"You give up too easily," is what my 10-year old next-door neighbor, Mike, told me in 1972 or so when I wanted to quit playing our game of chase. I couldn't seem to tag him "out" as the last player the game, despite my best efforts of 10 minutes of trying. Of course, I vigorously denied that accusation, but have been given cause to think about what he told more than once, especially recently.
In my teens and early 20s, I was the most goal-driven, type A personality of anyone that I knew. Whatever I wanted, I set a goal to achieve it, no matter what. And, to my credit, that determination helped me a great deal. It helped me find a way to pay for 2 college degrees without any help or support from my parents, who thought college was a complete waste of time. It gave me the courage to move to take my first professional job in the northeast U.S., a "foreign country," as I thought of it at the time, since I'd never stepped foot out of southern culture. That move that opened my eyes to a whole new way of thinking and of doing things. At that time in my life, failure wasn't an option. And, I most certainly viewed quitting as failure.
And, through the school of hard knocks in the subsequent years, I became intimately acquainted with failure. I "quit" both of my college degrees, as I discovered too late that I was bored out of my mind with my choice of my bachelor's degrees (Speech Pathology/Audiology), and then stayed in a job too long and suffered from severe burnout so that I "quit" my career afforded me by my master's degree in higher education administration and completely left the field. I then started a business in the crafts industry but "quit" that when it was no longer fun, and I realized that I didn't really have the skills to pull it off.
My life was in shambles at the time, as I desperately searched for what I wanted to do when I grew up, and when I finally latched onto the notion of starting my own business as a virtual assistant, my marriage couldn't take the strain of that decision. So, I decided to "quit" my marriage and ask for a divorce and move back to my home state of Texas and reinvent myself. A few years later, after successfully launching my business, I decided to relocate to Arkansas in pursuit of another business opportunity, which turned out to be yet another failure, and I "quit" that as well.
I spent much of this time second-guessing myself and my decisions, wondering if I was quitting too soon because the going got rough and I was afraid, or if it was just really time to quit and move on. I discovered that I wasn't alone in my thinking when I recently read Seth Godin's book, The Dip. He defines the dip as a temporary setback that you will overcome if you keep pushing. So starting a new business venture is fun and thrilling in the beginning, but after two or three years, it can become very hard and not much fun at all. But, on the other side starting a successful business, most people can see that they are changed for the better, have learned much along the way, and are hopefully making money from the venture.
So, how do you decide if you're simply in a dip, or if you really need to quit? Godin says you need to make two considerations:
1. Do you have the resources to get through it? and
2. Is it worth what it will take?
As I evaluated my "quitting" as described above, it occurred to me that the answer in all cases to both questions was a loud and clear "No!" Why? Because I'd been secretly settling for mediocrity all along. It was time to quit when the things I was measuring weren't improving, and I simply couldn't find anything better to measure. Most importantly, the sick feeling in my gut that I experienced at the time at the thought of continuing wouldn't let me continue.
I've had moments of panic and fear along my journey, as well, and trying to distinguish between the fear and when I'm at a dead-end has been difficult. What have I discovered? The difference between a dead-end and a dip. The dead-end won't get better, no matter how much I try, and the dip makes me feel panicked and scared because I know that I will be great at something and that scares the hell out of me because it pushes me completely outside my comfort zone. More importantly, in a dip, I've realized that the end justifies the means.
I'm currently involved in moving a business venture extensively outside my comfort zone, and it scares me to death. I often wake up in the middle of the night thinking, "What, are you crazy? You have no idea about what you're doing. Everyone is going to figure out that you're completely clueless -- a complete fake."
And that tells me that I'm right on course for success.