The only 3 respectable options for when the going gets tough

by | May 12, 2014

You are climbing the mountain of a goal. Halfway to the peak, you sit down, look up, and then break down; you feel like you can’t take another step.

You are in the middle of a big project. And you are stuck. You keep hitting ceilings of complexity that you can’t break through.

You are in the process of building something important. You’ve lost momentum. You can’t get traction. Everything and everyone seems to be against you.

In this moment, you have but three respectable options:

1. Quit

I’m not talking about tucking your tail between your legs and skulking into the shadows of mediocrity.

I’m talking about strategic quitting and moving on because it’s the right thing to do. There are times when quitting is the bravest and wisest thing you can do.

Persistently trudging down a dead-end is not praiseworthy; it is stupidity. And turning around when you realize you’ve hit a dead-end is not failing; it is speeding up your likelihood of success.

As Seth Godin observes in his profoundly useful book, The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When To Quit (And When to Stick):

“Most of the time, we deal with obstacles by persevering. Sometimes we get discouraged and turn to inspirational writing, like stuff from Vince Lombardi: ‘Quitters never win and winners never quit.’ Bad advice. Winners quit all the time. They just quit the right stuff at the right time

“Extraordinary benefits accrue to the tiny majority of people who are able to push just a tiny bit longer than most. Extraordinary benefits also accrue to the tiny majority with the guts to quit early and refocus their efforts on something new.”

2. Adjust something

The classic definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results. If something isn’t working, if your progress is arrested, it’s time to take a long, hard look at your processes and systems to discover what’s broken.

It’s not enough to work hard — you must also work smart. You work smart by applying Orrin Woodward’s “PDCA” process, standing for “Plan, Do, Check, and Adjust.”

You’re where you are because you’ve planned and done. But are you also keeping score, and checking and adjusting? Are you actually learning as you persist, or is your persistence simple mule-headedness?

3. Grind it out

Every worthy goal or project follows a predictable path: Initially, you experience some form of success. Your hopes are high, your commitment is strong.

Then come the trials — what Seth Godin calls “The Dip”: a shortage of capital, inadequate skills, insufficient systems, a lawsuit, etc.

At the depths of your dip is when you must dig deep within yourself. At this point, you need far more than motivational emotions from the heart — you need the grit of commitment from the gut.

The great leadership guru Warren Bennis wrote:

“The leaders I met…always referred back to some failure: something that happened to them that was personally difficult, even traumatic, something that made them feel that desperate sense of hitting bottom — as something they thought was almost a necessity. It’s as if, at that moment, the iron entered their soul; that moment created the resilience that leaders need.”

Will you stick with it long enough for the iron to enter your soul, or will it slip through your fingers?

I can’t tell you which of these three options is right for you; only you can know that. The best thing you can do right now is spend a day alone accessing your intuition to make the right decision.

While you’re doing so, keep this counsel in mind: Never persist in something that is doomed to fail no matter how hard you work, and, to quote Seth Godin again, “Never quit something with great long-term potential just because you can’t deal with the stress of the moment.”

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