Preemtive Quitting

In an interview with Terry Gross on NPR’s Fresh Air, Jimmy Fallon said that he quit Saturday Night Live to avoid conflict with colleagues. Despite a professional life that up to that point was focused solely on a staff position on SNL, he left the program to pursue a film career. It is noteworthy that he did not actually encounter incivility and unresolved conflict with his peers on SNL. He heard that these things happen.

So, why is merely anticipating workplace incivility a sufficient reason to quit your life’s dream?

One point is the idea that quitting can be a sign of success.

Check out this interesting discussion of quitting, on Freakonomics

Quitting is a valuable life skill. Quitting limits the time and energy devoted to an activity. When that activity is a lost cause, the sooner one quits the better. Quitting is especially important for ambitious people. Any energy devoted to anything even slightly off the main track costs too much. A competitive world demands that people focus their resources carefully to maintain an edge.

Successful quitting requires not only a willingness to cut your losses quickly. It also requires that you recognize potential winners and potential losers accurately. It requires that you know yourself well enough to know what works for you. It also requires reading an opportunity well enough to know not only whether it has potential, but that it has potential for you.

Jimmy Fallon has lofty aspirations. A gig on SNL is a rare accomplishment. Eventually gaining his own late night TV program is another rare accomplishment. His career reflects determination and success.

It’s difficult to say whether quitting SNL was the best career move at that moment. It certainly was an especially bad move as things turned out. What is worth noting is that the basis of his decision was his reading of the workplace community. A solid, supportive team can accelerate a career. A contentious, uncivil workgroup can undermine hard work and talent. Although Jimmy Fallon had not directly encountered problems with the SNL community, he recognized a risk to his hopes.

When have you made a sound decision to quit?

What tipped you off that quitting was the right idea?

Leave a Reply