Please contact E. B. Davis at for information on guest blogs and interviews. Interviews for May: (5/4) Linda Norlander, (5/11) Connie Berry, (5/18) Mary Keliikoa, (5/22) Annette Dashofy, and (5/25) Rosalie Spielman.

Sunday, January 16, 2022

I Didn’t Quit, I Pivoted to Something Better by Tammy Euliano


One of my favorite newsletters is “Brain Food” from FarnamStreet. Recently, Shane Parrish shared a great article from the Wall Street Journal, “Sometimes Winning Means Knowing When to Quit,” by John A. List, a professor of economics at the University of Chicago. I found the premise thought-provoking.

Grit and perseverance are lauded as essential characteristics (See “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance” by Angela Duckworth)—qualities that predict success in everything from academia to the military. I wager Vince Lombardi’s “Winners never quit and quitters never win” is recognized by the vast majority of Americans of a certain age. At the risk of overstepping, I humbly offer an addendum, “…quitters never win the game,” where the game can be anything from a sporting event to a career choice. It doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with choosing not to win that particular game, with choosing a different game. Dr. List refers to this as “pivoting to something better.”

On the micro level, it can be choosing not to finish a book because, even though it drips five-star ratings, I need a character I can cheer for; or letting my youngest quit violin (and African Drumming, and ballet, and gymnastics, and fencing) in favor of her finding her true passion in basketball. If “pivoting to something better” weren’t an option, she would a) not be willing to try a new activity in the first place and b) not experience so many great opportunities and c) not have provided so much fodder for a decade of teasing by her siblings. How to weigh pivoting each semester against perseverance and loyalty to team challenges us all.

When serendipity led me to explore fiction writing, I was a more-than-full-time physician, educator, researcher and administrator. Caring for patients and teaching come naturally and I love them. Parts of research I enjoy, managing people not so much. But “quitters never win” so I persevered, until at long last I realized I didn’t have to. With Dr. List’s wisdom, I might have saved some self-loathing if I reframed “quitting the soul-sucking parts of my job” as “pivoting to my strengths.” Calling an audible on my future and choosing to invest my limited time and energy in the things that (1) bring me satisfaction and (2) leverage my talents for the good of others. I still take care of patients and teach residents and medical students, but also offer a few hours of escape in a good, and hopefully thought-provoking, book.

In my life, there are few “non-pivotable” things, family for one. For the rest, continual reassessment is key.

Are there unnecessary activities from which you would like to “pivot to something better?”

~Tammy Euliano, MD

Author of Fatal Intent


Annette said...

"Pivot" has become a keyword for many of us these last couple of years. I've been pivoting so much lately, I feel like a dizzy ballerina!

I'm so glad you've chosen a path that feels more like a winner, Tammy!

Debra H. Goldstein said...

It's fascinating how many writers are well-educated career professionals who take pride in helping people/doing a good job, but who find writing is a passion. Having pivoted away from my lifetime appointment as a judge to follow my writing passion, I understand your post completely.

Jim Jackson said...

Not everyone can recognize how important it is to figure out what you want to do rather than continuing to play the game you find yourself in.

Shari Randall said...

Thought provoking post! I'm glad you were able to understand yourself so well and pivot to a life that gave you more time for writing. I've had some forced pivots due to my hubby's military career, but like your daughter discovered, change and exploration can lead to new passions.

Kait said...

The perfect post for the New Year, Tammy. Earlier this month, the Jungle Reds blog devoted a post to words of the year. Mine was pivot. I’m sticking by it!

Margaret S. Hamilton said...

Good blog! Recently, I was challenged to justify spending my time writing when "I wasn't making good money."

I was masked and distanced, speaking to thirty women, so I took the polite route: it was something I'd always wanted to do, and I enjoyed it. So there.

Susan said...

As short as life is, purposeful thinking and acting makes sense. Carry on with that!

KM Rockwood said...

My own thought is so many Americans agree with Vince Lombardi comes as an after-effect of WWII, when winning, by any means, truly was not only the important thing, it was the only thing. I know my own family embodied that idea--the American can-do, regardless of risks and prices, rather than well-considered choices and alternatives. Raised with that mind-set, I have spent much of my adult life countering that attitude with the knowledge that I actually can "pivot" to more suitable goals when appropriate, rather than just forging ahead regardless.

Molly MacRae said...

The art of the intentional pivot - sometimes it requires a bit of a leap, too, of faith. It looks like you've stuck your landing, Tammy. Nicely done!

Korina Moss said...

I love your youngest child already without even knowing her, jumping into new things with as much passion and enthusiasm as she had for her first new thing. We all grow up with these ideas about "sticking it out" when the idea of pivoting is a smarter notion that's sure to bring more happiness to us, and likely more growth.