Too Soon To Quit?

Last night, a friend called me in dire need of consultation. With the deadline approaching to cast her Florida Democratic Primary absentee ballot, she just couldn't decide- Barack or Hillary? It was a true identity crisis, especially since she was actually a big fan of Biden.

So we get to discussing her decision criteria and, always one to have a unique take on politics, she says "I want to like Obama, but it really bugs me that he's quitting the Senate without even finishing one term. I'm nervous about electing someone who quits so soon."

As I thought about it a bit more last night, I saw some pretty strong parallels to discussions I'd had with friends back in New York who were nervous about quitting their first jobs "too soon." My advice was always: "If you'd be happier and more effective elsewhere, then quit tomorrow."

Of course, conventional wisdom would paint me a fool. Any headhunter who finished reading their firm's training manual before cold-calling you will tell you that it's "professional suicide" to leave a job in less than 18 months (or to stay at one for more than 3 years, thereby depriving them of a commission). Personally, I don't buy it.

Take i-bankers. Most lower-level bankers hate their jobs. Many of them will even admit that they're not learning as much as they'd hoped. Yet, most will stick it out for a couple years, for some reason I fail to comprehend. I think of it like this:

If I were interviewing two ex-analysts with identical backgrounds (same degree, worked in the same group, equally hated their jobs at 6 months, etc), but one difference: one quit and the other "stuck it out," who would I hire?

The one who cut their losses and changed course, or the one who did what was expected of them?

If my resources are at stake, I'll take someone who knows when to abandon ship (be it a bad job or bad project chewing through shareholders' money) over someone who sticks with a bad bet anyday.

So, I guess my point is that I applaud Senator Obama for going after the job in which he believes he can add the most value. Not many of us have that type of courage. It's often easier to just fall in line and hide behind "I'm too young," or "it's too soon" or "I'll do it eventually." In an age when a 23 year-old can lead a $15B company, and two other 20-somethings founded the single most influential organization of our generation, do any of us really have an excuse to wait?

On the other hand, if Obama wins and serves only one term, he'll be a Presidential alumnus at age 51. Seriously, where do you go from there?

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