When Quitting Can Actually Help You Get Ahead

Vince Lombardi famously once said, "Winners never quit. Quitters never win." But a new study finds otherwise.


Vince Lombardi famously once said, "Winners never quit. Quitters never win." But a new study by the University of Southern California and Northeastern University has found that quitting could actually help you get ahead.

To test the "grit factor," researchers had participants carry out a series of verbal and mathematical puzzles, all with the promise that they would receive modest monetary reward for correct answers, negligible reward for quitting the problems, but zero compensation for answering incorrectly. The participants who attempted problems that were impossible ended up coming out with the least financial gain. In other words, the ones who tried the hardest were also the ones that came away with the least.

As children, we're often taught quitting is nearly synonymous with being un-American — everything we try we're supposed to "stick with" or "never give up." From Rocky to Gladiator, Hollywood films are rife with heroes who never gave into their temptation to give up. But what if knowing when to give up is the key to personal well-being?

If only Hamlet had given up on exposing his father’s killer or Madame Bovary had given up on Rodolphe, their stories might have been less tragic.

The success stories of quitters are few and far between, but they do exist. Twenty-six-year-old Bjorn Borg quit tennis at the height of his career and later founded a successful fashion line. Citing disagreements with network execs, Dave Chappelle walked away from his extremely popular eponymous show on Comedy Central to focus on his stand-up. But successful quitters are not just famous: A year ago, NPR reported on scientists who'd given up own their fields because of monetary constraints — one former microbiologist became a liquor distiller and another opened up a California grocery store.

Thoughtful quitting allows a person to reprioritize what’s important and think big picture. If everything in life is given our equal value and time, we could go crazy. Look no further than some of literature's greatest works to tell you to quit while you’re ahead: If only Hamlet had given up on exposing his father’s killer or Madame Bovary had given up on Rodolphe, their stories might have been less tragic. Quitting shouldn’t be a habit, but it shouldn’t be avoided at all costs either.

--

Daphne Muller is a New York City-based writer who has written for Salon, Ms. Magazine, The Huffington Post, and reviewed books for ELLE and Publishers Weekly. Most recently, she completed a novel and screenplay. You can follow her on Instagram @daphonay and on Twitter @DaphneEMuller.

LinkedIn meets Tinder in this mindful networking app

Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.

Getty Images
Sponsored
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.

No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.

Keep reading Show less

4 reasons Martin Luther King, Jr. fought for universal basic income

In his final years, Martin Luther King, Jr. become increasingly focused on the problem of poverty in America.

(Photo by J. Wilds/Keystone/Getty Images)
Politics & Current Affairs
  • Despite being widely known for his leadership role in the American civil rights movement, Martin Luther King, Jr. also played a central role in organizing the Poor People's Campaign of 1968.
  • The campaign was one of the first to demand a guaranteed income for all poor families in America.
  • Today, the idea of a universal basic income is increasingly popular, and King's arguments in support of the policy still make a good case some 50 years later.
Keep reading Show less

A world map of Virgin Mary apparitions

She met mere mortals with and without the Vatican's approval.

Strange Maps
  • For centuries, the Virgin Mary has appeared to the faithful, requesting devotion and promising comfort.
  • These maps show the geography of Marian apparitions – the handful approved by the Vatican, and many others.
  • Historically, Europe is where most apparitions have been reported, but the U.S. is pretty fertile ground too.
Keep reading Show less

Why I wear my life on my skin

For Damien Echols, tattoos are part of his existential armor.

Videos
  • In prison Damien Echols was known by his number SK931, not his name, and had his hair sheared off. Stripped of his identity, the only thing he had left was his skin.
  • This is why he began tattooing things that are meaningful to him — to carry a "suit of armor" made up the images of the people and objects that have significance to him, from his friends to talismans.
  • Echols believes that all places are imbued with divinity: "If you interact with New York City as if there's an intelligence behind... then it will behave towards you the same way."
Keep reading Show less