When to quit

Kathryn Crawford Saxer Career Management

Quit or persevere? As a career coach, that’s one of the hardest questions I work on with my clients: Should they walk away from a difficult situation or grit it out?

A coaching client called me, outrage in her voice. She had been passed over for a promotion. Another client described a belittling work environment, his shoulders slumping as he described losing confidence in his abilities.

Stay or go? Walk away or double down?

Business writer Seth Godin’s 2007 book, “The Dip: A Little Book that Teaches You When to Quit (and When to Stick),” has a couple of insights to help answer that question.

When things are challenging, you could be in a “dip” — that plateau when you’re working really hard but not yet seeing results. If you can recognize and lean into the dip, Godin says, you could reap the rewards of your effort once you break through that plateau.

On the other hand, you could be stuck in a dead end.

So how do you know if you’re in a dip or a dead end? Here are a couple of hints.

Draw the curve. The x-axis is effort; the y-axis is results. If you increase your effort (planning, preparation, relationships, hard work, etc.), do you see the curve rising to the right or flatlining? If it’s a flat line, let’s talk about your exit strategy.

Plan how to “rededicate.” Think through the plan, the milestones, the tactical next steps of how you’re going to get through the dip. “The opposite of quitting is rededication,” Godin writes. “The opposite of quitting is an invigorated new strategy designed to break the problem apart.”

Imagine the long term. Picture yourself in six months, in a year, in 10 years. Is that future version of yourself glad you persevered, or is your future self slogging through the same hard thing you’re dealing with today?

My coaching client who was passed over for promotion certainly thought about quitting. Instead, she “rededicated” herself to her career growth at her company, and six months later, she was promoted. She pushed through the dip (and got herself on to the next one!).

My client with the slumping shoulders is not able to improve his work situation, and he doesn’t have the interest or drive to “rededicate.” That’s looking like a dead end. Time to quit.

“Too often, we get stuck in a situation where quitting seems too painful, so we just stay with it, choosing not to quit because it’s easier than quitting,” Godin writes. “It’s a waste because of the opportunity cost — you could be doing something far better, and far more pleasurable, with your time.”

Knowing whether to stick it out or walk away is hard. Asking yourself whether you’re in a dip or at a dead end is a good place to start looking for an answer.

First published in The Seattle Times. Read my archive of Seattle Times Explore columns.