What do you do when something isn’t working out? Do you cut your losses and walk away? Or do you buckle down and keep trying.
The answer is YES!
Let’s start with the cutting our losses and walking away option. We all have some version of the sound track to “never give up” or “quitters never win and winners never quit” floating in our heads. But quitting isn’t always the same as giving up and winners know how to quit strategically.
I entered the world of Paralympic sport at 19. My original goal was to be an international rugby superstar, but a freak accident put an end to that dream. I was run over by a boat and got caught in the propellers. I was very lucky to survive, but unfortunately my right foot had to be amputated.
I didn’t want to give up on my goal just because I was an amputee, but it was a struggle because several referees didn’t think it was safe for me play. They were worried that my carbon fibre running blade presented an injury risk in the scrums. Perhaps I could have challenged the ruling. But the truth was that I wasn’t enjoying it as much as I used to because I wasn’t the same athlete.
I used to be able to run the ball from end to end without getting tackled. Which was good because I was small for a rugby player and I hated getting tackled! But my agility and my speed weren’t as good as when I had two legs, and I was tired of being slammed into the dirt and tired of comparing myself to the old me.
So I went in a different direction. Which is a nicer way of saying that I quit rugby. I let go of that childhood dream. Life is constantly changing and we have to update our goals and strategies to reflect this instead of forcing them to work in a reality that no longer exists. Quitting was the best thing I could have done because it freed me pursue a new dream as a Paralympic long jumper and sprinter.
It was less a case of giving up on Plan A, and more a case of reworking and imagining it!
Stef Reid is a World Champion, a 4 time Paralympian, 3 time Paralympic Medallist, and 5 time world record holder.
But sometimes it is about pushing through and refusing to give up until you find a way. Unfortunately there are no formulas in the world of High Performance!
In 2022, I was invited to be a contestant on Dancing on Ice. It’s a British reality TV show where celebrity contestants learn to skate ice dance routines. We perform live with millions watching every week in front of skate legends and head judges Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean. Then the audience votes to decide who goes home.
Obviously, I said yes! However, skating was much harder than I anticipated. I had no experience as a skater or dancer or performer. And on top of that, it’s a sport that requires a lot of balance and fine movement from the ankle and foot – not ideal when you have an artificial leg.
I was not good. It is awful knowing that the show is expecting you to perform on live TV to millions and you are nowhere close to being ready.
I thought about quitting. The reality was that it may not be possible for an amputee to excel in this arena. Maybe I should invest my time and effort elsewhere.
But rather than quit, I decided to adjust my goal.
This was no longer about winning or losing (….okay, it still was a little bit. The competitor in me will always be there!) The reality was I probably couldn’t win. But I would rather go down fighting than give up. I did everything I could to be the best I could be and surprise the world in the process. I logged as many hours as possible, worked with engineers to optimize my leg for skating, and spent hours in the mirror practicing my choreography. And I decided I was going to love every moment of it.
And something crazy happened: after 7 weeks of this, I started getting better! My professional skating partner Andy realized that it didn’t make sense to teach me according to the usual progressions. As an amputee, I was still struggling with some of the basics, like stopping. But my background as an elite athlete meant that I could do some advanced skating moves on one foot, like the hydrablade, and that we could skip ahead to some Olympic standard partner lifts.
Andy and I didn’t win, but we made it to the quarter finals and turned a few heads in the process. Sometimes it is about refusing to give up, and running experiment after experiment for as long as it takes to find the solution.
So back to our original question: to quit or not to quit?
Life is about making good choices, and in the world of high performance, there is rarely a simple formula. But a good place to start is by being really clear on what you are trying to achieve. Does quitting take you closer to your goal or farther away from it?
Stef retired from sport in 2022 and now works as a keynote speaker, broadcaster, and executive coach. Her expertise in high performance, overcoming adversity, and diversity and inclusion make her a popular choice for events across the world.