Oct 10 • 51M

Why you should quit more, with Annie Duke

Plus: Sen. Ben Sasse's good decision to quit and Josh reflects on a time he quit too soon

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Josh Barro
Very Serious is a weekly conversation with top political commentators, columnists and policymakers, focused on how events in the news relate to major, long-standing controversies in politics, economics and culture. Host Josh Barro is joined by a rotating set of regular guests to work out the ideas behind the arguments on topics serious and not-so-serious. It’s a great conversation across ideological lines that will leave you entertained, enlightened, and maybe even persuaded.
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Dear readers,

They say the “great resignation” is more of a great job switch: One of the main reasons so many people are quitting is that it’s a good time to find a new job, so people are finding opportunities that suit them better. That’s how net job growth remains robustly positive even as people are quitting jobs at a rate well above normal.

In related news, Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse is expected to resign to take a job as the president of the University of Florida.

In his seven-and-a-half year tenure in the Senate, Sasse has cut a relatable figure: a guy who worked hard to get a prestigious job, then found he hated it but couldn’t figure out what to do instead. His use of his office was so odd — using his position for neither good nor ill, but for very little at all — that I was genuinely surprised he chose to seek re-election in 2020. What was the point? Why did he even want to be a senator?

Never Trump conservatives have always been defensive about these allegations that Sasse was useless — how exactly was he, a solitary senator, supposed to “do something” about Trump, who enjoyed the support of the vast majority of Republicans? — but even on issues where Sasse was in line with the whole of his party, he was all talk and no action.

In 2014, when Sasse first sought election to the Senate, he ran as a “health care expert” — someone who had been an assistant secretary at the Department of Health and Human Services and who had the knowledge and the drive Republicans would need to repeal and replace Obamacare. Then Republicans took the Senate, and Obamacare repeal became a huge problem because they had no actual plan to replace — they couldn’t have such a plan, because the promises they made about what a post-Obamacare system would be like were mutually exclusive. Where was Sasse? Not helping the party make the difficult and necessary choices to balance its incompatible goals of cutting public spending and making good health insurance cheaper, that’s for sure. He was writing and promoting books, including one about how to raise self-sufficient children and another bemoaning the toxicity of American polarization.

So while it’s unusual to resign your Senate seat less than two years into a term, I get why Sasse is doing it — he never liked this job and he’s finally figured out what he wants to do instead.

Sasse has previously been a university president and I am holding out hope he performs well in the new job. Liberals tend to want conservatives as far away as possible from universities, but public universities are government agencies and they’re ultimately accountable to policymakers, who are often Republicans. So I want to see Republicans develop affirmative models of how they think public universities should run — taking ownership of their functions and their results — rather than just using them as political punching bags.

Besides, I think liberals are excessively precious about conservative meddling at public universities. Higher education is an industry that needs a kick in the ass and a focus on cost control. Former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, a Republican, has done a very good job leading Purdue University for the last decade, focusing on affordability with a long tuition freeze and other cost-cutting programs. Maybe Sasse will do some useful things other conservatives can learn from — or maybe he’ll fail, which will also be a learning experience.

In any case, Sasse does actually seem to care about education (unlike health care) so this job seems like a better fit for him than the one he’s slogged through for the last seven and a half years. He probably should have made a move like this sooner.


Speaking of which, we have a new episode of the Very Serious podcast for you. It’s an interview with retired professional poker player Annie Duke. In her new book Quit and in our conversation, Annie shares good advice and practical strategies to overcome our bias against quitting and to more quickly stop doing things that aren’t working for us. Annie says quitting well — promptly realizing when your efforts aren’t working and redirecting resources to something more likely to be effective — is a badly underrated virtue. We vaunt “grit” even when that means praising people for banging their heads against walls.

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I noted in Thursday’s newsletter that one of my biggest professional regrets actually involved quitting too early.

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