Knowing when to quit

One life skill that I wish I was better at is knowing when to quit.

Our heroes are lauded to us as people who didn’t quit, even when the odds seemed against them. Conversely, people who are so intimidated by a task that they never even start to attempt it are derided.

So – when to quit?

There’s a definite line between quitting too soon, and beating your head against a brick wall for the sake of your own pride. This is constantly an issue I find myself up against (I’m no quitter, darnit!). I have been trying to redefine the parameters of this to try and get a better read on knowing where the line is.

For me, the answer to this has started to boil down to answering some questions.

First, is the battle worth fighting?
Second, can you afford to lose the battle?

So – pick your battle. This is all well and good, until the battle picks you. Once you find yourself in said battle, you’re then left with the second question – can you afford to lose the battle? This, in bad times, can then lead to a third question – do you actually have a chance of winning the battle?

If the answer to this last question is no, then you need to get out. You’ve already lost this battle. The only thing you have to lose at that point is your pride. Hanging on to a losing battle will cost you so much more (i.e. mental and physical health), in addition to said pride.

Silly yet true example here:

When I was 8, I was arguing with my Dad. I had been given some homework to do – the 8 times tables. By the time we got to 8 x 8, I was bored. I wanted to play. My stubborn streak kicked in. The conversation went on in a loop for *hours*:

Dad: What is 8 times 8?
Me: Don’t know!
Dad: 8 times 8 is 64. What is 8 times 8?
Me: Don’t know!

This had become a battle of wills. The victory for me would be refusing to say that 8 times 8 is 64. My Dad had another take on it, though. For him – he couldn’t afford to lose this battle, because being out-stubborned by his 8 year old child would set a bad precedent. The predictable thing happened, of course. I eventually gave in because I was tired. Dad won that battle through sheer perseverance, and I learnt that I couldn’t out-stubborn my Dad, ever. Which was the whole point, from his perspective. Incidentally, I’ll also never forget that 8 x 8 = 64. My Dad still beats me around the head with ‘what is 8 times 8?’ every time he thinks I am being stubborn.

Sadly, I didn’t really pick up the underlying message back then. I am still muleishly stubborn. This year saw me in a situation I should have walked away from as soon as I knew it for what it was – a battle that I could afford to lose, and a battle I couldn’t ever hope to win*. I stubbornly stuck it out, hoping to change the inevitable outcome of it, even against the advice of family and friends. If I’d walked away then, the first half of this year could have been awesome for me.

It’s a matter of (foolish) pride to me that I’ve never walked away from a fight in my life.

You can probably guess where this is going. Knowing it was hopeless, I stayed in the situation to fight it out. Ultimately, I still ended up walking away when the cost became too high. I wouldn’t be *me* if I hadn’t at least tried to fight my corner. In retrospect, If I had been a bit smarter about picking my battles – I would have chosen to walk away from this one. With hindsight being 20/20, it wouldn’t have been walking away from a fight – it would have been running towards something better. Not that the experience was a complete waste – I have taken away plenty of positives away in terms of lessons from the experience, as much as it sucked at the time.

So, in a nutshell, I guess I can sum up with this:

Only fight battles worth fighting.
If you can’t afford to lose the battle – don’t lose.
8 x 8 = 64.

* Protip – you don’t ever win against City Hall.

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