From Where We Sit

Quitting as a tool

Anton Ng Anton Ng

As a parent and as a partner at P&A Grant Thornton, quitting is a topic that I always find slippery. The decision to quit—particularly its grayness, which is sometimes oversimplified into “quitting is bad and persisting is good” — makes this topic very interesting. In every activity or project we undertake, and even in the relationships we get ourselves into, we choose to either quit or persist. In this article, I do not intend to look at quitting as either good or bad, but as a tool for further growth.

For a number of years, I have been paying for gym membership, only to find myself using the gym facilities for just the first few months of each year—after which, a million excuses prevent me from stepping foot on a gym floor again. My goal for signing up for membership in the first place was to have a flat tummy, and maybe some washboard abs. This year, I finally decided to quit paying. To continue paying for something that I perennially have not been able to complete is absurd.

When I had that goal in mind, I knew it would be difficult. Nevertheless, I pursued it. Every year, however, was the same story. Apparently, I do not have enough conviction to go to the gym when I do not feel like it. Having washboard abs was not enough incentive for me.

There are times when we just need to revisit the goals that we have set for ourselves, revisit our reasons for doing certain activities. The reasons may sometimes not be compelling enough. In my case, I revisited my reasons—from obtaining washboard abs to making sure that I incorporate exercise into my daily routine for a healthier lifestyle. It is now something more attainable and more compelling. It is now something I can do without spending time and resources on gym memberships.

Always revisit your whys. If, at some point, you realize that it is not compelling enough, quit it if you must. Quitting became a tool for me to refocus my energy and resources on something more compelling.

A few months back, my eldest daughter wanted to stop her ballet lessons. I highly discouraged her from doing so. I discouraged her, because I really thought she had the talent for it (this is me being a biased father); I thought of all the time and resources that we have already spent for her ballet classes. I was too concerned over the sunk cost.

Sunk cost keeps us from abandoning a particular activity, even if the activity is no longer working for us, because we have already invested so much time and effort in it that we do not want that investment to go to waste by quitting. Suck up the sunk cost, and move on. If we want to be persistent in an endeavor, persist for the right reasons. Sunk cost will never be one of them. Quitting can be a tool to stop you from further wasting resources on something that is no longer working.

A corollary question to ask is: when should we persist? Persist if you are still excited about the vision. Persist if you still strongly believe in whatever it is that you are doing. Persist if you firmly believe that the obstacles you are currently facing are fixable.

After nine seasons of cementing its position as one of the greatest television shows of all time, Jerry Seinfeld, the producer of Seinfeld, turned down offers of up to $100 million to do a 10th season. He was clearly successful, but he decided to quit. For Jerry Seinfeld, it was all about timing. He wanted to end his show on a high note. He did not want to wait for his show to decline before he pressed the eject button. He might have already seen the writing on the wall: his show, though very successful, might already be about to enter its downturn. Maybe the industry landscape was changing or maybe he was running out of ideas to continue with the show; whatever it is, he knew it was time to quit.

Another reported reason was that he no longer agreed to another year because he wanted to pursue other dreams, such as starting a family—something that he clearly would not be able to do if he decided to continue with the show.

There are two things that we can learn from here. The first is to quit at the right time, and the other is to look at the opportunity cost.

Quitting at the right time means that, even while you are currently successful, quitting is still an option. If you think that what is working now may no longer work in the near future, it would be better to stop doing whatever is working now and look for something else that can potentially be successful.

The other lesson is about opportunity cost. Opportunity costs represent all that you are not currently able to do, because you continue to stick to whatever it is you are currently doing. Even if you are engaged in a successful endeavor based on the metrics you have set, you are not able to do something else that could provide you with more growth than what you are currently experiencing. So quit even if you are ahead, even if you think there is much to gain in the short term, as long as you envision the long run will be more enriching. For Jerry Seinfeld, the more enriching dream could have been the family and the quality of life that he never had while the Seinfeld TV show was on. Quitting could be a tool that would allow us to look for growth opportunities within or outside the environment we are currently in.

Quitting is not all that bad. Quitting can be a tool for growth. Quit for the right reasons and with growth in mind. As long as we are always striving for growth, quitting is a tool that is available to us. Just do not abuse it.

Anton Ng is a partner, Audit & Assurance of P&A Grant Thornton. P&A Grant Thornton is one of the leading audit, tax, advisory and outsourcing firms in the Philippines, with 21 partners and over 900 staff members. We’d like to hear from you! Tweet us: @PAGrantThornton, like us on Facebook: P&A Grant Thornton, and email your comments to anton.ng@ph.gt.com or pagrantthornton.marketscomm@ph.gt.com. For more information, visit our Website: www.grantthornton.com.ph.

 

As published in The Manila Times, dated 30 May 2018