Do You Know When to ‘Throw in the Towel?’
I know, I know, some of you are saying that this is being a quitter – or more importantly, admitting that you are a failure. Well, that is BS.
I have written about failing and why it is a good thing in my post Failure Is Not an Option Is Total BS. For most of us, the real challenge is knowing when to ‘throw in the towel’ and go in a different direction.
The COVID-19 pandemic is disrupting industries, supply chains, companies, and careers. Many career paths will completely disappear or morph so much that they may not be recognizable in 5 years. Knowing when to throw in the towel is critical.
I want to tell you three stories of individuals who spent a long time pursuing a career direction that was not going to work no matter how hard they tried.
Note: this post was originally published in December of 2017 and was updated in June of 2020.
Age-Friendly Job Markets
The first two individuals are approximately 60 years of age and live in Austin, Texas where I lived for almost 40 years. Austin has a very bifurcated job market with a lot of high-end and low-end jobs and not much in between. The Austin-Round Rock area before the pandemic had a very publicly displayed low employment rate of 3.3%. That rate is for people in the 18-49 years of age bracket. The unemployment rate for 50 and older is over 12%.
In fact, Austin Community College, AARP, and Austin Up joined forces under the AARP Foundation Women’s Economic Stability Initiative to create the Back to Work 50+ program in Austin. They were focused on the 50+ female cohort because this is the most vulnerable demographic to fall into poverty after a career-changing event, like divorce, death of a spouse, or a layoff. That program lost funding in 2018 and was discontinued even though the need was still there.
That should set the stage for the first two stories I am about to tell you.
‘Throw in the Towel’ on Austin
I have been working with Sandra on and off for about 3 years. Sandra moved to Austin after spending a long career in various portions of the technology and entertainment industries. She had her greatest success in the gaming and technology industries in Silicon Valley and other cities in the west.
The great recession caused her career to come to a screeching halt. She decided to move to Austin to get a fresh start over 3 years ago. She has had a few interviews in Austin and San Antonio but for 3 years it has been a fruitless search.
We sat down over a cup of coffee this week and I asked her why is she still here. She has no family here. Sandra is very much a loner and has not been successful at building a network here. She has put in a valiant effort but after 3 years it was time to throw in the towel.
She told me she did not want to tell her family that she wanted to move back to Arizona where she last lived. The story is much deeper than I am telling you but it was a sense that she had failed. This is a woman who is extremely intelligent with academic credentials that are top-notch, and a career with many successes. The 3 years in Austin have worn her out both emotionally and physically but she is still fearful to give up.
I do not know what Sandra will ultimately choose, but she really needs to consider ‘throwing in the towel’ on Austin and moving to a more age-friendly job market.
‘Throw in the Towel’ on a Career
I met Tom through a variety of online resources. Tom had enjoyed a very successful career for close to 30 years when he was laid off. His parents then became ill and needed him. He spent the next 10 years taking care of his parents. Sound familiar?
He maintained all of his credentials during that time – PMP, Six Sigma, Scrum Master, and several more. After 10 years of taking care of his parents, he wanted and needed to go back to work. He had no relevant experience in those 10 years.
He spent several years looking for regular, full-time employment with no luck. Re-entering the employment scene after 10 years out was incredibly difficult. He was making ends meet through money he had from selling his house and from various consulting gigs.
When we met, I asked him why he was still in Austin and why he continued to pursue full-time employment – better known as a JOB.
Last I heard from him, he has decided to build a portfolio career, where one major component was in wholesaling a major commodity. He had partnered with someone he knew well who would help him learn the ropes. This is a whole new direction where he can work for himself and use many of the same skills.
My guess is he will never return to full-time employment but he should be able to support himself and have a happy life.
A Happy Story of Someone Who Was Willing to Throw in the Towel
Russ Eanes spent over a dozen years as first the CFO and later the CEO of the publishing arm of the Mennonite Church, MennoMedia. I claim that Russ was hit with the double whammy – both his industry (religion) and profession (publishing) were being disrupted. You can listen to Russ’s story on the podcast episode Russ Eanes Turns the Walk of a Lifetime into a Writing and Consulting Career #143 [Podcast].
Russ found himself downsizing staff and merging locations until he was exhausted by it, so he downsized himself and took a year-long sabbatical – including a walk on the Camino de Santiago. On that sabbatical, he found a new purpose. He published the story of his walk in a book called The Walk of a Lifetime: 500 Miles on the Camino de Santiago.
Russ had to admit he was lost as to what was next before he could discover what was next. He is now on a journey of teaching other walkers how to self-publish books chronicling their experiences. Russ is part of the Career Pivot Membership Community.
Russ threw in the towel when he did not know what was next.
You can learn more about Russ at his website RussEanes.com
Why Are We So Reluctant to ‘Throw in the Towel?’
Sometimes we get so comfortable beating our heads against a wall that we become numb to the fact there are other options. Other times we simply do not know other options exist.
One of the common phrases I hear from members of the Career Pivot Membership Community is, “You can do that?” One of the things I have discovered is just about everyone needs their horizons broadened.
So many new and creative opportunities have been created in the last 5 years and many times we do not know about them. We are reluctant to throw in the towel because we are ignorant of the vast and almost seemingly endless options.
If you find yourself in this situation, I highly recommend you read Necessary Endings (affiliate link) by
I have credited reading this book to get me to throw in the towel and leave Austin, Texas for Mexico. If you are interested you can read about my wife’s and my journey here.
The description of the book includes the following:
While endings are a natural part of business and life, we often experience them with a sense of hesitation, sadness, resignation, or regret. But consultant, psychologist, and best-selling author, Dr. Henry Cloud, sees endings differently. He argues that our personal and professional lives can only improve to the degree that we can see endings as a necessary and strategic step to something better. If we cannot see endings in a positive light and execute them well, he asserts, the “better” will never come, either in business growth or our personal lives.
Dr. Cloud begins the book talking about a rose gardener. Roses will produce more buds than they can support. A good rose gardener will first trim the rose bush to allow the limbs they want to grow. He/she will later trim off limbs that are not doing well and then later trim off dead limbs.
The rose gardener will shape the bush by eliminating (throwing in the towel) those limbs that make no sense.
Sometimes we need to do the same with our careers, relationships, and where we live.
What do you need to end? Are you going to ‘throw in the towel’ so a new beginning can start?