Eileen Kern

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What Does It Mean to Quit?

Last night, I went out with some friends to celebrate the end of a specific chapter of a friend’s life. He had been struggling to juggle a few different opportunities at the same time, and finally decided to throw his energies 100% into one–and phase himself out of the other.

Choosing to redirect one’s professional focus makes me think of two philosophies that contradict each other:

  • “Quitters never win, and winners never quit” (attributed to Vince Lombardi).
  • You can only get ahead if you leave some things behind.

In these two philosophies is the following tension: Young professionals today are aware of one kind of workplace in the not-so-distant past, where workers would retire after 30-40 years with the same company and be gifted a golden watch to celebrate their dedicated service.

Pocket Watches

We are even more aware that, for most American workers, that ideal is over–and, for those who choose to pursue that ideal, there are economic risks. Like what, you ask? A colleague sent me a link to an article by Cameron Keng titled “Employees Who Stay In Companies Longer Than Two Years Get Paid 50% Less.” You may find the article to be an interesting read. (I would caution you to keep your math straight while reading Keng’s figures, and don’t assume that the path suggested can or will work for everyone.)

There is no single correct approach to one’s career. “Loyal” employees and “job-hopping” employees–and people anywhere on the spectrum in between–all may find success, fulfillment, and wealth down their chosen career path. But for individuals who want the 40-years-and-a-watch kind of career stability, quitting a job or a project can be very difficult.

My friend has known for a while that something had to give, but he didn’t want to feel like a quitter. The day before he gave notice, he and I had a long conversation about things like “opportunity cost.” I cheekily pointed out to him that to keep working on this project was not dissimilar to quitting his other efforts–at least during the hours that this specific project owned his time.

Unrelated to my friend’s situation, I recently wrote an article for the Hire Expectations Institute on the subject “How to Quit Your Job with Dignity and Grace” that may be of additional interest.

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