When to Stick with Something – and When to Quit

When to Stick with Something – and When to Quit

Having grit and resilience is widely viewed as a positive trait, especially in the workplace.   Somebody that doesn’t give up, overcomes adversity, and can thrive in even the most challenging environments.  But when does this tenacity to forge ahead “no matter what” become a detriment to your career?  As recruiters, we deal with this situation all the time.  It’s one thing to give up early and not put in the effort required to reach your goals, it is another to put your head down and forge ahead in a dead-end position. Especially when there are better opportunities out there that you could be working towards instead.   It is our job as recruiters to provide the information needed to help people realistically identify if they have a strong career path where they are, or if it is ready to make a change (which is not the same thing as giving up).   Once you are educated on the job market, your value, and your options, you can ask yourself realistically, “how long should I stick with this”.   Keep reading to find out why this question is critical to your professional success.

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When Vontae Davis walked off the field at halftime, the Buffalo Bills were down 28-6 to the Los Angeles Chargers. But instead of huddling with teammates, the Bills cornerback quit football entirely, right then and there. Later that evening, Davis announced his retirement on social media, saying “today on the field, reality hit me hard and fast: I shouldn’t be out there anymore.” Many were outraged, including Bills linebacker Lorzenzo Alexander: “It’s just completely disrespectful to his teammates.” But some disagreed, saying Davis was “a goddamn working class hero.”

While unorthodox, Davis’s abrupt mid-game retirement sparked strong emotions for a variety of reasons, including a question many of us ask: How long should I stick with something? Fortunately, we don’t have to rely on NFL commentators to find answers to this question.

Perseverance has received lots of support in recent years from a variety of schools of research. One is from psychologists studying grit. They have found the capacity to stick to a task — particular when faced with difficulties – is a crucial factor in explaining the success of everyone from kids in the national spelling bee to recruits at West Point to Ivy league undergraduates.

Other research challenges these findings, however. One recent meta-analysis of studies of over 66,000 people found that there was actually a weak link between grit and performance.  In fact, there’s a large body of work showing that perseverance may have a harmful downside. Not giving up can mean people persist even when they have nothing to gain. In one study, people working on an online platform were given a very boring task. The researchers found those who said they were very persistent continued to do the task despite the fact it was boring and there was little to be gained in terms of monetary reward. So while it might be valuable to persist with worthwhile and rewarding tasks, people who don’t quit often continue with worthless tasks that are both uninteresting and unrewarding, ultimately wasting their time and talents.

Remaining fixated on long cherished goals can also mean people ignore better alternatives. A great example of this are baseball players on minor league teams. These players often receive low pay and have little job security, but live in hope of being spotted and making it into the major league. Only about 11% of players will make that transition. The other 89% are left languishing for years. If they stopped playing baseball, they would be more likely to find alternative employment which was more secure, paid more, and had a more defined career path. In short, by remaining under the spell of their dream, they are unable to explore other options which might be more lucrative.

Being unwilling to let go can lead to people being perpetually dissatisfied — even when they end up getting what they thought they wanted. This was nicely illustrated in a study of graduating college students searching for a job. The researchers found students who had a tendency to “maximize” their options and were fixated on achieving the best possible job possible did end up getting 20% more in terms of salary. However, they were generally more dissatisfied with the job they got and they found the process of getting the job more painful.

An unwillingness to quit can be more than just unrewarding. In some situations, it can become downright dangerous. This happens when people’s persistence leads then to continue with, or even double-down on, losing courses of action. One study found that people who were particularly gritty were less likely to give up when they were failing. These same people were more likely to be willing to suffer monetary losses just so they could continue doing a task. Another study of would-be inventors found that over half would continue with their invention even after receiving reliable advice that it was fatally flawed, sinking more money into the project in the process. The lesson: people who tend to be tenacious are also those who get trapped into losing courses of action.

Being unable to let go of cherished but unachievable goals can also be bad for your mental and physical health. People who struggle to disengage with impossible goals tend to feel more stress, show more symptoms of depression, be plagued by intrusive thoughts, and find it difficult to sleep. They have higher rates of eczema, headaches, and digestion issues. Being fixated on unachievable goals is also related to high levels of cortisol (which over time is linked with things like weight gain, high blood pressure, negative mood and sleeping problems) and higher levels of C-reactive protean (which is linked with inflammation in the body).

So when you ask yourself whether to stick with a task or goal, or to let it go, weigh the potential to continue learning and developing incrementally against the costs, dangers, and myopia which can come with stubborn perseverance.

Let Ringside help you with this decision.  We can inform you on where you fall with career progression compared to your peers.  We also can keep you informed about opportunities for someone with your experience.   Sometimes talking to a market expert who speaks to the leaders and peers in your industry everyday will give you the information you need to make an educated decision.

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Source:   Andre Spicer of Harvard Business Review