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Quitters Never Win

The wisdom of Winston Churchill and my older brother is put to the test.

by Dear Jon
November 23, 2004

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ACTUAL LETTER TO DEAR JON:

Dear Jon,
 
How do you know when it's time to quit?

Brick Wall
 
Dear Brick,
 
My older brother taught me that “Winners never quit and quitters never win.” He misunderstood that to mean that among children at play, those who wanted to stop one game and do something else automatically forfeited, no matter what the score was. Even if he was losing 30 to 6 in one-on-one basketball, his strategy was to keep playing until the kid beating him wanted to stop and play something else. “That means I win,” my brother would say, “Because winners never quit and quitters never win.”
 
Winston Churchill delivered a three sentence speech to a university commencement, saying, “Never give in! Never give in! Never, never, never!”
 
On the other hand popular management seminars and self-help books (which I do not have time to look up or credit) have stated, “The definition of crazy is to keep doing the same things but expect different results.” This is a corollary to a law of executive management which I also do not have time to cite, “Every system is perfectly designed to produce its results.” Systems that produce failure are perfectly designed to for failure.
 
There are many levels at which you might be frustrated. If your life-management is producing failure in your marriage or your life’s aspirations, it is time to examine your life-system for issues of dependency, addiction, and unhealthy coping mechanisms. If that is what you are talking about, seek real help from professionals and clergy; don’t wait for an internet columnist to get around to finally answering your letter after a month.
 
I don’t mind looking at shallower levels. If your goal is to earn 6 figures and benefits but you never finished college, something must change. You would be “crazy” for trying to climb the corporate ladder with no degree, because this system is perfectly designed to produce the results you are experiencing, where you stay on the low rungs. Go to college.
 
Job frustrations are the subject of Dilbert® cartoons by Scott Adams. At your job you might find yourself in a failing system, where a leadership vacuum worsens the bottlenecks that produce failure. Systems fail through the shifting of responsibility: “That’s not my job” is the mantra of a workforce where the chief product will be failure. When failure occurs the mantra shifts to “It’s not my fault!” There is a time to walk off the job. There is a time to run away. Persevering is not worth getting burned out by stress or getting burned by misplaced blame in an unhealthy system.
 
Those who know the person behind Dear Jon might be a little disturbed at what I am about to say next, however, it is consistent with what I have presented professionally in other forums: Leave behind the people who are determined to fail. It is one thing to be learning and changing and making mistakes while growing—I do not mean such people should be abandoned because of their mistakes. I mean, people who are refusing to learn, and change, and grow, and are stuck on patterns of failure, should be left behind. This calls for much wisdom to know the difference between the learning person who makes mistakes, and the stubborn person for whom failure is inevitable.
 
So, if you feel like you are hitting a brick wall, it is because the path you are on leads directly to a brick wall. It is crazy to follow the same path in the hope that for some reason the brick wall has disappeared. To quit on the path you are following is not the same as quitting on your goals. Churchill refused to admit defeat in war, but his conduct of the war was flexible as he learned from mistakes.
 
Never quit on your goals. Of course, that means you should have goals that are worth your perseverance. That is a whole other discussion. Meanwhile, remember that sometimes the frustration of people who feel like they have hit a brick wall, is that they do not really know their goals, or they confuse the path they follow with the goal itself.
 
And if you’ve already quit on this article, it means I win. So there.
 
 
ACTUAL LETTER TO DEAR JON:

Dear Jon,

Should I apply for a position in a company I was once laid off from? It has been a couple years since this happened and I have worked at other places since.

Sincerely,
Looking for work
 
Dear Look,
 
I depends on definition. It used to be that a “lay-off” meant an over-supply of inventory, so that production of new goods or services would be slowed down and workers would be told not to come to work until further notice. This is different from down-sizing, in which the work-force is reduced permanently. It is also different from being “fired.” To be fired means that the boss wants someone else to replace you. Sometimes a person is fired for political reasons; most of the time unproductive people are fired, and the excuse of everyone else’s “politics” provides a self-defeating coping mechanism.
 
If it has been years since your lay-off, it sounds as though your lay-off became a permanent downsizing. It might be appropriate to apply with a company from which you were downsized to see if the company can fit you into its reorganization. It is not usually appropriate to re-apply with a company from which you were fired.
 
Maybe your problem is that you do not know the difference. Here are some clues as to whether you were “downsized” or “fired.”
  • If a rep from the Personnel Department coached you on applying for another position within the company, you were “downsized.”
     
  • If a security guard followed you off the parking lot, you were “fired.”
     
  • If your supervisors encouraged you to list them as references, maybe you were “downsized.”
     
  • If your supervisors obtained restraining orders keeping you at least five hundred feet from the company’s entrances at all times, chances are you were “fired.”
     
  • If as a result of your departure the company is able to report corporate “restructuring” to its share-holders, thus causing a boost in share prices, you were only “down-sized.”
     
  • If as a result of your departure the company is able to settle with state prosecutors for a reduced fine, you were “fired.”
     
  • If no one else is now doing your job, you were “down-sized.”
     
  • If someone else is now doing your job, you were “fired.”

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