“Winners never quit and quitters never win.” -Coach Lombardi

Coach Lombardi’s quote about quitters is one that has stuck with me since my childhood. My parents made it clear to us that the merits of seeing things through to the end was considered a family virtue. To this day, the thought of “quitting” anything to which I have committed gives me pause. As a father, I’ve made it a point to steer my son toward this philosophy. At the same time, I must admit that though my default is to see things through, three of the best decisions I have made in my life involved quitting.

As a midshipman at the United States Naval Academy, I was a proud member of the soccer team. In fact, as a plebe (freshman in civilian speak), I was a starting forward on a team that won the league and qualified for the NCAA Tournament. Devoting the time and energy to be a contributing member of that team came with a cost…my academic performance. Faced with the reality that I may not be fully prepared for success both on the pitch and in the classroom, I quit the soccer team and made my grades priority one…they improved dramatically.

Upon graduation from college, I was commissioned as an Ensign with orders to attend flight school where I would realize my Top Gun induced dream of becoming a Naval Aviator. I waited and waited, and waited some more, as the Navy continued to postpone my school dates. As weeks turned into months, with nothing to do but play all day, I began to question my dreams. I researched other options in the Navy that were potentially available to me and opportunity found me in the form of the Cryptologic Community. The opportunity costs of waiting for flight school were too great, so I quit before I even started to pursue new dreams.

Soon after I reached my initial service obligation in the Navy, I decided there were more appealing opportunities in the private sector and tendered my resignation to my Commanding Officer. After a month of letting the process work its course, I received a phone call from the assignment officer asking me if I would reconsider my decision in favor of an opportunity he knew would interest me. After short deliberation with my wife, I was convinced that the opportunity I truly valued would be realized if I withdrew my resignation. Notice I am still proudly wearing the uniform.

All too often we see quitting as failing and a demonstration of weakness, but in reality, there are many scenarios where choosing to stay the course in favor of quitting is the failure. Too many of us try especially hard to force a return on investment as a way of justifying the time and effort we had previously committed. Certainly, these sunk costs are considerations, but should not serve as decision drivers. Over time, I have quit things because of the greater opportunities I perceived with a change in course. Likewise, I have stayed the course because I saw greater opportunity on the current path.

Life is about creating opportunity, not justifying our decisions to date. As leaders, we have a responsibility to steer toward opportunity and, as parents, we must guide our children in charting their own course. Steering by our wake merely leads us down a path that strives to justify the decisions we made yesterday and distracts us from our mandate of creating opportunities to realize the best tomorrow possible.

As I look around, I can’t help but think more people should embrace the idea that winners do quit and quitters do win!

  • What should you quit?
  • What should you see through?
  • Are you strong enough to know when to quit and when to persist?