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.

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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.

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