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If you’re like me, you had teachers, coaches, parents, and other well-meaning people tell you, “Quitters never prosper.” And I believed them … because it sounded wise and encouraging. I think the heart behind the idea is good, not wanting us to be quitters and building up a strong work ethic and grit, which are great qualities that we want in our kids and ourselves.
Yeah, and we still have the problem of kids not having enough grit. So much softness and willingness to quit, expecting it to come easy to them. This is definitely an issue and something to keep teaching, but as I’ve been a teacher and gotten older and had my own kids, I’m learning that I think we’re going about this the wrong way.
I was reading Seth Godin a while back and he said: “Winners quit all the time. They just quit the right stuff at the right time.” And that really resonated with what I’ve been feeling for a long time and even teaching with my students.
It’s funny because while at the same time we’ve been telling them to try hard and not quit because “Quitters never prosper,” we’ve been giving everyone a trophy to protect them from bad feelings when they try really hard and fail.
Yeah, and I think there’s a contradiction here. I think what would be a better approach is teaching our kids to quit the right things. I straight up told my middle school students, “Maybe you’re good at that and maybe you suck at that. There’s no shame in sucking at something. That just means that thing isn’t your strength. You’ve got strengths...lots of them...but that one is a weakness or something you don’t care about.
So what if we could find a way to teach our kids grit and how to quit? What would that look like? How would that give our students (and maybe even ourselves) a greater self-awareness of our strengths and weaknesses?
I think the students would feel more free to find what they’re passionate about. I think they’d feel less shame for sucking at something. I think they’d feel more freedom to leave things they don’t care about and hunt for the things they’re great at. Yes, internal grit is important, but isn’t it so much more valuable to have grit in something you love? I know I make so much more progress and grit is easier when I love something.
"You're totally killing their dreams?" a student once said to me. I responded, "I'm not killing their dreams. I'm asking them to think about whether they should." And that's real. We need people in our lives asking us to think about what we're good at and what we're not. It's one of the reasons I like Simon Cowell from American Idol. For all his lack of loving tone, what Simon Cowell did well is tell the truth. Sure, someone could have bought him some tact for Christmas, but he wasn't going to let any delusional person leave that studio thinking they were a good singer if they weren't.
Now, we need people asking and saying those things in love, just as badly as we need people urging us with love to get more gritty.
What if you suck at it, but need to be good at it? Then get as good as you need to be, but be a realist about how good you can get. Make sure your weaknesses don't take you down, then double down on your strengths.
What if you really love it, but you suck at it? There's no reason we shouldn't do things we love, but we might need a reality check about whether we can earn a living doing it. Maybe we need to teach and learn the difference between things we can do for a profession.
So all said, let’s certainly not abandon teaching grit, but let’s round it with teaching when to quit. Because we need both.
Conversation of the Day: What is something you quit doing? And how did it feel?
Hop on over to watch the video and share your thoughts in the conversation.