The great secret of perseverance: hope for chronic quitters
Everyone loves “never quit” quotes. They inspire us in our darkest hours and help us rise when we fall:
“Quitters never win and winners never quit.” -Vince Lombardi
“Never quit. It is the easiest cop-out in the world. Set a goal and don’t quit until you attain it. When you do attain it, set another goal, and don’t quit until you reach it. Never quit.” -Bear Bryant
“Most people who succeed in the face of seemingly impossible conditions are people who simply don’t know how to quit.” –Robert Schuller
But what if such seemingly inspirational quotes can actually be profoundly deceiving?
In my life purpose coaching I work with a lot of people who feel like failures because they’ve tried lots of things and quit them all. They self-identify as quitters and beat themselves up for it. Then they become gun-shy, afraid to try anything else for fear of quitting yet again.
For these people, the quotes above don’t inspire them, but rather make them feel ashamed.
If you relate to this, I want to help you cast off this burden and see your chronic quitting through new eyes. When you do so, you’ll never shame yourself for quitting again and you’ll be truly inspired to “never quit” — but in the right context.
The problem with the common “never quit” ethic is that it frames everything around discipline and willpower.
In this context, quitting is viewed by default as a character deficiency. We quit, so goes the subconscious story, because we allow fear, laziness, and/or apathy to get the better of us. We’re weak, undisciplined, cowardly.
In some cases, there may be truth to this. But for the vast majority of people I work with, this story completely misses the mark.
Most people quit, not because they’re weak and undisciplined, but rather because they simply haven’t found their “sweet spot,” their “zone of genius,” the work they love.
Bestselling author and international educational advisor Ken Robinson calls this “the Element” in his fantastic book, The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything.
The Element is the combination of your natural talents and what you really love to do. As Ken puts it,
“Being in your Element is not only a question of natural aptitude. I know many people who are naturally very good at something, but don’t feel it’s their life’s calling. Being in your Element needs something more — passion. People who are in their Element take a deep delight and pleasure in what they do.”
Living from the Element is critical, he teaches, because,
“When people are in their Element, they connect with something fundamental to their sense of identity, purpose, and well-being. Being there provides a sense of self-revelation, of defining who they really are and what they’re really meant to be doing with their lives.”
When you live from your Element it’s easy to persevere, because persevering in your passion is more play than it is drudgery.
I’ve been a professional writer since June 2006. I earn a six-figure income from ghostwriting today, but it’s been a long, hard, uncertain road to get here. I’ve persevered through some dark times when I had no projects and literally had no idea how I’d feed my family for months at a time. I’ve made sacrifices and done things few people will never know to get here.
But I’ve done so, not because I’m stronger, more courageous, or more disciplined than anyone else, but rather simply because I love writing. I would write whether I got paid or not (and indeed I’ve done quite a lot of that over the years).
The secret to persevering isn’t discipline; it’s passion — doing what you love to do.
When you’re doing what you love, you’re much more willing to persist through hard times. In fact, your passion makes you happy in spite of your trials.
Persevering through something that is drudgery to you in the name of perseverance alone isn’t commendable; it’s senseless stubbornness. Even if you stick with it long enough to make good money, you won’t be truly happy.
The greatest success of all is being in a position where you can do what you love every day, whether it makes you rich and famous or not.
If you don’t love what you do, the best thing you can do is quit — and as quickly as possible. Don’t shame yourself for quitting and don’t look back. As Seth Godin reveals in 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.”
What you never want to quit is the search to find your Element. And once you’re in your Element, never quit developing it and honing your talents to their full potential in the service of others.
Also, understand that there are infinite ways to package your passion to make a living. You can be in your Element but quit one project and business venture after another if it doesn’t work. You can keep trying to craft the perfect offer without being a quitter.
As author F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote,
“Never confuse a single defeat with a final defeat.”
If you’ve done a lot of quitting throughout your life and feel ashamed for it, analyze your past experiences and ask yourself if you really loved what you were doing. If you didn’t, then quitting was exactly what you should have done. If you did, then maybe you just need to find a different way to package and express your passion.
You’re not a quitter. You’re not weak or undisciplined. You just haven’t found your true passion and purpose yet. And when you do, perseverance will take care of itself.