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Quit or Fail?

A question on this topic was posted to LinkedIn Answers recently. The OP wanted to know whether it was better to fail at something, or to quit before one failed. As you might expect, there were the usual "quitters never win" responses. My thoughts are that it depends on the situation – there are times when failure can be damaging to one's future, if the failure somehow becomes permanently attached to your record, such as failing classes becomes a part of your transcript, or failing in a high-profile business venture becomes chronicled on the web. OTOH, if you are a critical part of a team, and you quit, your team members may be angry and bitter because you let them down. I will admit (as you've probably guessed if you're a regular reader), that I would prefer to quit rather than fail, if quitting is an option, because I feel I've been hurt professionally by failure (academic failure, to some extent – my ug and grad GPAs were not stellar). Another consideration here is that in the interview process for software jobs (from what I've read about and experienced), there tends to be more of a focus on quantifiable attributes. Whether or not one failed at some particular task is more likely to be an issue than whether one quit. This may relate to something lrc mused about some time ago on whether it is better to be liked or respected.

Someone else posted a comment to the tune that failure gives someone an opportunity to decide what they really want. Again, I think it depends. There are people who, despite failure, still want to succeed at the thing they are trying to do. They're just trying to figure out how to do it. I posted a response giving as an example an older-than-average, higher-paid-than-average baseball player who is a career .200 hitter and in danger of being released. Most baseball players want very much to be baseball players; they're not "trying to figure out" what they want to do with their lives. But they all have to take into consideration that they won't be young forever; there will come a day when due to age they can't play as well as the younger players. So they have to ask themselves if they are struggling, if this is really the time to call it quits and move on to the next thing, whether it be in baseball (coaching, scouting), peripheral to baseball, but involved (broadcasting), or something else entirely. Or is there something else they can do (but haven't yet figured out) that can turn their careers around.

I thought of an even better example. There was a pitcher named Mike Scott who started his career with the Mets. He pitched poorly (granted, on poor teams), and wound up being traded to the Astros, where he continued to struggle. In 1985, he was able to turn his career around because Roger Craig, a former pitcher, taught him how to throw a split-fingered fastball. If you look at Scott's stats, you'll see a dramatic improvement from 1985-1989. He was so dominant in 1986, the Mets had to win Game 6 of the NLCS in order not to face him.

As a side note, in defense of currently trying to hang in there and find software work (or at least something related to software work), I hope I can find my Roger Craig that can give or teach me something that can help me be competitive again.