When To Quit

Sometimes you need to persist, and sometimes you need to quit.

From An Expert On Grit

Written by Angela Duckworth


Is quitting ever a good thing?

I study grit, a quality you can think of essentially as the opposite of quitting.

Grit is passion and perseverance for long-term goals.

To have grit is to embody the Japanese motto: Fall seven; Rise eight.

And yet, examples abound of people and companies whose apparent grit got them into trouble.

For instance, I know a real estate developer who has for years and years insisted on sinking good money into the same unsuccessful project.

Before I became a psychologist, I taught more than a few high school students whose stated life goal was to play in the NBA, but who failed to consider, perhaps, that only 60 players are drafted annually across the entire country. What’s more, the average height of an NBA player is 6 feet 7 inches, and as they say, you can’t train height.

One final example: When I was growing up, Polaroid was among the most innovative and successful companies in the world, but the single-minded pursuit of better and better instant film cameras did not serve them well in the era of digital photography.

So is grit a good thing, but is extreme grit bad? Aristotle intimated as much in his exaltation of virtue as the “golden mean” between extremes.
I think prodigious grit is a good thing if applied to the right kind of goals. But there are certain situations in which blind passion and perseverance can make things worse.

Having studied grit for more than a dozen years, here is my advice on quitting:

If you’ve been trying and trying to accomplish a low-level goal, but despite your best efforts, you are making absolutely no headway, quit. Your energy will be better spent on a different low-level goal that accomplishes the same end. In other words, quitting on a goal such as “get into Harvard Law School” or “sell this particular product” is recommended after you’ve tried all possible tactics and come up empty. Now your job is to find an alternate path forward.

There really are dead ends in life. When you’ve tried hard and long enough to guess you’re in one, back up, and look for another way forward. Turn your dead ends into detours.

Excessive grit applied to low-level goals is not a good idea. Make sure you’re not just being stubborn.