It has been said that winners never quit and quitters never win. I am living proof that neither of those statements is correct. I have quit a job and won and, because of that, I will likely never quit again.
I learned many hard lessons after abruptly and prematurely quitting what very well should have been my dream job at the San Jose Mercury News after graduating college. This was a job I had groomed myself for since seventh grade. The path was a long and deliberate one. It began as a reporter for Marina Junior High Penguin school paper, continued as the editor of the Galileo High School Pendulum, as a reporter and editor for the San Jose State Spartan Daily, as a reporter for the San Jose State Independently Weekly, as an intern for the San Francisco Progress and as a reporter for Associated Press covering San Jose State football as a senior. The next step would naturally be on a daily paper.
Most journalism graduates don’t land the Merc. Most go from school to begin their careers at a small out of town paper and work their way up. A reporter positon at a nationally recognized and award-winning daily? That would be a huge opportunity. Rather than be thrilled by my good fortune, I came to the Merc with slightly unrealistic expectations. Me, being me at the time, I figured if I could write game stories for AP while in school, I should be able to cover the San Francisco 49ers pretty darn quick, right? It didn’t work that way, my editor told me. Be patient. Work your way up. I was impatient so I made a pretty ballsy decision.
Before I had another job.
My parents were thrilled.
And, it wasn’t just the fact that I quit. It was how I quit. There I was: pre-mature, full of hubris and armed with a bridge-burning technique that only a pyrotechnic could love. In about five minutes, I became the poster child for how not to quit a job. Little did I know, I was also committing the same sin that I believe often plagues Silicon Valley – Quittus Prematureus.
My disclaimer here is that Silicon Valley has been very, very good to me for the past 33 years. That said, it is impossible to live and work in a place and in an industry without also seeing some of its warts. In my opinion, quitting is one of those warts. Silicon Valley has created a quitters culture. Try it and if you don’t like it, do something else. Sometimes that leads to great innovation. Other times it leads to inflating unemployment. In my time here, I have seen many people quit too easily and/or for the wrong reasons. We have short attention spans and are always looking for the next big thing. We don’t have to do that and, in fact, it may ultimately be easier if we don’t. After all, if a company is prepared to provide you with what you need to grow, prosper and meet your career goals, one could make the case that it is better to stick around.
I felt good about my decision until I found myself looking at my Dad a couple of days following my self-immolation at the Merc and attempting to explain my rationale. At that moment, I wasn’t the “winner,” I thought I was. I was a quitter and I hadn’t come close to meeting the standards that had been set for me by my Dad. A massive feeling of dread quickly enveloped me. It suddenly dawned on me that I had no idea how to actually look for a job. I got recommended to AP. I got recommended to the Merc. I was out of recommendations. Now what? Go to another newspaper or try something completely different that might allow me to advance faster? Advancement was like crack to me at a time I should have been concentrating on building a foundation that would be the basis of a solid career.
After interviewing around at papers much smaller than the Merc, I selected something completely different. I tore the public relations section out of the Yellow Pages – commonplace in the pre-Internet era – and began a career change. Even though I knew nothing about PR beyond my journalism professors telling me to stay away from it, I figured because I could write, I could get a job in PR. And I did.
I was hired to be the assistant to the CEO of an agency whose name began with a “P” which gives you an idea of how many cold calls I had to make. I was supposed to do all of her writing. They got me a desk and they put me in her office so we could collaborate. Only she never gave me any work and rarely talked to me. When she did, she yelled at me for not doing any work. I was miserable but no way was I quitting this job. I was bound and determined to do my best.
The question of doing my best was the litmus test of many discussions between me and my Dad from a very early age and ultimately became the basis for the high standards I hold myself and my team to every day. In elementary school, Dad set the bar with a simple statement: “As long as you can look me in the eye and tell me you did your best that is good enough for me.”
I tried to do that at my first PR agency job, truly I did. I would walk the office asking for work and I did anything that was given to me. No way was I going to quit. This was the new me, largely because my parents told me that I couldn’t come home. Plus, I was now convinced that quitters never win. I lasted six months at that agency. On my birthday in 1982, that agency did a layoff and I was one of eight who got let go. It was the best present I ever received. When I walked out that door, I felt vindicated. I didn’t quit, after all.
About four months passed until I landed my second agency job. This second job would be the job I would have to this day. It came from an unlikely source. The same people who didn’t give me actual work while at my previous agency were the same people who referred me to a New York agency that was seeking to open a Silicon Valley office. That was McGrath/Power. That was 33 years ago this month.
During that time, I went from being one of two people who opened an office to owning the entire agency. How? Well, I had to first get good at this PR thing. But, beyond that, I congealed a variety of lessons learned into my own career development path:
- Holding myself to the standards my Dad set for me in elementary school
- Understanding the true worthlessness of quitting something prematurely as I did at the Merc
- Going through the experience of having a job that literally makes one nauseous every morning just contemplating walking in the door
- Allowing the people above me during my early days at McGrath/Power to have enough time to develop and incentivize me to make a career at the agency
I also watched a similar process repeat itself under different circumstances. In 2001, we hired a bright account executive named Kate. She and I developed a nice relationship over the 18 months or so she worked at McGrath/Power and established strong trust. Given that, I was naturally disappointed when she walked into my office and gave notice so she could return to the East Coast. She handled that moment in the most graceful way and it disarmed me. Over the years, I didn’t handle staff resignations well. I attributed this to my ongoing guilt from my Merc Meltdown and my now almost visceral reaction to anything that resembled quitting. Rather than take an attitude, I took her out to lunch and we had a nice meal and a nicer bottle of wine.
About two years later, she hired McGrath/Power as her agency. Two years after that, our work helped facilitate a great outcome in the form of a $1B+ acquisition by IBM. I asked her to return to the agency and she accepted. She is now my business partner and the person who is responsible for our superlative client service.
It’s been a very long time since I quit, but I still feel I am better for that singular act three decades ago. I am a winner in the long run and would never quit foolishly again.
This post originally appeared here on LinkedIn as part of the site’s #IQuit series.