The ability to persevere when something is difficult can be a competitive advantage.
So can knowing when to quit.
We don’t emphasize this enough in school. We teach kids the importance of not giving up and forget to remind them that it’s ok to quit sometimes.
I first saw quitting in this new light when I heard Deepak Malhotra’s speech to the 2012 class of Harvard Business School. His advice was:
“Quit early, quit often—not because it's hard, but because it sucks.”
Malhotra made a great point: quitting allows you to “say no to a lot of things and yes to the few things that maybe you didn't even know were perfect for you.”
We should never quit just because something is difficult—that’s where grit comes in—but we should quit when we’re going in the wrong direction.
So, how do we help kids learn when to have grit and when to quit?
I recently wrote about why kids should learn to pursue specific knowledge: those skills they’re naturally good at and love to do. I also wrote about range: the importance of kids trying many different things to build a foundation and explore their interests.
Quitting is the linchpin between range and specific knowledge.
It’s the art of trying new things, realizing what you hate or have no talent for, and moving closer to your specific knowledge.
"Giving our kids the option to quit celebrates the idea that they should have the chance to try out new things without the expectation that every new thing will fit.” —Kristin Levitahn
In addition to encouraging kids to try a variety of things, we also need to teach them how and when to quit unfulfilling activities.
One tactic is to make principles to help them distinguish between good and bad reasons to stop something.
For example, as a teacher, I made a list of reasons why students might choose to abandon a book:
At the start of a new activity (a sport, an after-school program, a book), have kids make a similar list of the conditions under which to quit. Make it clear why they shouldn’t quit (“I’m not good enough”) and why they should (“I’d rather learn something else”).
This method places them in the driver’s seat, encouraging them to take ownership over their choices and develop a sense of self-efficacy, but it also provides guidance so they learn how to make thoughtful decisions.
At the end of the day, grit and quitting are equally important. As parents and teachers, we shouldn’t teach kids to always do one or the other. Instead, we should aim to help kids develop the serenity to stay with the things they’re stuck with, the courage to quit the things they aren’t, and the wisdom to know the difference.
Develop Your Unique Knowledge Stack
Speaking of quitting… David Perell’s Write of Passage course on writing online played a big role in my journey after I quit teaching. It helped me hone and lean into my specific knowledge, nail my dream job, and live life on my own terms.
I’ll talk more about this next week in my August 18 workshop with David. Register for the workshop below!
Until next week!
Ana Lorena Fabrega