During my freshman orientation for college, I decided to switch majors from Secondary Education History to Secondary Education Biology. Maybe it was knowing there was already an overabundance of history teachers in the market or maybe it was because the two cute boys I’d become friends with at orientation were pre-med and enrolled in the biology program – ok, so maybe at the time I considered them both valid reasons to quit the course of becoming a history teacher. And so I did. I quit history and switched my focus to biology only to quit biology a year and a half later, a year and a half later than I should have.
Most people will tell you that organic chemistry is the hardest course out there, the one that weeds the have-it’s from the don’t-have-it’s. For me, it was regular ole’ Chem 101. Despite my hustling and the fact that I worked with a study partner, despite the fact that I literally spent every waking hour trying to wrap my head around various types of chemical bonds, I got a D in that course. Headstrong and determined as I am, I decided I would retake the course – one, because I needed a C for my teaching requirements and two, because I lived by the motto, “Winners never quit and quitters never win.” Well, all said and done I got a D the second time around too. In hindsight quitting the history program before I tried it or before I had all the facts about finding a job post-grad, probably wasn’t the best idea. I had quit too soon. In hindsight, no amount of work or effort I put into the Chem class was going to have me assigning oxidation numbers or breaking down covalent bonds, not even with a second go at it. I didn’t quit soon enough.
Generally speaking, when it comes to quitting, we operate by two sides of the same coin: we either quit at the first instance of pain or failure, sometimes quitting before we really try something or see it through; or, we work the situation and stick it out and nothing changes. Sometimes it gets worse. Sometimes it doesn’t. It pretty much just is and so we indefinitely ride it out settling for mediocre. If and when we do decide to quit the static situation, it’s usually much later than we needed to.
Seth Godin in his book, The Dip, explains that quitting is not only a good thing but a necessary tool if you want to accomplish anything and be the best at what you do. The secret to success isn’t luck or hard work or dedication. The real secret is strategic quitting instead of reactive and serial quitting: “Strategic quitting is the secret of successful organizations [and] reactive quitting and serial quitting are the bane of those that strive (and fail) to get what they want. And most people do just that. They quit when it’s painful and stick it out when they can’t be bothered to quit.”
How many times have you reactively quit something to pursue a path of less resistance? When you confront an obstacle or the potential for failure, how willing are you to switch projects, pursuits or your endeavors?
If you’re having trouble identifying how you respond, a simple test is life – how do you respond while driving in bumper to bumper traffic or when grocery lines are backed up? When the checkout line or lane next to you seems to be moving faster, how likely are you to switch lanes? And, how often do you repeat that process? Or, are you someone who sticks it out no matter, who’s convinced that even if another lane seems like it’s moving, that your lane will move soon enough?
I tend to fall into the latter of the two. If I commit to a project or endeavor, or even a grocery line, I’m in it for the long haul. Even as every other lane seems like it’s moving and I’m at a standstill, I’m too proud to leave my lane and quit because winners never quit and quitters never win. Problem with living that motto is I tend to hold onto a lot of shit waaayyyy longer than I need to and by not strategically quitting, I’m taking time and energy away from what matters most. As a result, I end up feeling rushed, tired, stuck and like there is simply not enough time to really put my best forward.
So, how do we know when to quit and when to stick it out?
Godin identifies two curves that define almost any type of situation facing you as you try to accomplish something:
Curve 1: The Dip
The Dip is the long, hard period between beginning something new and finally mastering it. It is the moments after the excitement of the beginning days have worn off and before the fulfillment of your dream. Although it may seem reasonable or easier to quit, this is the time you should stick it out because anything worth doing will have a Dip.
Curve 2: The Cul-de-Sac
Sometimes we get committed to a project, a dream, a company, a college major or a relationship, only to later realize there’s no potential for growth. This is the Cul-de-Sac, the dead-end that drains your time, your energy and your resources, diverting your attention away from making it through a worthwhile Dip.
Godin says The Dip gets better if you push hard enough but the Cul-de-Sac’s never improve, no matter how hard you try. Success lies in recognizing a situation or relationship as a Cul-de-Sac and not being afraid to quit when you do.
As I dive in this month’s new intenSati series inspired by Godin’s book, The Dip, I am taking stock of my life. I’m contemplating what is worth hanging onto and pushing through and what is worth quitting. And I invite you to join me – in examining your life and in reading Godin’s book (it’s seriously the quickest book you’ll ever read clocking in at just 80 pages).
What can you strategically quit that will give you more time to get through a more meaningful Dip, to come up against the things that are more aligned with your purpose?
These are hard questions to ask, my friends. It’s not easy to quit the things we’ve invested time and energy and money into. But the reality is, if it’s draining our time, if the more we put in isn’t getting us anywhere, if we’re in a true Cul-de-Sac, quitting is always the best thing to do.
Quitting the things we need to quit, is never easy. And as I examine what in my life is a Cul-de-Sac and what is a Dip worth pushing through, I’m asking myself the following questions that the Dalai Lama suggests we ask whenever we face making a hard decision:
- Who benefits?
- Is it just me or a group?
- Is it my group or everyone?
- Is it just for now or for the future?