Try Quitting When Things are Only Going Really Well

Nastia Liukin Gymnast

Perhaps my favorite story about perseverance and not quitting until you really should comes from an Olympic gold medalist by the name of Nastia Liukin.  You might remember her from the 2008 Olympics that took place in Beijing as well as other numerous and memorable appearances. Back in 2008 when she won her fifth Beijing medal, Liukin tied Mary Lou Retton and Shannon Miller for the most gymnastics medals won by an American in a single Olympic Games.  With those kinds of credentials you’d be hard pressed to think that at one point in her career Liukin actually wanted to quit, but it’s true.  But it’s what Liukin’s mom told her about quitting that has stuck with me, especially in the world of business (and clearly life as well).

Liukin said that when she was a kid she’d come home after a bad day and try to quit gymnastics, but her mom wouldn’t let her. “You can quit,” her mom would say, “but you can’t quit until after you’ve had a good day.”  A simple sentence but incredibly effective.  Why?  Well, look at the results.  Liukin would go back to the gym day after day, until she finally had a good day. And on that good day, she’d come home, and her mom would see the smile on her face and say, ”OK, do you still want to quit now?” Of course, Liukin didn’t quit and she went on to become one of the most decorated Olympians in U.S. gymnastics history.

Check out the video below for her full account:

The sentence “quit on a good day” has resonated with me for years but it was never put so clearly as when I saw this video.  In relation to my own life with regards to my career and other endeavors I’ve reflected on all of the times I’ve quit certain things and without question the majority of times I’ve quit something it’s been under times of stress, chaos, or something extremely problematic.  But that sounds reasonable right?  It should only make sense that you’d want to escape something when it’s tough, annoying, or simply something you don’t want to deal with.  But you see, that’s just the thing.  Those are far and away the worst times you can quit something.

Have you ever interviewed for a new job while working at your current one and hope to God you get the new job so you can quit your old job?  Here’s what tends to follow at your current job:  You find more and more ways to hate said job.  You mentally prepare yourself to get the hell out of there.  You continuously hate your current job more and more as the prospect of a new job gets closer to reality.  Mentally it makes quitting your current job 100 times easier.  This goes along with most reasons people quit things.  Mentally we make things worse and worse in our heads to justify getting out of a situation.  Don’t get me wrong, if something is so bad that your mental well-being or physical well-being is being compromised that’s an entirely different issue.  E.g. you are in an abusive relationship and have to get out or perhaps you’re in a job where you’re constantly being harassed at work.  Clearly those are different kinds of situations and not the ones I’m focused on here.  What if instead of making your job or situation seem worse and worse you made it better and better?  What if you got to the point of total praise, extreme success, and all the things you ever wanted in your current job, would you still quit then?  If you want to quit then, then that means you truly want to quit.  Your mind is clear and likely in the best place it can be to make sensible decisions.

Why Quitting when Things are Good is Best

Quitting when things are bad makes all the sense in the world.  We want to avoid bad things.  We’ll do everything in our power to avoid all the crap in our lives.  But if you quit when something is going great it truly measures your interest in something.   If after you’ve done every single thing you can to make your situation the best it can be, and you still don’t like it?  That’s the mental point at which you should look in another direction.  Quitting when things are bad is the easy way out.  It’s also just another excuse to continue a troublesome pattern of escaping the bad in our lives instead of tackling the bad situation head on.

Ever hear those stories of athletes quitting in their prime?  People following the stories are always baffled by these decisions.  “How in the world can they pass up on this opportunity? Why would they do this?” It’s my firm belief that these are the people who are probably most clear in their heads when they make their decisions.  It means that despite all the success, all of the accolades, that perhaps whatever it is they’re doing simply isn’t right for them, or that perhaps it’s simply not the right time in their lives.  They are looking at themselves more than anything else, and that’s what’s most important.  They’ve become masters of their craft and yet still didn’t want to pursue said craft.  That to me is a clear and concise decision point.  It’s a more extreme example, yes, but in life you don’t get to live very long so to me it’s understandable that these folks would want to pursue other endeavors.

So the next time you feel like quitting, try to use the phrase “quit on a good day.”  It just might make you change your mind.

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