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When to Stick with Something — and When to Quit

Here is an excerpt from an article written by André Spicer for Harvard Business Review and the HBR Blog Network. To read the complete article, check out the wealth of free resources, obtain subscription information, and receive HBR email alerts, please click here.

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When Vontae Davis walked off the field at halftime, the Buffalo Bills were down 28-6 to the Los Angeles Chargers. But instead of huddling with teammates, the Bills cornerback quit football entirely, right then and there. Later that evening, Davis announced his retirement on social media, saying “today on the field, reality hit me hard and fast: I shouldn’t be out there anymore.” Many were outraged, including Bills linebacker Lorzenzo Alexander: “It’s just completely disrespectful to his teammates.” But some disagreed, saying Davis was “a goddamn working class hero.”

While unorthodox, Davis’s abrupt mid-game retirement sparked strong emotions for a variety of reasons, including a question many of us ask: How long should I stick with something? Fortunately, we don’t have to rely on NFL commentators to find answers to this question.

Perseverance has received lots of support in recent years from a variety of schools of research. One is from psychologists studying grit. They have found the capacity to stick to a task — particular when faced with difficulties – is a crucial factor in explaining the success of everyone from kids in the national spelling bee to recruits at West Point to Ivy league undergraduates.

Then there’s the idea that persevering in the face of adversity can prompt learning and improvements of skills. Carol Dweck’s work on growth mindsets has found that those who treat challenges and limitations as an opportunity to develop and learn tend to perform better in the long term. They persist when they face challenges, and the reward is a deeper and wider skill set.

A final benefit of perseverance is that we don’t know when our luck will turn. A recent study of the careers of nearly 29,000 artists, filmmakers, and scientists found that most of them had a hot streak in their career when their work received wide acclaim. These hot streaks happened at a random time in their career, however. They weren’t related to age, experience, or even being more productive. They just happened. This suggests that if you’re thinking about quitting, you should remember a hot streak could be just around the corner.

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Here is a direct link to the complete article.


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