When Should You Give up?

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Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard of Beyonce Knowles and her band Destiny’s Child. (If not, hide, because the sound you just heard is the sound of her Bey Hive coming to attack you).

But how many of you have heard of “LaTavia Roberson”? Anyone? Anyone?

Well, the reason why you’ve never heard of her is because she quit the band, just before it broke out and became one of the best-selling girl groups of all time. Something about creative difference or whatever bullshit, but the real reason is that LaTavia was pissed that Beyonce’s Dad, who was managing the group at the time, was giving too much spotlight to his daughter. LaTavia couldn’t stand not being number one.

Unfortunately for LaTavia, Beyonce went on to become a big star, and the remaining bandmates who stuck with her, Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams, managed to rocket to fame just a few short years after LaTavia quit.

This is why the tried, tested and true advice of “don’t EVER quit your dreams” applies here. If you quit too early, you don’t get the reward because you simply haven’t pushed past the hard part yet.

But is this advice always right? Does it make sense to never quit?

Well, in the case of Troy Hurtubise, this advice failed miserably. If you’ve never heard of Troy, he’s a dude from North Bay Ontario, who, after getting attacked by a bear when he was 20, devoted his life to developing a “bear resistant suit”.

So obsessed was he with this dream that he spent 7 years of his life and $150,000 (which was his family’s emtire life savings) developing a protective bear armour that looks like it was hacked together by a 40-year-old virgin living in his mom’s basement.

But don’t let the duct tape and flimsy mattress foam fool you. To test it out, Troy hired a bunch of bikers to beat him up with baseball bats for 2-hours, he then had a “friend” hit him with their car and throw him off a cliff. And guess what? The suit actually worked!

But as it turns out the market for bear-proof suits was, let’s say, a tad small.

And after bankrupting his family, almost losing his wife and son, without a rich (or stupid) investor in sight, he decided to put the suit up on Ebay to recoop some of his money. Turns out no one wanted to fight a bear that badly, so he pretty much ended up raffling the thing off.

Troy, is a classic example of someone who SHOULD’VE quit. Had he quit, not only would he have saved hundreds of thousand of dollars, he probably would’ve increased his life span by not repeated getting hit by cars.

Now, obviously, the Troy example is a bit extreme as most people aren’t that insane, but the point still stands.

Sometimes it makes perfect sense to quit something. Sometimes it makes sense to pack it up, retreat, and regroup for another day.

The point is not to NEVER quit, but quit strategically.

But how do you decide this? How do you decide WHEN to quit?

Well, before you quit, realize that at the beginning, you WILL get frustrated. You WILL WANT to quit. The human brain is designed to seek pleasure and reward. So when you don’t get that right away, naturally, you get discouraged and want to move on to something else.

This is the crucial part—the learning curve—that you have to push through.

And most people who’ve read Malcolm Gladwell’s books think that you have to put in 10,000 hours before you can quit. Because that’s how many hours it takes to become an expert.

But guess what? Most of us don’t NEED to become experts. We don’t need to become the next J.K. Rowling, the next Paul McCartney, or the next Michael Jordon. We just need to be good enough.

And according to Josh Kaufman, bestselling author of “the first 20 hours”, how you get good enough is with 20 hours of practice. He discovered this when he became a new Dad, turned into a sleep-deprived zombie and was frustrated that he had very little time do anything. So he set out to find a way to do what he loved the most (other than his daughter)–how to learn a new skill in as little time as possible. And what he realized is that he was able to learn almost anything in just 20 hours. Because by that time, you’ll have gotten good enough that you can correct yourself and keep improving. Before that point, you’re basically drowning in your own suck and can’t get out.

But don’t get me wrong. When I say 20 hours, I don’t mean just setting the clock and mindlessly practicing for 20 hours. I mean “deliberate” practice for 20 hours.

What do I mean by deliberate practice?

Deliberate practice means practice specific skills, paired with coaching and feedback, to improve over time. And once you master a part of that skill, increasing the difficulty, so you can further master that skill.

If you just practice in a vaccum, with no feedback and correction, and just repeat for 20 hours, that’s not deliberate practice.

Deliberate practice requires focus, strategy, feedback, and incremental improvements.

Now, after you’ve pushed past the hard part, and done deliberate practice for 20 hours, but are still not getting you any closer to your goal/dream, it might make sense to re-evaluate and see if it’s time to move on.

And if it pains you to quit anything, remember not to fall for the “sunk cost fallacy”. This is the idea that you’ve already sunk enough cost and time into something, you have to keep going because you can’t fathom spending that much effort but not getting the results you want.

Don’t fall for this.

You don’t want to be LaTavia and lose out on your dream by quitting too early, but you also don’t want to end up like Tory, and throw your entire life savings and years of your life at something that you should’ve quit a long time ago.

So to help you decide whether you should quit something, I made this handy chart you can use the next time you try to learn a new skill:


If you’re trying to learn a new skill, after you’ve practiced for a while and aren’t getting the results you want, ask yourself “Should I quit?”:



Ask yourself, have I put in at least 20 hours of deliberate practice?

If you haven’t, keep trying because you’re still at the most frustrating part of the process–the beginning.

If you have, ask yourself “Are you getting results”?

If you answered “no”, then there is probably something wrong with your process. Figure out if you’re really doing deliberate practice or just brute force. You may need some feedback and/or coaching to help you get some results. Fix the process.

If you answered “yes”, ask yourself if the results are getting closer to your dream. If it is, then great! Keep up the good work and keep going! It’s hard work but you know it’s worth it.

If answered “no”, it means you are working on something that isn’t helping you get to your dream. Maybe it’s the wrong dream, maybe it’s just a distraction. Maybe you’re climbing a ladder and it’s leaning against the wrong wall. At this point, it makes sense to ignore the “sunk cost fallacy” and just quit.

But just because you quit, doesn’t mean you can sit around and do nothing. Figure out what your dream is, and start again.

What do you think? Do you think it makes sense to give up sometimes? How do you decide when to give up?

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51 thoughts on “When Should You Give up?”

  1. While in many cases perseverance will get you to your goal, there are situations where giving up is the right answer.

    For example, I was trying to launch a new local business networking group – part of a large worldwide organisation.

    I put in a lot of time, contacting and inviting over 1000 small business owners after researching their businesses.

    I held the meetings in a top-end location and gave presentations to get members signed up. I even had one of the organisations top networkers visit the group.

    However, after several months of hard work and personal money spent I decided to call it a day.

    It proved to be the right decision, as no-one has been able to launch a group within the same county since then. The market had changed from a few years earlier.

    Sometimes you can have a great product, but if the local market does not want it then blind perseverance won’t get you a result.

    1. Wow, that’s amazing! Kudos on the hustle. And yes, knowing when to strategically quit is key to success. I’m glad you figured out the best timing to give up. And the good thing is that any skill you develop learning that lesson is always useful. Nothing is ever wasted.

  2. Well put! “Overnight” successes are anything but. There’s a balance between knowing when to quit and when to keep forging ahead, and sometimes the line between them is more like a wide band.

    Excellent use of flowcharts to drive the point home – especially that you build on them and walk the reader through the thought process.

    1. Thanks! Glad the charts are helpful.

      Before we gained experience and learned when to quit strategically, I thought that you should never quit ANYTHING. EVER. Boy, am I glad I got out of that mindset.

  3. Interesting take FireCracker. I noticed you didn’t mention passion or enthusiasm very much in this post. I think it’s totally OK to suck at stuff and keep doing it if you still have enthusiasm or passion for it.

    This post makes me wonder… are you contemplating quitting something?

    1. Hey, I loved this comment. I was truly world class at my career and it allowed me the resources to early retire and live the rest of my life at a far higher standard of living than I choose to. It indeed fit the model FireCracker proposed because I was gifted right from the start and stayed with it for decades. However I also started running decades ago and even with some 23,000 miles run to day I never have been a good runner. I ran no better than in the top third or fourth of my age group on any of the 15 marathons I ran and never qualified for the Boston Marathon, a fairly easy feat for decent runners. But because I had a fitness passion that running helped me satisfy I kept it up. No chance of ever being good at it, but in my sixties I’m still up with wife at 5:30AM pounding the pavement.

    2. Passion and enthusiasm definitely helps when it comes to pushing through obstacles. But in the beginning, it’s very easy to lose enthusiasm and get frustrated because of the learning curve. That’s why you have to push through it, enthusiasm be damned.

      And no, I’m not thinking about quitting anything (yet). The best quitting decisions I made was quitting my job 2 years ago. Everything I’ve done after that has been super rewarding!

  4. A great book to read that will the answer the age old question of “should I start a business”, give some pointers/tips is “Disciplined Entrepreneurship” by MIT professor Bill Aulet. Great read, easy to get through, makes a ton of sense. There are reasons why MIT created one of the largest economies in the world 🙂

  5. So, I recently failed by quitting as a litigator. I basically started out my career as a litigator in a large law firm, hated it, and thought that moving to government work would make me happier. I figured that it was the big law firm life that I hated.

    Well, after a year litigating as a government lawyer, I discovered that it wasn’t the big law firm environment that I didn’t like – it was just practicing law. So, with 4 years of litigation under my belt, and two different work environments, I came to the conclusion that it must be lawyering that I don’t like.

    No, I didn’t get 10,000 hours of lawyering in. But I think I gave it a shot and its okay to give up on it when you figure out it’s not for you.

    I’ve switched jobs again, into a non-traditional legal job. Still technically an attorney, but I’m not practicing law or representing clients anymore.

    1. Financial Panther, your comment really hits home. This is why I am so set on FIRE. I don’t think I will enjoy any other job in law more than what I have now, and I also came to the conclusion it must be lawyering I don’t like. I appreciated the honesty in this comment 🙂 Do you enjoy the non-traditional legal job more than the goverment job?

      1. I’m glad that hit home for you Canadian Lawyer! I imagine the legal field in Canada is pretty similar to here in the States – a lot of unhappy and disgruntled attorneys that stick it out because they don’t know what else they can do. For many, I’m sure it’s the crappy hours, but I bet there are a lot of people like us who just don’t like lawyering, but don’t even realize it.

        I’ve only been at the new job for a month now, and yes, I’m liking it a lot more. Stress and anxiety has melted away. People are nicer. I’m surrounded by similar people – folks who trained as lawyers but chose alternative legal paths for whatever reason.

      2. I think practicing law as a stepping stone to become FIRE and on the path to something better is a very valid path. I know of a travel blogger who used to be a lawyer (was super good at her job but hated it), now teaches writing full time, does photography, travels the world and loves it.

        It’s a good high-paying job that can be used as a stepping stone. Smart of you to figure that out 😀

    2. Interesting! Sometimes, you just have to try and see what works and what doesn’t for you. I didn’t think I liked coding (and I still don’t like it as much as writing), but I ended up enjoying it a lot more once I started developing the app with Wanderer for the non-profit. Turns out I’m a tactile person, so I like tasks like troubleshooting, visual layout, and fixing things more than architecting things (that’s Wanderer’s strong suit) or doing conceptual tasks.

      I’m glad you are so self-aware and brave enough to quit when things aren’t working out.

  6. The 20-hr rule is absurd. Try to learn to play the Brahms Violin Concerto in 20 hours if you’re not already an accomplished violinist! Try to learn differential calculus in 20 hours if you don’t already have well-developed skill in algebra, geometry, and trig (all of which typically takes at least a few months for adults and a few years for most kids.) Try to read Milton’s Paradise Lost in 20 hrs if you haven’t had years of experience reading and writing English. For most, except the most gifted, if they are used to learning everything in 20 hrs, the things they are learning must be pretty basic and simple. People have always laughed at (and understandably mistrusted) “90-day wonders”; still more should they beware of 20-hour wonders. Would you want a brain surgeon to operate on you who says “yesterday I was really into knee surgery but a fellow resident lent me his brain surgery book, and I’m sure I’ve got it all down pat”? Don’t pilots have to put in hundreds of hours (not 20) before they are licensed to fly?

    1. The 20-hour ‘rule’ does NOT describes a path to becoming an expert or mastering a skill. No one will become a first violin or surgeon in 20 hours. I think we all know that.

      What this concept is about is that if you want to learn the violin, you should give yourself at least 20 hours of *good, focused training* before you decide you can’t play the violin at all and quit. After those 20 hours the idea is that you will be able to play “twinkle twinkle” in a reasonably identifiable way and evaluate whether you actually like the violin or not. You will never be first violin if you don’t dedicate your full life to it AND were born with some natural talent. Same for all the other example.

      The post today was not about the choice between quitting or becoming an expert. It is about how not to quit too early, before you even get a feeling of the thing you are trying.

    2. I agree that 20 hours sounds awfully short. I wrote for years with minimal encouragement, and med school and residency are a slog. When I looked at the flow chart, though, I think it’s more of a question of evaluating every 20 hours if you’re moving in the right direction, which is reasonable.

      It’s a delicate balance between putting in your hours until you level up vs. slaving pointlessly your whole life. Although I’m sure we haven’t met the last of the bear suit guy. People like that don’t give up, and tend to persevere through failures until they finally break through–or break down, but I hope he wins. It makes a much better story.

    3. I think the confusion here is that 20 hours of practice is going to make you an expert. For that you would need 10,000 hours. And you need to be at that level of expertise to be proficient enough to play such a difficult piece.

      20 hours is more of a guideline to see if you can play a basic song on the violin. Most of us won’t need to play such a difficult piece. It’s more about getting a feel for whether we will enjoy playing the violin.

      Of course, there are difficult things like flying a plane or becoming a surgeon that you obviously can’t do with 20 hours of practice. But once again, those are professions that require you to be an expert in the field, not just dabble for 20 hours.

  7. I think the LaTavia story also exemplifies another common approach. If you surround yourself with successful, driven and smart people you will likely achieve more than if you try to go it alone. Some people are so focused on making a success as an individual that they actually hold themselves back.

    Also, I love how you call it “duck” tape. Throwback to WWII!

    1. Ha ha, I just realized that mistake too. Yes, that was a WWII reference, let’s go with that. *ahem*.

      And yes, you are absolutely right. You need other people to succeed. Back in school it was easy to shine as an individual, but in the real world, we all need a village to help us succeed. Excellent point.

  8. Oh wow this is SO useful (because it is so clear)!

    This post should be required reading immediately after finishing Seth Godin’s ‘The Dip’.

    1. Thanks, Jason! I haven’t actually read “the Dip” yet, but I did read “purple cow” and I enjoyed it. Is it good?

  9. I should show this to my physics class. I actually discussed the development of expertise and deliberate practice in my dissertation, but the topic was developing expertise in teaching physics. I read a lot of Ericcson on this.

    After learning three languages, I was convinced that I could learn any language. So, I set out to learn a 4th. After a few weeks of struggle, I quit. I didn’t quit because I didn’t think I could do it. I quit because I knew that I could do it, but it would require me putting forth the time to engage in deliberate practice, which wasn’t worth it for me. I mean seriously three languages is enough. Anyway, I think another piece of this is not wasting time on things if we’re not going to put forth the actual effort or time to be successful at it. This plus metacognition is something I talk to my students about all the time, especially first generation college students (which I also was) who may not know how to successfully study for college courses upon entry.

    Nice post!

    1. Very interesting – I also quit after learning French and Spanish (not quite fluent in Spanish). It just wasn’t worth the time.

      1. We learned some Spanish in Oaxaca and I’m quite sure we could become fluent in a few months.

        Was not motivated at all to learn French in high school, but I’m much more motivated now that we travel so much. Sometimes, we just need a better reason than “sure why not?” or “school is forcing us to do it.”

    2. Wow, just when I thought you couldn’t be any more impressive, you tell me you learned how to speak 3 languages! That’s amazing! I can only speak 2 fluently, and a tiny bit of 2 other ones.

      I’m on the same page as you. I didn’t pay much attention in French class in high school, so I thought I was bad at learning languages. But after travelling to more than 30 countries, I realized if you put in the effort, learning languages isn’t as hard as people think.

      Which 2 other languages do you speak?

    1. Thanks Omer! Wow, I’m so shocked that your 12 year old is interested in this stuff. Someone’s clearly going to kick butt and beat all of us at early retirement 😀

      1. Hey, FIREcracker-

        Im the 12 yo my dad was talking about. He shared this article with me a little after he read it, and i thought it was super helpful! Not only does it help with early retirement, and saving money, but also just day-to-day wishes. (like learning a new sport, language ect.)

        I find your articles and websites really helps(and your pretty witty to , a quality we all can appreciate) I would try to get my friends into it, but between you and me, they dont really have their priorities sorted out.

        And I have fun too while reading these articles, and I also learn a lot. (Schools should get better at that) Last time I checked, schools dont teach us about the never-ending anchor known as mortgage, or how taxes even work, or how to not end up working for the rest of your life just to put food on the table.

        So glad my dad found these articles.

        Sincerely, Faiqa

        1. Wow, I’m so honoured that you are reading this blog, Faiqa! You are the youngest person I’ve ever encountered who’s interested in financial independence. From your comment I can see you are very smart and curious (so much smarter than I was when I was 12). You rock! Your parents did a great job raising you!

          Welcome to blog and I’m glad the articles have been helpful! I have no doubt you’re going to be the youngest retiree and beat us all in your time to retirement! #Impressed #EarlyRetireeIntheMaking 🙂

  10. Seth Godin has a great book on this called “The Dip” but the basics are if you’re in a dead end. You should quit. If it just sucks. Then push through.

    That’s really a shame. I was just looking for a good near suit.

    1. Yeah, it’s too bad it didn’t work out for him. I know a lot of people who could use a good bear suit when they’re camping in Northern Ontario. I guess they’ll just have to make do with bear spray.

    1. Holy shit! That’s awesome! I’m not sure I’d be willing to test that on my own hand though. I feel like he should get a side job as a stunt man. He’d be so good at it.

  11. Interesting, and reminds me of an episode of the Frekonomics Podcast called “The Upside Of Quitting”

    I actually thought you will be talking about investment strategies and when to quit or stick to your investment strategy. Speaking of which, what would be a the equivalent of the 20-hour rule for investment? How long should one wait with a strategy that is losing money before quitting it? It a tough question of course, as investment is a long-term goal that can (and should) withstand years of decline in some circumstances without deviating from the strategy.

    This actually ties into a question I was going to email at some point: are you going to do a yearly review of the investment workshop in regard to investment returns, rebalancing etc? I noticed that when you do the bi-weekly buy you never show returns in your spreadsheet.

    1. For investing, as you said, since it’s a long-term strategy, there is no 20-hour rule equivalent. However, if you discover that you are too emotional to ride out a bear market and end up selling at the bottom, then investing is definitely not for you. So I guess that’s the test. Do you have the balls to stay cool, calm and collected during a market downturn, and buy into the storm? If not, investing is probably not for you.

      And to answer your question, yes, we will be doing a yearly review in Nov (1 year from the start of the workshop). It doesn’t make sense to look at weekly returns, because that’s not the point of long term investing. You ignore the gyrations and look at the long term view.

  12. Definitely didn’t expect this to start off with Beyonce and Destiny’s Child…but I do expect the next article to start with something about Sam Roberts or The Tragically Hip.

    As I was reading and slowly nodding my head I thought the post was coming to a close then you kicked it up a notch and through in some process flows. Digging it. Were you a BA in a past life?

    1. Ahh, Brandon, Brandon, Brandon. Trust a Chautauqua UK attendee to geek out with me over process flows. And this is why FIRE people are my people. 🙂

    1. Well, that’s not exactly the point of the article, but yes, part of it is not to quit when it’s hard at the beginning. But it does make sense to quit strategically when it no longer goes towards your goal. The point is not to NEVER quit, but only quit when it’s strategic and makes sense.

  13. Late to the party here, but this is immediately one of my favorite posts from you guys. I’m sure you’ve already heard this, but just in case:


    This is a classic Freakonomics episode on how quitting, and quickly, is one of the best things we can do as humans. We have limited time: we can’t waste years on the wrong goals!

    That’s not to say we should toss out grit and all its benefits. But that we should take a strategic approach, say, driven by a flow chart, and then once we have determined we’re on the wrong goal, quit, and fast.

    1. I love Freakonomics! Didn’t know about that episode but I’m going to check it out now. Thanks for the recommendation!

  14. Depends on how delusional a person is. Recall those folks that go on shows like American Idol who think they can sing, but can’t, yet they vow that they’re going to stick to it.

    1. Yes, this can apply to investment growth as well. Due to the power of compounding, once you get enough momentum, you get a lot of gain with very little effort.

      Good insight!

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