HR Blog

Winners Know When to Quit

By Dee Yingst

Quitters can and do win; it’s all about the timing

We’ve all heard the saying: winners never quit, and quitters never win.  The problem with that advice is that it’s not true. Not only do quitters win, sometimes it’s necessary to quit to win. The trick is knowing what to quit and when. Here’s where we can find some great advice in an unlikely place – a country music song from 1978.

This old Kenny Rogers song goes something like this:

“You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em,

Know when to fold ‘em,

Know when to walk away,

And know when to run” 

It’s the story of advice a man received from a gambler on a long and boring nighttime train ride.

I’m no gambler (I often joke that I could lose a one-ticket raffle) but I think the advice goes way beyond card playing.  This advice can be applied in many situations where you find yourself frustrated – especially at work.

Here’s how I think it applies to workplace frustration.

 Know when to hold ‘em. When you have a tough situation it’s important to maintain perspective, step back, and hold on before taking action. Remember, things aren’t always what they seem.  If someone is complaining, criticizing, or even just venting, often the best response is silence. Know when to hold those comments to yourself.

Another way to look at this advice, is to be patient. Sometimes we don’t get what we want right away because there are other things going on of which we are unaware. The trick is to decide whether what you want is worth waiting for.

Know when to fold ‘em. This is the lesson of futility. Sometimes it can be hard to make the decision to give up a fight but stay in the arena: when there’s enough reason to stay but you’ve run into a wall when dealing with a particular situation or a person. This is a great illustration of fighting a battle in your workplace – maybe it’s for a change in policy, or a personal quest for a different position or set of responsibilities. This lesson reminds us that we need to make sure we don’t lose sight of the reason for the fight and are just focused on winning and forget what we’re fighting for.

I find this lesson especially important when you work with someone you’ve been trying to get through to but nothing seems to work.  

We’ve all worked with someone for whom there is no right answer.

It doesn’t matter how nice, how measured, or how tactful you are, this person will decide that the message has a particular (usually negative) meaning and will act accordingly. This one is hard because we’re taught to never give up on people, but we have to remember that choosing to use your energy in a different way (i.e., not allowing ourselves to be drained by these people) is not defeat. It is taking back our power and making the decision where to channel our energy. That is victory.

Know when to walk away.  This is the sometimes you have to quit to win lesson: you’ve stated your case for the change you want and you’ve been holding ‘em for a while… and you’re just tired.  You’ve done a good job – you’ve been loyal, you’ve been hardworking, you’ve been ambitious and you’re still in the same place. It’s not that you necessarily dislike your job or your employer – you probably really enjoy the people you work with but you just don’t have the same energy – the buzz that gets you excited anymore. Maybe you just feel unappreciated and a little restless.

Sometimes the single greatest thing you can do for your career and yourself, is to walk away.

Find another opportunity – something that will feel fresh and bring you a new energy.  You are the author of your own story; if you don’t like where it’s headed, change it.

And know when to run. If you are so unhappy in your job that you have the Sunday-night-dreads – that sick feeling in the pit of your stomach about going to work on Monday – then it’s way past time to walk away and start running. If the first conversation you have with new staff members is to tell them about how unhappy you are, that’s a pretty good sign too. Ramp up your job search efforts. Maybe it’s time to talk with a reputable recruiter to help you polish your resume or refine your search. You probably spend more of your waking hours at work than at home; life is way too short to spend that time feeling miserable.  Don’t be that person that hates their job but keeps going anyway and spreading negativity. BTW: if you’re this miserable, it shows. Believe it.
Every job you take, project you work on, and coworker interaction you have is a gamble. Others may hide their cards but you know what you’re holding; play accordingly.