Is Quitting a Positive?

I found an interesting discussion on the positive sides of quitting at the Freakonomics blog. As a college athlete here at SUU, the idea of quitting is something that should never enter my mind, in every aspect of my life. But can there be positives, if done at the right time, to being a quitter?

The discussion focuses on the two concepts of, sunk costs and opportunity costs. Can sunk costs really be so overbearing, that it seems impossible to leave behind the current investment and move on to another one? There were a couple of examples that looked at professional athletes, specifically baseball players. I think baseball is a good sport to look at, it seems like, as a sport, a lot of athletes are drafted several years before graduating college. One player, Justin Humphries, gives an account about a time when he was reflecting on his situation in life. He was drafted into the minor leagues, where he had one goal in his mind, making it to the major leagues. He endured several injuries, and bounced around the minors for a while, until at age 27 he decided to quit. How could he quit when he had put so much time and energy into baseball? Especially when he had not accomplished his goal of joining a major league team? Was all the time he spent just a waste? (sunk costs) If you look at it from a economic point of view, it very well could be, playing in the minor leagues was not making him much money at all. He recounts making $2,000 a month, living with his parents, no degree, not even an associates and thinking that there were opportunities that he was missing out on. (opportunity costs) Should he continue to wallow in the despair of his sunk costs of baseball play? Or, quit and seek out more profitable opportunity costs that could improve his future? He felt like baseball was a means of sinking his life away, but that he had an opportunity to rise up and get something more.

Is Humphries experience so different from many other things we may encounter in life? I know baseball was the subject, but so many life lessons can be taken from being able to quit and accepting that decision. As hard as it might be to accept, I can see a brighter side to this whole quitting idea. Sometimes poor decisions are made in everyone's life and it seems as if it can be too hard to let go of poor decision because, too much has been invested. But if other options are considered, or weighed in comparison to what has been lost and what can be obtained in the future. Can there be greater things obtained by quitting? Or should the idea of quitting be something that is unheard of, and looked down upon? It seems that there can be a time for quitting, a chance to seek a better economic life for those that feel lost in their sunken costs. But there can be opportunities to have a brighter future!


Jessica said...

Interesting post. In reading it, it dawned on me that this may be a variation the classic glass-half-empty/full perspective. Are you quitting if you decide to abandon a course of action that is not bearing fruit to pursue another course that you feel has a better chance of success, or to abandon all hope and becoming a bitter, spiteful shell of who you once were?

Corporations face the decision of "quitting" often. Management has to decide whether to continue dedicating resources to myriad projects and efforts, or to discontinue them in the pursuit of others.

Dr. Tufte said...

This is very interesting and thoughtful Jeremy.

Economically, I don't think this sort of decision is any different from how we analyze profit maximization and the shutdown rule in business. What is different is that in personal situations, a lot of your costs and benefits are non-monetary. This makes them harder to count, but the analysis remains the same.

Personally, I've lived in 6 different places, and I've found Utah is the place that most imposes moral positions at the expense of practical consideration on choices like quitting. I don't know if that's good or bad, but it's definitely noticeable.

BTW: here's a life-lesson I heard 20 years ago. The photographer at our wedding found out I was a professor, and said "in another lifetime I was a botany professor". What was interesting was that he felt he'd had two lives, and didn't have regrets about either one. Clearly, he was not hung up on his sunk costs of education.