Know when to fold them

Posted on December 22, 2007

There’s this old song by Kenny Rogers, called “The Gambler” which has a chorus that goes along the lines of

You got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em

Now I’m not a fan of Kenny Rogers by any means, but I caught this song playing on the radio (the iPod battery does run out sometimes, unfortunately) and by a conjunction of wild factors it got me to thinking about the following:

We all have our… systems (for the broadest possible interpretation of the word) in our lives and we all know that a system will, inevitably, seem to break down and fail sometimes.

When this happens there are a few ways to deal with it and different people have different ways of reacting to a system failure or break down –some will stop and re-assess it, others will just turn their eyes away and pretend everything is OK, others will think long and hard about how to fix things up and others still will just quit it and be done with the whole thing.

While giving up may be the best course of action on occasion (and it may seem to be the easiest way many times), those who preserver and stick with things when it all seems to be breaking down will sometimes reap huge benefits later on, when things get back on track, and their faith and effort are rewarded with a fully-functional, proven and even improved system. Their work was well applied and they get a better system than they had before. Sometimes these people are the great winners.

But then sometimes the system is just bust and recovery is impossible. There is just no way to get it to work better (or at all), and people who stick to their guns are just wasting their time, clinging to a false hope that everything will turn out all-right in the end. These people will then have to contend with the fact that they lost all of that time and effort betting on the wrong horse and gaining a reputation of being pig-headed and unreasonable. Heart break (again in the broadest sense of the phrase) will ensue.

So my question is (ye gods, I’m sounding just like Marin Frisk here…), how do you know when to fold ‘em? When is it best to just give up on the system and move on to some other thing?
If you quit something now, that may be the right thing after all (but is just going through a trying time), you will loose. Maybe loose big.
But, on the other hand, if you stick with it for too long and it just gets you nowhere, you will never get that time and effort back, it is just lost forever, together with lots of other things you could have been doing with your time and effort all along (yes, I’m talking about opportunity cost here).

Knowing when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em is indeed the big secret to a happy life (career/project/whatever), but while some people seem to know it all and have all the right answers, I believe most of us are (at least a bit) lost in the dark most of the time.

PS- This question obviously has no right answer, it is just here for the sake of asking. That’s why it is in the “thoughts” section, after all.