Winners quit all the time.
You've got to know when to hold 'em
Know when to fold 'em
Know when to walk away
And know when to run
Kenny Roger's "The Gambler" is immortal because it speaks a hard, uncomfortable truth. The key to success is knowing when to quit.
I'm a poor quitter.
There are times where this has worked to my advantage; how else do you run a 314-mile race in the middle of July? But, that same attribute kept me in a five-year relationship that led to my first marriage -- and prompt divorce. It also kept me a year past quitting time in public schools, despite recognizing it was failing and soul-searching along the Appalachian Trail at the start of that final year.
How can we tell the difference?
In The Dip, Seth Godin states the key to success is "Quit the wrong stuff. Stick with the right stuff. Have the guts to do one or the other." The end state is about being "the best in the world."
Being the best in the world is relative. It may mean being the best person to fill a specific position or the best salesperson in a specific market. But, find the niche where you're able to distinguish yourself from everyone else.
To differentiate yourself, Godin says every situation falls along three curves: a Dip, a Cul-de-Sac, or a Cliff. Push through the Dips and quit the other two as quickly as possible. They can only lead to failure.
A Dip is a situation where you see significant initial gains, then see a dip in results as you move from novice to expert, with an eventual exponential increase in rewards if you continue into mastery.
An example of this writing. You publish your first article to great fanfare (or all your enthusiastic friends and family), but then your next dozen articles fall flat. Do you seek feedback and improve? Or give up and move on?
A Cul-de-Sac is your stereotypical dead-end job; it's a situation where no matter the effort it rarely gets better or worse.
A cliff is a rare situation where quitting becomes harder and harder with increasingly higher stakes like smoking. When it collapses, it's bad.
Focus on the Dips. "If it's worth doing, there's probably a Dip... The Dip creates scarcity; scarcity creates value." If you're one of the few that can push through the Dip, the market will reward your persistence. "Adversity is your ally" as it provides opportunities to separate yourself from the competition.
Here are two strategies to make it through the Dips:
Keep your future self in mind. Follow through with your strategy, but be willing to change your tactics. That might mean swapping jobs or the way you're training for a race. Focus on the big picture.
If you're on the verge of quitting, Go ALL IN. If you have nothing to lose, why not try that one crazy idea? It may lead to a breakthrough.
If you're still considering quitting, ask yourself these three questions:
Am I panicking?
Wait until you have a calm head before deciding to quit -- get through this hard patch first. Or even better, identify your quitting criteria BEFORE you start. You'll avoid overreacting to discomfort.
Who am I trying to influence?
If you're up against a wall trying to influence a single person in a relationship or a boss, quitting might be the best option. But, if you're doing sales in a large market, keep climbing the hill. It gets easier as you make progress. Be persistent. Build relationships. Improve your product.
What sort of measurable progress am I making?
In a job, "you're either moving forward, falling behind, or standing still." If you're not moving forward...
Sometimes, we try to soften the blow. Instead of quitting, we diversify. Not an effective coping strategy.
A woodpecker can tap twenty times on a thousand trees and get nowhere, but stay busy. Or he can tap twenty-thousand times on one tree and get dinner.
Or, we settle for mediocrity, which is to settle for a different kind of quitting. Congrats, you've just become a long-term loser. Just quit, my friend. It's over.
Every gambler knows
That the secret to survivin'
Is knowin' what to throw away
And knowin' what to keep
'Cause every hand's a winner
And every hand's a loser
And the best that you can hope for is to die
in your sleep