What is your relationship with "Quitting"? From childhood, I seem to recollect this as a negative word, something about quitting is not good. "quitting is for losers" or “Successful people keep moving. They make mistakes, but they don’t quit.” is something I heard often. Quotes like these are the staple of a lot of motivational literature out there. We hear this while growing up & we see this in lots of popular media. You have films where the hero persists against all odds & wins. And yet I have often wondered if quitting may actually be good for you. Is there an alternate worldview?
I have been a corporate executive & an entrepreneur. I am a cyclist, trekker & runner. And I have had more than my fair share of “quitting” through all these pursuits. Yet, I must say that my relationship with quitting has changed over the years. As I have grown, launched multiple ventures & run many marathons, I have begun to look more kindly towards the art of quitting. I realise that I have also begun to see quitters in a new light! I have become curious about my own perspective about quitting & how it has changed over the years. Because we consciously choose to quit, it allows us to reframe & reassess the goals that we have pursued. It then allows us to articulate new goals that can enrich our life.
I have realised that we see our world through filters which anchor us in a certain way of looking at things. Often ,we ignore the biases that are at play that have created these filters. We have biases that encourage us to stay invested in something. We have a Status quo bias-which creates a preference for the path that we're already on. Change can be a scary thing for many people, which is why many tend to prefer that things simply stay the way they are. And quitting can create a huge amount of change, in your life & in your work.
Annie Duke knows a lot about quitting. It's something she got really good at when she was a professional poker player with a record of over $4 million in prize money. The key characteristic of great poker players is that they know when to quit. They quit a lot more. So they're just very good at cutting their losses. But somehow this philosophy doesn’t get promoted, instead, there is this huge cultural affinity for those of us who grit it out & never give up.
Annie talks about the regret asymmetry bias and how that profoundly stops us from quitting. Anne says that we're very tolerant of the unhappiness that occurs while we are continuing to do something.And we're very intolerant of the unhappiness that might occur if we switch.
Words like, steadfastness & perseverance were the superheroes while one was growing up. Our heroes are the ones who persevere beyond the point of physical or emotional wellbeing & chase difficult objectives till they are met. Parents would call out other children who persevered & stuck it out. And Grit really took the cake as this super awesome quality that was celebrated by everyone. And it is amazing how we underestimate quitting. In fact, when you look at quitting, one of the synonyms for quitting is the word "coward". So culturally as we grow to become leaders in society we are already programmed negatively towards quitting.
My interest in "quitting" was triggered when I met a few youngsters -Rutvij, Rahul & Sahil-who told me they were quitting the education system after the 12th standard in school. I realized that it takes guts to do this & my respect for them went up. But I could not figure out why? If the word has negative implications why was I impressed by Rahul, Rutvij & Sahil? What was it about the courage that they showed that was triggering me & inspiring awe! It struck me that whenever we quit we actually show "authenticity", we allow something authentic within us to lead us down a certain path. Quitting is about being in touch with a bunch of deeper beliefs that allow us to take that short-term call-in service of a longer-term gain. Being authentic is also about being able to share this with other people who then truly ‘see you”. Rahul & the gang have been working on a bunch of projects that they hope will help change the education system for the better. They are deep into these projects & doing stuff that they could not have made enough time for, had they continued their formal education.
I am aware that whenever I have looked at life over a longer-term lens, the questions that I have then asked myself have always changed. How proud will I be of this decision, not tomorrow but maybe over the next 15 years gives us a very different perspective & we may answer the question very differently. I worked as the CMO of HDFC bank & the bank was well on its way to a huge bull run of its stock. I had decided to start a new venture & I had made up my mind to quit the bank. On my last day at the bank, I got my next round of stock options & it was HDFC bank stock. But when I put on the 15-year lens, it was not difficult for me to go ahead & quit the bank & start Cequity, which did rather well.
Jeff Bezos reportedly said that the easiest way to eliminate competition is by prolonging your time horizon of focus, as very few businessmen tend to think long term.
To me, long-term thinking is about quitting. It is about leaving things that don't serve you for the long term, even if they serve you very well in the short term. Long back, I was in my second year of engineering & I hated it. I knew that engineering was not for me. I was in a prestigious engineering college & quitting was not going to be an easy option. I still tried & got myself admitted to another course in another college that had subjects that I liked Maths & Economics. But the idea of leaving Engineering & going and doing a Bsc did not appeal to my dad & he succeeded in convincing me about it. I stayed on & became an engineer. Do I regret it, yes at times I do! I really don't know which path I would have embarked on if I had quit my engineering & done my Bsc instead. I think it is also important to keep in mind that I was young then & going against a father figure, who was a very successful person, would have been difficult for me.
And yet, the most meaningful lesson I got was when I was running the Mumbai marathon many years ago. Running makes you strong mentally, you learn to stay the course. Many of life’s greatest learnings have come to me on the road. I still remember that Mumbai half marathon, many years ago, when I was pushing myself to get to a sub-2-hour timing. I reached Peddar road doing a good time, but still a bit behind my target timing. I started climbing the Pedder road hill with another unknown runner on my side & just as I started to open my throttle on the hill, he said something that I now remember for life. He looked at me & said, “stop fighting the hill”. His point was that go easy on the uphill & you will more than makeup on the downhill. So quit pushing hard all the team, be easy on yourself. What a metaphor it was for me & not just for running but for life itself! Be kinder to yourself, don’t fight the hill & you can still achieve your target. For the record, I did my first sub-2-hour run in that race & now whenever I am in a tough spot, I remind myself to not fight the hill. Quitting is a lot like “not fighting the hill”, you can quit & then come back with a roar.
I have run many marathons but the one I remember vividly is the New York marathon. I had never before run a marathon while still on antibiotics for an infection. The weather in New York was awesome & it was the best time ever to run! I started well but the antibiotics had taken a toll & I really struggled my way through it to eventually finish. I should have quit instead, where is the joy of running "on empty", but I was conditioned to "not quit". I wouldn't have let the alphabets DNF (did not finish) appear before my name in any marathon. And yet I recognize this to be a limiting belief. I could have quit in the interest of my health & come back again & enjoyed this wonderful marathon another time.
I love to walk & trek in the Himalayas. Before Covid, I would do this every year. The Mountains are challenging & they ask a lot from us when we do long treks. And yes I don’t recollect having left many treks halfway. But I remember one trek in Himachal Pradesh, where we got terrible weather. My daughter was 5 years then & we were all wet with the rain & snow. We abandoned that trek halfway & went back to base camp. But I did feel bad about it! People forget when they're climbing Everest that the goal of Everest is not to get to the summit. The goal is to get back down safely to to the base of the mountain. We get really wrapped up in the short term a lot when we ought to be thinking about the long term. What is going to make us happy?
And of course, the myth is that entrepreneurs don’t quit. They go on with grit & perseverance till they are the talk of the town for their mythical success. Nothing could be farther than the truth. Good entrepreneurs quit a lot. Pivoting is a sexy way of describing how an entrepreneur quits. There is this myth about quitting being something final. It’s important to realize that decisions are not final. And you can always change course midstream, and you can often get back to choices that you rejected. And, if we realize this more, I think that we would be more exploratory, and it would make our outcomes better, actually.
I quit Cequity 11 years after co-founding it & I knew that I was doing it basis a simple reality-“when your vision for business & life with your co-founders doesn’t match, you quit”. It has been the best long-term decision of my life, it allowed me to explore new horizons & set new metrics for what one calls success.
So what are you quitting in the year 2022