.

Justin C

I'm glad I came upon this podcast, as I am a serial quitter myself. Starting young, I quit tae-kwon-do and chess club relatively quickly. I quit carpentry, I've quit writing many books and I've quit driving (though I've come around to driving, since). Since college, I quit journalism even though that was my degree. I always told myself that I'm not beholden to something just because I started it, and if I realized I didn't like it then I would probably lack the motivation to perform my best, anyway.

I've found that I'm still pretty good at quitting things, but not only has it opened up the number of opportunities I've had by lowering the opportunity costs of these activities, but it's also whittled my active pursuits down to a few things I genuinely love doing.

I'll really get to put my tenacious quittitude to the test with a high-stakes bet on law school this fall, so wish me luck! I hope I quit quickly or die loving it.



Regarding the podcast"The Upside of Quitting"

I have found that quitting involves change, something most people resist, for me I have quit several jobs in my lifetime of 53 years on the planet. (I was not fired, I wanted to see if I could do something else)

Each time I quit a job it brought me a better opportunity, currently I am a VP in a financial company, I used to love the job because I found it challenging. The benefits and pay are really good, its the job itself that has changed so much that I do not find it rewarding anymore. I don't feel that I am done with quitting, I may still pursue something else before my time is done on this earth.

The upside for me, has been the proof that there are opportunities elsewhere for me, so if you are brave enough to take those steps it can be rewarding. Each job I had was in a different industry.

The second upside for me, is that I have gained so much confidence from taking those steps.

Risk takers are the ones that move forward, if they fall down they don't stay down, they get back up and move on.


Melanie Cobb

Yes! Love your attitude, Jackalyn. I think you'd enjoy my blog and coaching site - it deals with this whole issue of quitting, finding opportunities everywhere, etc.

Check it out and let me know if you want to chat further. You sound like a powerful woman!


I have never felt so good about myself as I did hearing this podcast. I quit the dream of becoming a journalist to pursue a degree in engineering. Then I quit a perfectly fantastic job as programmer to get married. Along the way I started and ended business as website designer and opening my own Outsourcing business. THen, I did law. Then I pursued a dream to become a lawyer, a government liasioning agent and quit both because it was not for me. Ultimately, I now work in a multinational in a compliance team and love it because I put all these learnings from quitting together and I am happy doing it and love the culture. And another thing I never regret between all these quits was getting married. And I am only 25 and I suppose even though a lot of people do not look at it that way, I do feel I will never regret the fact that I never tried.


Similarly, the BEST thing that happened to me was getting FIRED. Got canned back in 2006, and found my "inner artist." Had been suffering while working at a legal secretary, and let me tell you lawyers are abusive.

Dick Zaker

Can you tell me the name of the person who was working with minor league baseball players about transitioning into another profession?

Melanie Cobb

“In our zeal to tough things out, to keep our nose to the grindstone - in our zeal to win, we underestimate the upside of quitting.” YES!

I've seen the same trend in my clients for the past several years. As a life coach who helps stressed out professional women take charge of their careers and fall back in love with their lives, I talk to a lot of women who have put off quitting a crappy job for YEARS. It's sad to watch when I know that they are just a few, simple steps away from the life and job of their dreams. Also exciting to see the ones who take the plunge with me and bust through that glass ceiling!

Thanks for an awesome podcast. I'll be quoting from and re-posting it for weeks to come.

Emily L.

This podcast helped me convince myself to drop a chemistry class that I was failing horribly. I'm an economics major and I thought I could challenge myself and do well, but when I found myself failing at midterms... Anyway, now I can use the basic principles of opportunity cost and sunk cost to justify my decision. Thank you so much for your help