Should you quit?

Quitting is often not the most glamorous ordeal. In fact it is often synonymous with failure.

“oh, so why did you stop?”

“yeah, it wasn’t really going anywhere.”

I’m sure you have had a few of those conversations in your lifetime. The ability to quit can be easily compared to saying no. It’s difficult and arduous during the first conversation or initial phase. Once you have made your decision, you feel your shoulders loosen up as they no longer have to carry the burden of indecisiveness. The process of quitting assumes you are accelerating your way on a motorbike to leap across a rocky gorge. You are not aware of how wide this gorge is. Once you approach a visible range you have two options.

  1. You notice that the gap is much larger than you expected so you jump from the motorbike, letting it career off into the abyss and you suffer some minor scratches and bruises.
  2. You continue forward, keeping your head down, trying to get every little bit of horsepower and torque from the engine. There is a very small chance you may make it, however there is a 99% chance that you will fall to your death.

The 2nd option may sound suicidal but we witness it frequently. Humans are stubborn creatures. They don’t like to let go of things or admit defeat. Unfortunately, not being willing to lose the battle results in one losing the war. There are questions that you can ask yourself to ensure that you are doing work that matters.

Why are you doing this? 

Have you ever been working on something without knowing exactly why? Personally, I find academia to be particularly bad at explaining the long-run benefits of what is taught rather than “it will get you a good job” or “it will be useful at some point”. At a recent lecture I attended to conclude the term, there were three lecturers in a room along with a handful of students and for an hour we discussed the long-term outcomes of three years of studying Economics. It was the most clarity academia had ever provided me on ‘Why are you doing this?’ rather than the usual “Do this or fail!”. For any project, task or commitment, think: what is this for? Who benefits? What is the motivation behind it? Your answers to these questions will help you better understand the work itself.

What problem are you solving? 

This question is particularly insightful for aspiring entrepreneurs. Why would someone pay money for your product or service? How much pain are your customers in right now without your product or service? For example, a pharmaceutical company produces a new treatment for Alzheimer’s disease. There is a clear value proposition. We are solving the problem of Alzheimer’s disease. The disease itself is monumentally debilitating and a painful ordeal for loved ones of the individual with the disease. Family members are likely to pay a lot of money for a cure. Never try to solve an imaginary problem because the time and money you waste in doing so will be very real.

Is this actually useful?

Are you doing something useful or just doing something? It’s fine to have your moments or do something for the heck of it rather than a solidly defined purpose. You may even tell your friends that you are working on this cool project. Cool wears off. Useful never does.

Is there an easier way?

Problems usually require simple solutions. Do not make things harder than they need to be. The 80-20 rule applies at all times (80% percent of the results come from 20% of the inputs or efforts). Think about the best teacher you know. Contemplate the way they are able to deconstruct complicated theories into simple analogies. You want to be able to simplify at all times.

What could you be doing instead?

So you spent the last two weeks, 12 hours a day working on that assignment in the library. What other valuable things could you have done in that time? Are you squeezing the most out of every hour? There has to be a carefully calculated decision between more time and a loss of productivity. We are not machines. We fatigue surprisingly quickly, especially concentrating on a single task. Embrace variety. If you’re stuck on something for a long period of time, that means there are other things you’re not getting done.

Is it really worth it? 

Determine the real value of something before diving head-first. Nobody wants to rely on luck for their success and wellbeing.

“Think about all the time, brainpower, and social or political capital you continued to spend on some commitment only because you didn’t like the idea of quitting.”

Steven D. Levitt, economist and co-author of Freakonomics

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