Quitting is something I’ve never been good at. I’m crazy stupid about not quitting.
I’m not sure exactly where I get this trait, but I think it’s hereditary. I remember the family camping trip where we stayed in our campsite through a tornado. That made me think maybe dad is crazy stupid about not quitting, too.
This can be a phenomenally good quality. I can’t remember how many times I’ve gotten something to work after others have given up. Most people declare “impossible” at the threshold of their exhaustion. I just power through. I’d like to think I’d make a good Navy SEAL.
But even I have learned that there are times when giving up is a good call. My short list of “quittable moments” includes:
- Breaking a fast that coincided with two days of construction work and a 12-hour round trip car ride.
- Deciding against 2 years of grad school to pursue a career in politics, when I realized I absolutely loathe politics.
- Breaking up with a girlfriend after she literally threw a vase at me (I thought that was only supposed to happen in cartoons)
- Deciding not to die in an icy coffin.
These were all good decisions, and I regret none of them. Recently however I was faced with a much bigger decision.
The Closing of an Era
For seven years one of the most important things in my life was my temple. I founded the Temple myself, and led it through serious travails early on. We started off in an attic studio with one window and a lot of bare insulation. In time we moved to a beautiful house near the river, and ultimately, to a traditional Irish cottage. I helped build the Irish cottage myself, and did all of the work on a broken ankle. I helped fund it, paint it, and consecrate it.
At the time we built it, I imagined the temple surviving long after my own death, passed on to future generations of priests that I trained myself.
But that wasn’t meant to be.
In the past year it became increasingly clear that the Temple was not doing what it was supposed to do. It was the hub of a wonderful little community, no doubt about it. But it wasn’t helping people find their purpose in life, discover who they truly are, or change their lives to follow their dreams. And after exhaustive discussions with the others involved with running it—discussions about passing it on to new leadership, adding new programs, or even radically changing the structure of the Temple—it became clear that we didn’t have the humanpower to change things.
So there I was. The two options on the table were:
- Continue asking people to give their time, money and energy to an organization that was not changing lives; or
- Close the organization.
In black and white, Option 1 looks ridiculous. But when you’re standing at the brink, looking at giving up something you’ve worked so hard on, you start to justify. 90% of nonprofit boards would choose Option 1. Because quitting looks an awful lot like failure.
Faced with that, you start finding reasons not to quit. You start to rationalize.
One of the reasons you don’t want to quit is because of sunk costs and cognitive dissonance: the idea that you already invested so much that it’d be stupid to give up now.
The other big reason is that people tend to assume the future will be better than the present.
Staying the course for either of these reasons is like staying in a bad relationship long after the love’s over. I remember asking a friend, after a messy breakup, if he thought I should give it one more try with her.
“That depends,” he told me. “What’s going to be different?”
Ultimately, that is the litmus test for any cool-it-or-blow situation. Every pattern in your life has momentum. If that momentum isn’t taking you where you want, then the future will not be better—no matter how much you’ve already invested—unless you can change some key part of your situation today. Ask yourself honestly: can you?
If you can, then you might be able to shift the momentum for the better. That is called winning.
If you can’t, then you should get off the train before it takes you any farther. That is also called winning.
Or you could keep on without changing the momentum. It may seem easiest, it may save face, but that is called losing.
The Noble Choice
When something isn’t working, making the choice to quit it—rather than linger on—is a moment of integrity. It was very hard for me to realize that as I contemplated closing my Temple. But it failed the litmus test, so I began to take action.
As I spoke to each of the key people involved in the Temple, I saw that they understood. Each of them gave me their support, but more importantly, each of them could feel it: we aren’t doing what we set out to do. Maybe they were waiting on me to catch up to them, since I am crazy stupid about not quitting.
Monday I announced the news. It felt good. It was a powerful moment where we determined our own future: to have integrity, not just stubborness.
Have you ever had to make this kind of a choice? Which way did you go? Were you able to swallow your pride and quit, or did you ride it to the very end? Share your stories!