How Do You Decide When to Quit?

Knowing when to quit and when to press on can be one of life’s toughest decisions. When things get tough, the tough get going… but do they go straight ahead or in a different direction? When I wanted to quit football in high school, my father taught me a lesson I have never forgotten.

high-school-footballIn preparation for the big homecoming game my sophomore year, our rural Oklahoma football team had ordered new uniforms so we would look our best during the halftime ceremony. Just one problem – there weren’t enough new uniforms for everyone. Junior and senior class players got first selections. Then as one of the coaches was giving sophomores their uniforms, he skipped me (and a couple of other “average” athletes) and gave the remaining uniforms to some of the talented freshmen players.

I was humiliated.

I wasn’t being a fashionista. This was a message to me that the coaches didn’t consider me a valuable contributor, and this message would be on public display to everyone else. The uniforms were so distinct the rest of the team would notice, as would everyone in the stands while we stood in the middle of the field during the homecoming ceremony. I couldn’t imagine being one of the few varsity players wearing a marred and tattered, older-style uniform. I walked up to the coach and said, “I quit.” and walked out of the field house.

Shortly after the game had started, my father wondered why I wasn’t on the field and he came and found me. I explained my reasons for quitting the team. He understood my frustration, but reminded me I had made a commitment to the coaches and my team. He encouraged me to finish out the season before deciding whether to quit, but left the decision up to me.

I knew he was right. After the game, I swallowed my pride and asked the coach if I could return to the team. I finished the season, but never played football after that year. Since I didn’t continue pursuing football, it may seem like rejoining the team was meaningless. But I learned some valuable lessons from my father’s advice.

All of us have been in a place like this – where we don’t feel like a valued contributor, where we don’t sense we are in our element or where we don’t feel fulfilled. Maybe that is where you are today. You have no desire to stay where you are, but quitting can be a scary proposition.

So, how do you decide when to quit? Here are a few tips.

  1. Assess your commitments.

    Did you commit to a timeframe or to specific deliverables? Consider how failing to meet those commitments could impact your employer, your client and/or your reputation. If staying committed is best for everyone involved, push to that finish line. I felt I had committed to completing the football season when I joined the team, so I pushed on. In another example, Heather Dorniden pushed herself to the literal finish line after falling during a 600 meter race. Here are the two inspiring videos: the first video and the second (hat tip to Michael Hyatt‘s great post “Don’t Quit Before the Whistle Blows).

    If I miss a goal, which sometimes happens when you set huge ones, I want the reassurance that I did everything I in my power to make it happen. I want the peace in knowing that it wasn’t for lack of hustling that I missed a target for my dream. I want to know that the one thing under my control was under control.
    Jon Acuff, Quitter: Closing the Gap Between Your Day Job and Your Dream Job

  2. Assess the opportunity to grow.

    That event at homecoming helped me recognize I was only playing football because I thought I was supposed to. Honestly, I didn’t enjoy it and likely would never have been more than a mediocre player. The time I would have spent continuing to play football was instead funneled into creative activities I enjoyed and excelled in, as well as a part-time job.

    Consider whether quitting now improves or limits your capacity to grow. What are the opportunity costs for sticking with it compared to trying something else? Do you have other options you know you can pursue and be excellent in doing?

    Mediocre work is rarely because of a lack of talent and often because of the cul-de-sac. All coping does is waste your time and misdirect your energy. If the best you can do is cope, you’re better off quitting.
    Seth Godin, The Dip

  3. Set a tripwire on your decision.

    There are very few times when you commit to something for life, so most everything we commit to has to end eventually… but when? My father suggested I wait and decide whether to quit after the football season was over. This gave me a specific time to consider my decision. If now isn’t the right time for you to decide, set a tripwire. Do you need to make your decision after fulfilling your commitments, like I did? Maybe you need to prepare yourself for the transition. Practicality may require you to line up another option first. But don’t let these issues cause you to procrastinate. Estimate how long this should take and set a date for your decision. This will give you a specific goal to aim for and will help motivate you to make progress toward that goal.

Quitting isn’t easy, but languishing in mediocrity is no picnic either. By considering your options and making a plan, you can improve your opportunities for success. Finally, don’t feel like quitting makes you a loser. To quote Seth again from The Dip…

Winners quit all the time. They just quit the right stuff at the right time.
Seth Godin, The Dip

I hope these tips help you do exactly that. Quit the right stuff at the right time.

How Emotional Posture Stunts Growth

vulnerability is not weakness

original image by samplediz at FreeImages.com (http://www.freeimages.com/photo/1224442)

“I’ll never let that happen again.”

Amidst all of life’s slings and arrows, we learn to put up our shields to protect ourselves. We do this to get through situations when we feel attacked, but if we leave our shields up we close ourselves off. We galvanize ourselves in a way that prevents us from learning, changing and growing.

We trust someone and they hurt us, so we no longer trust as easily.
We try something new and it backfires, so we go back to our comfort zone.
We share our art with others and get negative feedback, so we keep it to ourselves next time.

Our brains naturally try and avoid pain in order to protect our existence. Self-preservation is essential in life or death scenarios. But we’re people, not jam. We don’t need to be preserved indefinitely. In order to experience what it means to be human, we have to take emotional and mental risks, even when it means inevitably experiencing pain.

If we let it, our emotional posture will stunt our growth.

Vulnerability is not weakness. And that myth is profoundly dangerous. Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.

- Dr. Brené Brown

Brené Brown’s definition of vulnerability is not one of weakness, but of strength (here are some videos of her explaining this). I find it helpful to think about vulnerability as a posture. If you are too protective, you could be closed off to the world around you.

If you are in a closed posture, you…

  • … keep your head down
  • … watch closely where you walk
  • … hold your arms in to protect your heart
  • … are sure to not make contact with anyone or anything
  • … ultimately make yourself smaller

If you are in an open posture, you…

  • … hold your head high
  • … see farther and can notice more opportunities
  • … are more free to use your arms and hands in helping others
  • … are able to connect more easily with others and build rewarding relationships
  • … are able to grow

It can be scary to walk through each day with an open posture (especially after getting sucker punched). But if we decide our solution to life’s hard lessons is to “never do that again,” we may miss incredible opportunities to see something beautiful born out of our willingness to be vulnerable.

As you go through your day, check your posture and ask yourself if you’re being open or closed.

Pushers and Pullers

who-pushes-youIf you’re like most folks, you have a lot of people pulling at you daily.

  • You may have children who need your support.
  • Your boss likely needs you to to complete specific tasks to help her achieve stated objectives.
  • Schools and/or churches pull on you to volunteer and help raise funds.
  • Advertisers constantly pull on your attention and wallet

And that is simply the tip of the iceberg.

When you stop to think about everyone and everything pulling on you, it makes sense why you feel pulled in so many different directions.

But, have you ever considered who is pushing you? Who pushes you to…

  • … grow and learn?
  • … say “yes” to something that scares you?
  • … say “no” to what will distract you?
  • … dream big?
  • … take action on YOUR goals?
  • … stick to YOUR values?
  • … get out of a rut?
  • … choose grace over criticism?
  • … stop settling for less?
  • … dig deep inside yourself and find something the world can’t live without?

We give “pushy” a bad name, but sometimes we need more pushers to help us break free from the superfluous things pulling at us.

Invite someone to give you a push – and value it when they push you in the direction you need to go.

2 Kinds of Indecision

2-types-indecisionYou are faced with a nearly infinite number of decisions each day. The cereal aisle in the grocery store used to be a sign of our mountain of choices, but you can now find enough varieties of any product to fill a store (or more) thanks to online shopping. The only problem with your freedom to choose is you no longer feel you have the freedom to NOT choose. (It’s no surprise we now use terms like decision fatigue to explain why this process wears us out.)

So, what do you do? If you’re like most of us, you put off choices when the decision isn’t clear. But some of these decisions could be important or urgent, so the procrastination technique isn’t always successful. Some decisions can’t wait, but you don’t have enough time to do everything at once.

This brings you one more decision to make: which choices will you choose?

In order to figure this out, it will help you to know which of 2 kinds of indecision you’re experiencing: indifference or ambivalence.

indifference-versus-ambivalence

  1. Indifference

    If you don’t care whether you eat at the Italian restaurant versus the burger joint, then you are indifferent. This is the type of decision you can defer. Let someone else choose or simply flip a coin to decide. If the meal isn’t imminent, you can also put off this decision until later.

  2. Ambivalence

    If you’re choosing between two very different job offers, but want each one for solid reasons… then you are ambivalent. This is the kind of decision that deserves your full attention. You may need time to research the options further, gather other opinions and gather your best judgment.

This seems somewhat obvious, but you can spend a lot of time pondering choices without considering how much you care about the outcome. By focusing our attention away from our indifference and on what you feel strongly about, you can accomplish more significance with every decision.

Do you struggle with indecision? Let me know if this is helpful or if you have other thoughts on this topic.

God from the Machine

JR-Ewing-Jeannie

Many of us remember when the TV show Dallas turned an entire season into “just a dream” in order to bring back a character who had been killed off. Viewers were furious with what they deemed a copout. The solution was much too convenient and it came out of the blue.

This is a prime example of what the industry calls a deus ex machina.

A deus ex machina is something inserted into a story which provides a contrived solution. In Latin, the phrase means literally “a god from the machine.” We may show frustration with Pam waking up or Tolkien’s eagles, but truth be told, we want our own god from the machine.

We want the pill that allows us to lose weight without changing our eating or exercise habits. We want that windfall of money from the lottery to solve our debt problems. We want our relationship issues to disappear as the other person realizes they were wrong all along. Basically, we want to wake up in the morning and realize all our problems are now as insignificant as a bad dream that rinses out of our lives in the morning shower.

Wishing for your own deus ex machina does little good. Your time can be better spent honing your craft, growing your following, rolling a snowball downhill and building momentum. As you do this, you learn how to make bold – but smart – decisions. This is where you can take the leap you’ve been preparing for your entire life (and the leap after that).

And maybe that’s it. Maybe it is a bit of god from the machine. Only, in this case, the machine is your life.

The Secret to Getting There

GroundhogDay

This fabulous gif image is from Chris Piascik: http://chrispiascik.com/2011/02/groundhog-day/

 

There can be an exciting place to think about.

It is where we want to go. We dream of it. We imagine ourselves somehow looking better – stronger, more secure, more confident, admirable, accomplished, popular, envied, relaxed, unburdened, successful – all because we have arrived there.

We paint a picture through goals and visions. We commit ourselves to getting there.

But so many times, we never arrive. We don’t even seem to make it to halfway there. We tend to stay here. And that is the secret to getting there.

We have to let go of here.

As long as we hold onto our here, it will always feel safer than going there. Once we let go, then there seems safer than the limbo we have created. But it is scary to let go of the trapeze. To trust our momentum to carry us through the vacuous space from here to there.

Maybe that is why resolutions are so hard to keep. We resolve to get somewhere different in the new year, but we hold onto the place where we are comfortable.

So, maybe you have a there, where you want to be in 2015. Are you willing to let go of 2014 in order to get there?

Swing yourself with confidence. Build your momentum. Generate velocity in the right direction. But if you never let go, don’t be surprised by the strikingly familiar surroundings.

How to Find Significance in Your Work

bite-sized-elephantCrossing numerous small hills doesn’t make you a mountain climber.

Dousing millions of lit matches one at a time won’t qualify you as a fire fighter.

Running a quarter mile every day for four months won’t make you a marathon runner.

The tedium of small accomplishments can lead you to become apathetic about what you’re doing. If you’re willing to take on the bigger challenge, you may find greater significance in your work. Each step gets you closer to the top of the mountain or closer to an important finish line. The thrill of knowing you can do something significant can inspire you to keep going.

They say the key to eating an elephant is to take one bite at a time. Unfortunately, we often look for bite-sized elephants instead.

That’s fine. Just don’t complain about the portion size once you choose it.