Winners Do Quit
There is a lot of advice around not giving up and persevering till the end. But there isn’t very much about quitting.
That old quip you’re often told – “Winners never quit and quitters never win” is categorically false. Had it been true, life would be simpler and so much more predictable. People that started out playing the violin at the age of 9 would go on to become virtuosos. With each passing year, we would anticipate seeing someone gives the Niccolò Paganini of that short era a run for their money.
Considering all that churn due to a variety of external factors, you see fewer than a handful go on with the skill. Others prefer to hedge their bets and take on other risks. Some kids in the children’s violin class may choose to take on golf instead. Very few parents teach kids the value of quitting at the right time. This is lifelong learning for the child. With the way the world is structured and markets positioned, it is important one understands this sooner and not later.
Some of the finest entities out there have gotten to where they are by quitting. So of course, at the face of it, a possible platitude one might see within this progression of thought: winners quit the things that are bad for them. However contrarian it may be winners quit things that are good for them as well – things that they’re good at. The motivation behind the same is betting big on the insight that there is something out there that they can indeed be the best at.
Companies such as Microsoft and PepsiCo are constantly reinventing themselves, choosing to adopt and let go of the current trends in the industry. Just as you pick among the more marketable careers (or are advised to), it might also be advisable to pick what you choose to invest the most amount of time into. This article finds a basis in the work of Seth Godin. If it takes 10,000 hours to attain mastery. That’s nearly 4 years and 10 months of working on something like a job or a career, where you’re working 1% each day to improve on that one skill.
The power of compounding is unparalleled. Reading one more paper, learning one new thing – at the end of 1,752 days, you end up becoming 37,243,189.5 times better than you were when you started. That’s a lot. A path well-picked, could yield a lifetime of satisfaction for the career path mastered, and probably give you the confidence to embark on a journey of lifelong learning. Out of the 50 kids that I started doing karate with as a kid, the number of kids that followed through to attain mastery is fewer than a handful.
All careers and jobs are two-way funnels. People that get past the plateau, dip, valley of sorrow at a skill can succeed. Some have long drawn out narrow valleys, that eliminate most – others that let you more shots on goal. But getting past it takes more than grit and practice. Because then, the person that holds the world record for holding his breath the longest would also be the person to be the world’s best at a host of other things. That of course, is not the case.
With the landscape changing so rapidly due to the evolution of technology, it becomes hard to reach mastery as the shelf life for a skill has been on the decline.
This begs the question. What does one need to do to stay on par? Realistically, there is no playbook to this. Had there been one, it would no longer be well-suited since everyone would do it. Pick a space, know it to a considerable extent wherein people trust your judgment call. It’s also important to take a retrospective birds’ eye view every now and then to understand where you are going. Oftentimes, it seems as though markets are presenting positive signaling to a skill and decision making, but in reality, you’re not growing.
You’re only surviving – always. Much like Research in Motion (RIM), the parent company of BlackBerry in their heyday was on top of the business mobile market. No one could have pulled the rug from under their feet – or at least that is what they assumed. Now here’s the thing, it’s not like the company hadn’t been innovating. They just did not sense the movement of consumers to touchscreen mobile.
Even at an individual level, it’s easy to move into a comfort zone and think you have a defensive moat over a skill. But there are two skills, that go hand in hand. One in which you’re constantly getting better at what you do but developing limited growth in work on the periphery of what you do. It boils down to being a fundamentally curious person. Much like solving a game of sudoku each day will not make you smarter, it’ll make you good at sudoku. We need to spot the skills that make us better problem solvers, that stretch the mental faculty.
Purpose-driven, feedback centric environments can ensure we don’t get derailed. We need to develop strong mental models, that are self-aware of our capabilities and pitfalls, and constantly watching as the world is moving to see where we might be in the future. Know yourself well enough to stick around only to the extent that you sense light at the end of the tunnel and you trust your ability to make it through.