Monday, September 27, 2021

Learning to Know When to Quit

In a 9/23/21 interview published in the San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco Warriors' coach Steve Kerr commented on his longevity as he has the third-longest tenure of any coach in the NBA (National Basketball Association). That achievement in part speaks to the rapid turnover in the coaching ranks of all professional sports. Kerr acknowledges this fact, recognizing that sometime, someday, he too will leave his position. To that point, he states:

“It will be obvious when that time comes. It will be obvious for the organization and the team when change needs to be made. It will be obvious to me, too."

Kerr's remarks beg the question: how will he know when it's "obvious," i.e., time to relinquish his position? What criteria will he use (consciously or unconsciously) to make that decision (assuming he gets to make that decision before it is made for him)?

I don't know Kerr, so I can't ask him. Nor can I glean his thoughts from other interviews with him that I've read. What I do know, however, is that knowing when to quit is as much an art as it is a science. And it's one I've had to learn--and continue to practice--over many years.

The decision starts with the recognition of changes, both in the environment and yourself. In regard to the former, perhaps it's shifts in personnel. You no longer have the opportunity to work with a group of people you've grown to trust and like. Perhaps management has changed. Maybe your role has changed. In short, the context you've become accustomed to (and even enjoyed) no longer exists.

On the individual level, that means perhaps you're not up for the task of adapting to the changing circumstances. You may no longer feel challenged. You're not learning. You're not growing. You can't see what else you can achieve in the position.

It's time to step away from your role, you conclude, while good feelings about your work remain palpable. Yet sometimes, you can't, or simply won't. The familiar seems better than the unknown; moreover, if you've invested considerable time and energy, you might consider quitting a waste of what you'd achieved to that point. In short, you remain in the role--even while you have that feeling in your gut--one that you might not be able to put into words--telling you that it's time to leave.  

Here's where the situation can deteriorate rapidly. You grow more short-tempered, frustrated by daily tasks you at best once tackled with gusto or at the very least with calm professionalism. A dark cloud of sarcasm, criticalness, and negativity may invade your space. You find it difficult to stay motivated, often feeling like you're going through the motions. You may even feel depressed. 

You don't want to get to this last phase, which I've experienced at times throughout my career when I didn't take heed of that feeling pointing me in the direction I needed to go.  Not only  was it not good for me or anyone around me, but it also made it more difficult to extricate myself from the position. 

So the challenge becomes, how do I know the precise point at which to leave, and how do I do so with all due professionalism and enthusiasm? My bottom line: it's time to go when 1) I feel like I have to force myself to do what's essential to my work over a period of time 2) my enthusiasm for the challenges I'll like face wanes, or 3) I simply don't work every day to improve my work. It's time to plan my exit while moving on to something bigger and better. 

At the same time, I recognize that I have a choice. I can choose to stay in the role and remain stuck in my negative feelings, or I can leave. 

Entrepreneur and author Derek Sivers has captured these sentiments in his standard response to opportunities presented to him. In his wordsit's either "hell yeah!" or no. You're excited about the opportunity, or you aren't. If you're not, pass on it. To that I'll add, regarding an ongoing opportunity, when my natural enthusiasm wanes, it's time to change

Steve Kerr continues to say, "hell yeah!" to his work as the Warriors' coach. I'll be curious to see how he evolves in the roll, and how he manages the circumstances of his inevitable departure. 

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