One of the best pieces of advice I learned as a camp counselor is to kill it before it dies.
Meaning, if I was leading a game with my group of kids, I was best to stop the game and switch activities at or just slightly beyond the peak of excitement. Yes, the group of kids would beg to keep playing, but this unpopular time was the opportune moment to kill the game.
This strategy allowed me to go back to the game – usually blob tag – over and over again since their passion for playing never waned. However, if I gave into their pleading to keep playing, they would inevitably get bored and never want to play the game again.
This idea has served me well beyond my years as a camp counselor.
It guides how I use social media where I consume it in short bursts rather than mindlessly scrolling to the point where I lose interest. And it shapes how I exercise where I do activities I enjoy in a reasonable time rather than the dread that comes with the default 60-minute workout at a big box gym.
Finally, it guides how I work. I choose to do my work in short focused sessions for an appropriate amount of time each day rather than going the way of hustle culture which dictates I use every available minute and sleep if there’s time.
Kill it before it dies helps us find more appreciation for what we do and gives us more longevity in doing it since we don’t burn out from overuse.
Quit while you’re ahead
Several factors led Michael Jordan to retire from basketball in 1993 – his father’s brutal death, his growing celebrity, scrutiny from the media and public mostly related to his gambling, and, powerfully, the fact that he just finished his championship three-peat.
Watching through the lens presented in The Last Dance (and the other excellent 30 for 30 documentary, Jordan Rides the Bus), his retirement is not surprising at all. He killed it before it died.
What led Jordan to retire in 1993 is backed up by research Etan Green led at the University of Pennsylvania - Warton. After analyzing more than 100 million online chess games, they find that people exert extra effort to reach a personal best and then, by a 20% increase, quit once they’ve achieved it.
“If you’re just short of a goal, you’re going to put in some effort to surpass it. But once you surpass it … you tend to take your foot off the gas pedal.”–Etan Green
Jordan used his season in baseball as a sabbatical. No matter how much you love something, how many decades of work you’ve put in to be the best in the world, how big of a celebrity you become, and how deeply your identity is tied to something your interest is going to wane when you are going pedal to the metal.
And, like in Jordan’s case, you might find that the love is still there but you just need a little break. Jordan’s year playing baseball is a blip on the radar, but without it, he likely wouldn’t have had another three-peat or had as strong of a legacy.
Persistent grinding is not always the right answer despite what the hustle bros say on Instagram. Oftentimes space, time, and a reasonable pace is the solution.
Know when to kill it – or take a needed break – before it dies.
Ready to downsize your relationship with work and quit burnout?
Hi, I'm Grant Gurewitz. I'm on a mission to end burnout at work. I've been in tech for 10 years (ex-Zillow, current: Qualtrics) who suffered deep burnout and came back from it with no help of the hacky advice out there.
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