Why Quitting Feels So Lousy – And Seth Godin is Wrong

Posted by on Nov 21, 2016 in entrepreneurship | 2 comments

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“I give up.”

I don’t know about you, but these three little words make my skin crawl.

In our society, the most common wisdom around the issue of quitting is the well-known Vince Lombardi quote “Winners never quit and quitters never win.”

Let’s be honest here – we don’t think much of people who are quitters.

As someone who was raised to never, ever, ever give up, I do sometimes have a difficult time sorting this behavior out- for myself and my clients.

A perfect example is one that came up recently with a client of mine.

He progressed to a certain point in his professional development and then, just as he was about to make a big breakthrough and have a massively successful result….. he stopped. He consciously refused to take the next difficult but rewarding step to accomplish his goal. He would not budge. Fear of upsetting the apple cart with certain people, fear of repercussions stopped him dead in his tracks. (They were completely unfounded fears, by the way)

This got me to thinking…..

What makes some people stick it out and overcome adversity while others quit?

As a coach, I get to see example after example of people excusing themselves, justifying quitting, and sometimes even getting angry when I coach them to move beyond their “terror barrier.”

I decided to do a little sleuthing on the subject.

In a New York Times article entitled “Winners Never Quit. Well, Yes They Do” marketing guru and author of the book  “The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit (and When to Stick)” Seth Godin is quoted as saying, “Americans have been brainwashed by Vince Lombardi… Rather than thinking about winning, they’re playing not to lose,” he said.

I reviewed several articles on the topic of quitting, and each, in their own way, noted that if and when to quit depends…..

This was not getting me anywhere.

What I wanted to know is how to determine when you are giving up vs. when are you giving up on yourself.

I think the answer lies first in creating a distinction:

Quitting vs. Giving Up

Is there a difference?

For the sake of this post, let’s define quitting as stopping something for one or more reasons, carefully considered, logically analyzed. In quitting, you might feel a bit of emotion, yes, but primarily you are making a conscious decision to terminate an action, a project, a job, relationship, activity, a business that no longer feels like it is a fit for where you are in your development.

Giving up, however, is a whole other thing. It is being unwilling to withstand the discomfort it would take to break through the “terror barrier” to new fulfillment or success.

It’s in the ‘giving up’  that I see people losing out the most – in opportunity for growth, self-satisfaction, and feelings of self-confidence – and it’s where I see them most torn.

A number of years ago, a former mentor of mine, Suzanne Evans, discussed there is a kind of cycle around giving up:

  • It starts with second guessing yourself
  • Fear sets in
  • You start blaming others for your feelings of fear/projecting the problem onto others
  • There is a feeling of overwhelm and it’s all too much
  • More blame
  • Leading to finally giving up
  • Immediately, there is a brief respite, a feeling of relief.
  • This relief is short lived because then you start to feel lousy about giving up, and you second guess that decision…

and on and on it goes. (I have a friend who’s been in the giving up cycle around her living situation for 3 years. Three years!)

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The issue of quitting vs. giving up has particularly emotional overtones when it comes to business owners.

Entrepreneurs can be a very determined, hardy bunch, and giving up is not readily in their DNA – so they have a very difficult time determining the distinction between knowing “when to hold em, when to fold ’em” strategy (i.e. quitting the right thing at the right time) – and  or just being too fearful to stay the course. (in all transparency, I have experienced this myself more than once).

For these folks, sadly, they will sometimes “give up 5 minutes before the miracle.”

Why Giving Up Feels So Lousy

The real answer to why we feel like crap after giving up is because deep down, we know we have bailed on ourselves!

We didn’t believe enough in ourselves to keep at something until it clicked in.

We couldn’t stand the heat or discomfort so much that giving up seemed the only way out.

I assert there is a better way:

Remember and re-focus on your Big Why, your purpose.

So simple, but not easy you say? Duh!

Check this one last story out……

A number of years ago, I interviewed a man for my book who had developed the first apartment owner/apartment seeker matching site in France (this is before Craig’s List). In those days, such a site couldn’t be whipped up on WordPress in a matter of hours.

It took him 3 long years.

He devoted his whole life and life savings into the development of that site, testing it, marketing it.

He lived in a small studio flat and ate pasta and tuna fish. For 3 years.

Then, it launched, took off and it was bought by a big kahuna media site – for $21 million.

I ask you – how many of you would have stayed in that effort without quitting? How many would have taken the risk, stayed the course, endured the discomfort for so, so long, without any guarantee of success?

But all most people focus on is that he sold it for multi-millions. They don’t see or feel the hardship he was willing to endure to reach this end game.

So where does this leave us on the issue of giving up? Is it still at “it depends”?

Here are my top 5 takeaways to help you stay the course in the face of uncertainty:

  1. Giving up will feel lousy and will not do a damn thing for your self confidence.
  2. Know the distinction between quitting and giving up. They are very different and done for completely different reasons.
  3. When faced with the “crazy thinking” about giving up, remember your Big Why (there was a major reason you embarked on this thing in the first place. And it was a powerful motivator)
  4. Surround yourself with others who have weathered storms and stayed the course successfully. Do not just find people who love to tell you you have too much on your plate, or you should throw in the towel because the odds are against you (they love saying this so they can justify it when they throw in the towel on things).
  5. Reward yourself for not giving up. Staying power, weathering storms, being able to have stick-to-it-ness is a rare skill and ability and will always be an asset in your tool belt.

While I’m not all that much in alignment with Seth Godin’s take on this topic, I do agree with his advice in this area:

“…. the worst time to quit is when you’re feeling the most pain.”

One of the quotes that I read as I was researching for this piece really hit home for me, so it’s what I’ll leave you with in closing:

Giving up is always an option, but it is never my choice.



  1. I think we are talking apples and oranges here. In the sports arena, quitting, quitting on a coach, quitting on teammates during a game or season is unacceptable. (Yes, there are always exceptions) But as a business coach, assisting people with realizing their dreams, I think we have to be careful about what we call quitting or giving up. In your story about the apartment seeker site, the developer toiled for three long years before hitting it big. Depending on his initial reasons for starting the business, he “Gave up” on managing the site because of the huge reward. Others may give up for much larger rewards that we will never know about. Here is a story of my own. I client of mine had a business with one employee that was not doing as well as others around the nation in larger cities. He complained to me constantly about why the model did not work locally. His wife was complaining that he was not bringing home enough money. He had one kid in college, one still in high school and special needs child in their early 20s. He was difficult to talk to and to stay positive with. I coached him on the possibility of gaining full time employment. Long story short, the moment he accepted a full time position with a firm, he was a new man. Acted different, talked different, had a bounce in his step. It has been three years and he is very successful. Sometimes we are not that good at what we are currently doing. We may need small tweaks or wholesale changes in our career. We are lucky if someone we trust helps point that out to us so that we can quit?, give up? course correct! I think you are a very smart person to know when to make adjustments, big or small, before implosion.

    • You make a very excellent point,Tom.
      To clarify, in my post I talked about quitting as being a logical, well-thought out decision, and that when something no longer serves you or your life/values, that is one thing.
      In the case of the developer, his goal was always to build the business and sell it for the right price, so selling it was not giving up – it was in his plan.
      In the case of your client, he wasn’t giving up – he was choosing to take a path that fit him and his family much better, when the other didn’t.
      The giving up is coming from a different mindset.
      Thanks for sharing your experience!

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