Thursday, August 07, 2014

Review: Mastering the Art of Quitting

This review was first published by the Internet Review of Books on July 11, 2014.

Why It Matters in Life, Love, and Work

By Peg Streep and Alan Bernstein
262 pp. Da Capo

Reviewed by Bob Sanchez

Your job isn’t what you expected. It’s not only harder, it’s unsatisfying. You’ve invested untold hours trying to become a competitive swimmer, insurance salesman, or ballet dancer.  It’s my fault, you may be thinking. If only I try harder…. Persistence pays…. I think I can, I think I can. Over and over you repeat the mantra, Winners never quit, and quitters never win.

And you may be right. Or not. Never giving up worked for Churchill, but his country’s very existence was on the line. It worked for salesman and professional optimist Zig Ziglar, and of course for countless others, depending on their goals. So when is it okay to quit and not soldier on?

In Mastering the Art of Quitting, authors Streep and Bernstein assert that there are times to see a goal through, and there are times to change direction. To quit. “American mythology doesn’t have room for quitters,” they state, but “Quitting not only frees us from the hopeless pursuit of the unattainable but permits us to commit to new and more satisfying goals.”

Don’t stick with something that’s no longer right for you, they say, just because you don’t want the “quitter” label. The authors cite the example of a competitive swimmer who injures her shoulder and decides to work through the pain—no pain, no gain, and all that. As she persists, her shoulder gets so bad she can hardly lift her arm, let alone swim. By the time she finally quits trying, she has a lifelong injury.

A problem is “our inability to assess ourselves and our talents realistically.” Most of us tend to rate ourselves as above average, and sadly, we are not our own best judges.

Another danger is the “Sunk Cost Fallacy.” We all tend to reason that we have invested so much into this job, hobby, marriage, or college education that we have to continue in the same direction. Perhaps the most tragic example:

…the logic that pervaded the thinking of America’s leadership about sending troops to Vietnam even as it acknowledged that winning, in the conventional sense, was impossible.


…how could the possibility of more people dying justify the deaths of others who came before?

And then there is another problem: What if reaching your goal will no longer make you happy? “Our belief in staying the course doesn’t take into account that who we are and what we want may change over time,” the authors write.

Psychologically, quitting can be difficult. Luckily, the book offers strategies and “skill sets” for quitting or disengaging. It certainly doesn’t mean stomping off your job, and it doesn’t mean a guarantee of future success. One of the tools the authors suggest is a “goal map” outlining what you want in life, work, relationships, and learning.

Mastering the Art of Quitting is well documented, well thought out, and easily readable. Almost everyone can benefit from its commonsense advice.

No comments: