Getting through the Dip: Gotta Know When to Fold 'Em
The Gambler is One of My Favourite Songs.
I sing it, loud, whenever I have to talk to anyone about quitting. It's a crappy subject. Many (most) of us were raised to fight through stuff, to never give up. I know I grew up with "remember the Alamo!" as an adage. In other words, don't give up, even if it's hopeless.
And that strategy works great if your goal is to die, and then, in death, have people sing overly romantic songs in your honour.
But if you want to win: at life, in poker, whatever - if you want to ultimately win at something, you're going to need to get comfortable with quitting. Quitting often and quitting well.
You gotta know when to fold 'em.
You Gotta Know When to Hold 'Em
Holding on is the subject of Seth Godin's book "The Dip". I suggest reading it. Cynthia Lou does a great summary of it as well, and even complied a worksheet to go along with it, which I also highly recommend.
I touched on the importance of perseverance in a previous post. It's a quality I admire and strive to perfect. I often remind my kids of the hours of work they have put in, tirelessly and alone, to reach certain goals they have set for themselves. It's easy to look at a successful finished project and forget how hard you worked to get there. It's also easy to look at other people's finished projects and not realize how hard they have worked, alone, to achieve their goal.
If you are facing a dip in your work, and you feel in your gut that you are still working toward a worthy goal, keep at it. Read Seth's book, improve where you need to improve, but keep your eye on the prize.
But here's the crappy message I feel the need to share today:
Be the Best in the World, or Quit
I think the reason I like "The Gambler" is that it takes the edge off of a very powerful, scary lesson. Sung loudly and off-key, it has helped me power through the toughest question - Can I be the best in the world at this thing I am trying, or am I just merely doing a good job?
"I asked back, "if you accomplish that, will you be seen by your audience as the best in the world, or will you be seen as doing your best?"
He didn't have to answer. He got it.
If you're doing your best, only your AYSO soccer coach cares. If you're the best in the world, the market cares. The secret, if you have limited resources (don't we all) is to make 'world' small enough that you can actually accomplish that.'"
Now, he helpfully gives the caveat that you can decide how big or small your world is, and that kind of helps. But still, that is the key piece of information you need to make all other decisions about whether or not to quit:
Can you be the best? - Don't get all defeatist here. Answer honestly. You might have to learn something. You might need to raise money. You might need to get stronger. But, at the end of the day, is it possible? Can you achieve this if you try? (If you're a martyr at heart, or known to be full of bravado with little-to-no common sense, you might want to consult with an advisor on this one. A paid advisor. Not your mom.)
Do you want to be the best at this thing? - You'll know if you sit quietly. You'll know. Not do you want to be okay, or you want to do a good job. Do you want to possibly lose friends; sequester yourself in a small room for hours/days/years; do the work you need to do to be the best.
Is what you are doing helping you be the best? - Daily, monthly and annually, evaluate what you are actually doing. Is it moving you closer to being the best? Or are you spinning your wheels? Perfectionists... take note of this one.
I read a lot of unhelpful advice about "law of diminishing returns" or "asking whether you are still enjoying yourself" or "is it worth the cost - 'sunk costs'". Brent Gleeson wrote a great piece about rethinking strategy, but I don't think he really touched on the essence of quitting. I suggest reading what he wrote if you know in your heart that your goal is sound, but you feel you've lost your way.
Quit and Move Forward
I hope my message about quitting is helpful. It's never an easy decision to make, and I think the reason it's hard to find good advice on the subject is that it's hard to really know if you should quit or not. Most likely, that's the reason only the best leaders are very good at it. At the end of the day, though, it's a learnable skill, just like anything else. So ask yourself if you want to be merely good enough at quitting, or if you want to be the best. And then quit and move on.