A handful of years ago I used to listen to the Freakonomics podcast on a regular basis. There were many memorable and interesting episodes, but one that really stuck out was on “the upside of quitting.”
Kind of a crazy thought, isn’t it? How often in life are we told that quitting is never the right answer? Or “don’t be a quitter”? There’s also the all time fan favorite – “quitters never win.” Throughout life our brains are wired to see quitting as a failure, the sign of a poor character, and as weakness incarnate. Honestly, when the thought of quitting anything crosses my mind I get a little shiver of discomfort up and down my spine. It just doesn’t seem natural.
One of the four core values of my teams is Grit – passion and perseverance for a long term goal. Quitting just doesn’t fit that value. By even acknowledging Grit as a value I’m setting the tone that quitting will not be tolerated.
Tonight the boys and I fired up Alone for a couple of episodes and saw one of the rarities of the show. One of the contestants was forced to be pulled due to massive weight loss. After surviving in the Arctic for almost two months alone and with only the food she could trap, hunt, or collect herself she just wasn’t able to consume enough calories to maintain a healthy weight. When she showed us what she looked like all we saw was a skin covered skeleton. The show’s doctors determined that she needed to be pulled due to the health risks of losing so much weight. If she was allowed to continue she would have been at high risk of multiple organ failure and death. Hence, they forced her to go home (after seeking immediate medical attention).
Thanks to the format of “Alone” we were able to hear her inner monologue. Do you know what she was saying when she was looking at herself the night before the medical check? “I was nervous to look at myself, but I’m so glad I did!” “Look at how strong I look?” “I look like an Ironman triathlete!” “Look at my muscle definition!” All she saw was a strong and healthy body that was ready to continue. Quitting was the last thing on her mind. When she was told she was getting pulled her level of shock was painful to watch. She literally had no idea she wasn’t healthy!
How in the world could this be? Her perception and reality were so out of alignment that anyone with a basic understanding of human health could understand it.
Simple… she is an incredibly gritty individual who would never have quit under any circumstance. Period. She was tough as nails and was willing to do anything to reach her goal of winning the show. Not sold on how gritty she was? Here’s a few fun facts. She cut herself horribly on the thumb. She accidentally stabbed herself in the leg with an arrow that was covered in squirrel blood. She accidentally lit her shelter on fire and put it out with her hands. Oh yeah, she was also bitten in the hand by a squirrel. Any of these individual incidents could have been a game ended for her and yet each time she seemed to get up even stronger than before. She wasn’t going to let anything get in the way of her dream and she proved it over and over again.
But what happens when grit is used in the wrong way? What if we get to the point that the best move for us truly is to quit? How do we know it? How do we “flip the Grit switch off” when quitting becomes the right answer? How do we really know if quitting is the right answer or if maybe we should grit it out instead?
I hope you’re not looking to me for an answer… I’m struggling on this one too!
It seems so easy to make the call from a third party perspective. She looked like she was about to die and therefore she should quit – death is not worth the price of victory. How often have we heard the story of the mountain climber who pushes back on the preset turnaround time only to die chasing their dream? “Why would they do that? I would never do that, it’s not worth it.”
So today I’m thankful for a thought that will be hanging in my mind for quite some time. Maybe I need to fire up that old podcast again – there may be a nugget I am missing. Today I’m content with letting that seed in my mind establish roots and grow.