Why “Never Quit” Is VERY Bad Advice ❌

In some way or another, we’ve heard it a thousand times before: Variations of Quitters never win and Winners never quit surround us in the form of posters, movies, motivational YouTube videos, and so on. And it all sounds good and nice, but I think it’s not 100% accurate and often pretty bad advice.

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Let me tell you a short unknown story about someone you are probably familiar with…

The Story of Someone Who Gave Up a Lot

This boy had a mother who loved music and art. One day, he wanted to surprise her by drawing the family cat but had no other option than to throw the paper away… he clearly lacked the talent. In childhood, he was mostly occupied with mindlessly walking and wandering. He walked during the day, he walked during the night, didn’t matter if it was sunny or pouring.

At the age of 13, the boy was admitted to a brand new school and, even though he was a good student, his mind was always somewhere else and 2 years later, he left.

After 16 months of his usual long walks in nature, he realized that he needed to do something with his life and decided to help his uncle with his very successful art dealership – art might have not been his thing, but selling it definitely was.

By the age of twenty, he was already dealing with important clients and doing long sales trips all over the country. Unfortunately, this adventure didn’t last that much longer.

Country-boy by heart, he couldn’t smooth out his relationship with his boss and didn’t really enjoy the art of bargaining since it felt a bit dishonest to him. The boy – who’s now a young adult – was transferred to London and finally to Paris, the center of the at-that-time artistic revolution. But he was not really interested in art anymore…

After the dealership adventure, he worked as an assistant teacher, a tutor, and a bookstore clerk, until he realized he wanted to dedicate his life to religion and become a pastor.

For months, he spent endless nights copying by hand entire books and studying the Word until early morning, all this to get into university so that he could later become a pastor.

But the studying wasn’t going very well for the young man.

That’s why, when he was about turn 25, he heard a sermon about the growing economic inequality between rich and poor that made him realized there was no need to go to university to preach. This insight made him move to a coal country, where the Word of God was needed the most.

He worked day and night, helping the poor, giving away his possessions and sharing the Word, but people were not really listening and finally, he decided that religion was not for him.

There he was… He had been an art dealer, a teacher, a bookseller, a religious advocate but nothing seemed to stick. In a letter to his brother, he referred to himself as:

“doesn’t always know himself what he could do, but he feels by instinct, I’m good for something, even so! . . . I know that I could be a quite different man! . . . There’s something within me, so what is it!”

But there was one thing he hadn’t tried yet since childhood, at least not with his full intent: painting.

The next letter to his brother was poles apart from the rest.

“I’m writing to you while drawing and I’m in a hurry to get back to it.”

In the following years, he gave formal art education a try but it never quite worked for him: He didn’t have the delicate touch needed to thrive in that environment.

Just like his previous years, he explored multiple avenues:

  • Realism
  • Expressionism
  • Subjects from landscape to religious devotion
  • Colors and black and grays
  • There was no place left untouched

Until one day, he figured a way out.

In his book Range, David Epstein says:

One day, he dragged an easel and oil paints—with which he had almost no experience—out to a sand dune in a storm. He ran in and out of cover, slapping and slathering paint on the canvas in staccato strokes between gusts of wind that peppered the painting with grains of sand. He squeezed color right from the tube onto the canvas when he had to. The viscous oil paint and the speed required to apply it in the storm freed his imagination and his hand from the crippling deficiencies that plagued him when he strove for perfect realism. More than a century later, his definitive biographers would write of that day, “[He] made an astonishing discovery: he could paint.” And he felt it. “I enjoy it tremendously,” he wrote his brother. “Painting has proved less difficult than I expected.

With his newfound ability, he proceeded to experiment and discover new artistic paradigms that nobody ever imagined before him that changed art forever.

Van Gogh Was a Quitter

This story is the story of Vincent Van Gogh, one of the most famous artists that ever existed. His approach revolutionized modern art and is one of the few artists to surpass the $100 million barrier.

And as you can see, even though he is nowadays renowned all over the world, in the first decades of his life he quitted more times than most of us will do in a lifetime.

If Van Gogh would have followed the Never Give Up advice, he perhaps would’ve ended up being a rich and successful art dealer or a priest, but definitely not the Van Gogh we know and praise.

The same could be said for Paul Gaugin, an innovative painter who, well… became a painter after quitting being a merchant marine and a bourgeois stockbroker.

Or J. K. Rowling who was a researcher and bilingual secretary before quitting and writing the Harry Potter series.

Or when Apple, thanks to the returning Steve Jobs, discontinued several product lines like The Pippin, The Newton, and The Cube before coming up with the iPod, iPhone, and iPad. In other words, he quitted.

So, what’s wrong with this advice? The answer resides in the when…

When Should You Quit?

The idea that “quitters never win, and winners never quit” is too simplistic to be a one size fits all advice. In fact, it might be doing more harm than good.

It leads many of us to believe that we should stick with our jobs, careers, partners, and decisions for the long run just because we chose them in the past and we are already invested in them, even though they make us miserable in the present. Giving up is for weaklings, true achievers never quit, they say. But as we’ve seen, it’s not accurate.

People like Van Gogh and J. K. Rowling or companies like Apple were all quitters, but not the normal ones. They were the intelligent quitters who gave up the right thing at the right time. But once they found their calling, their passion, their business niche, they committed and fell through. Once Van Gogh found that painting was his true calling, he gave himself fully to art. When J K Rowling knew that she wanted to be a writer, she committed to her path.

The key in this whole dynamic is to know when to quit, not to never do it all. Or to say it in another way, the key is to know when to truly commit and never give up.

You should quit if whatever you are doing doesn’t inspire you.
You shouldn’t quit if it’s getting harder and you are growing tired.

You should quit if the reason why you are doing something isn’t worthwhile.
You shouldn’t quit if it hurts to keep going.

You should quit if you find something better to pour your energies to and you found your calling.
You shouldn’t quit if you failed but still want to make it happen.

Knowing the difference between the two is the crucial piece of the puzzle, and no one will be better to decide than you.

So wonder, aren’t you giving up because you are already too deep into your decisions and bought into the never-quit narrative, or because you truly desire it?

Winner Quit All The Time

Seth Godin puts it perfectly when he said:

“Winners quit all the time. They just quit the right stuff at the right time.”

So be courageous and wise enough to quit when you need to.

And be courageous and wise enough to persevere when you need to.

Life is not that simple, and advice shouldn’t either.

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