Winners do quit. Here’s when.

By Mark Overbye

Want to stock up on Virgin Cola? Gone. How about buying some Virgin Vodka? Also long gone. Care to purchase an automobile from Internet retailer Virgin Cars? Shuttered in 2005. Perhaps you want to book a flight on Virgin America Airlines? Can’t do it. And you get the idea. Super entrepreneur Richard Branson has started over 100 companies. And he’s closed a bunch of them!

Michael Jordan left the Chicago Bulls after winning three NBA Championships to play baseball for the Chicago White Sox. In 1994 he quit baseball, returned to the Bulls, and won three more NBA Championships.

While working full-time as an accountant, former college middle-distance runner Phil Knight’s ambition was to import high-quality and low-cost running shoes from Japan into the American market. He eventually quit his day job to concentrate on Blue Ribbon Sports, which was subsequently renamed Nike. You may have heard of it.

I’m a fan of legendary football coach Vince Lombardi, but I believe his saying that, “Winners never quit and quitters never win” is among the most misguided advice of the past century. We all know too many people slogging away in jobs they dislike or roles they despise because they mistakenly believe things will improve or being tagged a quitter is more distasteful.  

Someone close to me once said, “Bad news doesn’t get better with time.” How do you know when to quit? You quit when after being fully vested you realize you’re not getting where you want to go. You quit when there are more fruitful opportunities down a different path. You quit when you are open to new ideas, information and points of view and are able to consider contradictions and challenges with a fresh mindset.

Sometimes you need a ferocious storm clearing your shoreline to clarify your purpose and reveal those opportunities. Too often the mentality of, “Another day in the salt mine,” clouds your options, then 10 years goes by. Finding your clarity of purpose and taking action results in your greatest happiness and job satisfaction.

In Q3 2020 Warren Buffet sold about 188,000,000 shares of stock in 10 companies. He also bought about 178,000,000 shares of stock in 10 companies different from those he sold. When asked about his trading practices Buffet commented, “ Well, the best thing to do is buy a stock you don’t ever want to sell. But that only takes you so far…You might want to sell a stock because a better opportunity comes along.” Embedded in Buffet’s success is being able to say good-bye to propositions that he believes won’t pan out.

Buddha said, “You can only lose what you cling to.” Clinging fiercely to your current situation prevents seeing new opportunities. The mindset of, “We’ve always done it this way,” must be discarded to be able to see how to evolve to do it better or discover new ways to win customers, develop new products or services and gain traction. The trick is to loosen the grip on today, ask a lot of questions about mission and purpose, then be willing to embrace budding opportunities able to blossom into greater potential.

Ships waiting for absolute confirmation of uncertain weather conditions before departing the harbor will be left behind by those optimistically willing to explore ports unknown. Same in life and business. Realizing that the forward view is the only view, you can jettison thoughts and actions that don’t contribute to realizing your objectives.

I once had a job I didn’t like and wanted to quit. It paid well, the work fell into my sweet spot and the time demands were reasonable. But the president was a horrific manager and didn’t know the business, how to manage or solve problems. I had a fine deck chair on the Titanic. 

A trusted mentor said, “It isn’t about what you’re leaving, it’s what you’re moving toward.” Easily able to count the many reasons I was unhappy, at the time I couldn’t answer what I was moving toward. He put a massive burr under my saddle. Today, I seek to be optimized for joy, knowing what motivates me in ways that best serve those I work with.

The only thing standing in the way of your company being the best it can be, or you as a person, is your willingness to cast off fears, define what you want and trim your sail to get to that port.

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One Comment

  1. Mark, Some very sage advice that you bring to us. Thanks! Thanks for sharing, and for penning it! The high profile people that you quote as examples were all super high achievers, and it worked for them.

    Yet, “looking in the mirror” (at my own carrier), if I had “opted out” along the way when Hi-way Construction nearly shut us down in ’70 & ’71, or during the first fuel embargo of ’73, or when Carter prohibited retail financing of boats, to consumers, from February to June of 1980, or while the prime rate was 20+ %, or when the 1989 to 1991 S & L Crises caused a recession slashing our sales by some 60%, or during the “Dot Com Bubble” of 2000, or especially when the Genmar came tumbling down June 1 of 2009, and the industry became virtually paralyzed, the Upper Midwest wouldn’t today have several 50 + year old pristine dealerships serving the the boating public. Lots of dealers have gone through some dreadful times and have persevered. Just saying, persistence is a virtue that kept us serving Minnetonka Boaters for 50 + years. And the “beat goes on”, with the next generation owning and improving the business! Now 54 years.

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