Quitting is For Winners
A Discussion of Seth Godin’s “The Dip”
Starting something new is thrilling. Whether it’s a new project, a new job, a new relationship, or a new hobby, it’s normal to find ourselves with renewed energy, clarity of focus, and a greater sense of possibility. The potential unknowns are exciting and we look to the future with optimism. At this point, we often don’t mind putting in extra energy and time because progress is easy to see, the rapid learning keeps us excited.
The Dip / / However, as we settle into new routines, we inevitably find ourselves in what Seth Godin has termed “the Dip.” The Dip is the long slog between starting and mastery. It’s when progress is difficult to see, when our hard work doesn’t seem to bring the same results it used to. It’s the place where nobody recognizes your work and you wonder if you should just quit.
Quitting / / Traditional advice would say to stick it out because ‘winners never quit.’ Though well-intentioned, this is completely inaccurate. Winners quit all the time. In fact the secret of successful organizations is that they have mastered strategic quitting. They know when to quit and when to push through, they understand where their effort is best spent. Successful organizations display this quite clearly, but the reality is that it is also the trademark of successful individuals, and if we want to thrive intentionally we need to learn when to quit and when to push through.
Seth Godin writes:
Extraordinary benefits accrue to the tiny minority of people who are able to push just a tiny bit longer than most.
Extraordinary benefits also accrue to the tiny majority who quit early and refocus their efforts on something new.
In both cases, it’s about being the best in the world. About getting through the hard stuff and coming out on the other side.
The difference in all of this is intentionality. Before we ever start something new, we should have already determined what our quitting point will be. It is human nature to quit when it hurts, but if we give into this reflex we are simply quitting reactively; giving up our long-term vision as a result of short-term pain. If we know ahead of time what the criteria are for quitting, we can be confident that we are not making an emotional decision that will not benefit us in the long run. Set your quitting strategy before the discomfort sets in.
Quitting as a short-term, reactive strategy is always a bad idea, but quitting for the long-term is an excellent idea. Here are some really simple examples, if you had never quit using training wheels, you never would have learned to ride a bike. If you had never quit your high school job of flipping burgers (or pouring coffee in my case), you wouldn’t be working where you are today. If you never quit eating junk food, you’ll never lose that extra weight, and if you don’t quit spending more money than you earn, you’ll never get out of debt.
These examples should seem pretty obvious, the light at the end of those tunnels should be common knowledge, but they can still be a scary change when going through them. We need to apply this perspective to all the Dip’s we’re facing and it may just be that quitting in one area, will give you the space you need to find success in another.
Mediocrity / / When we find ourselves in the Dip, some people become overwhelmed and quit outright, but in reality, the most common response is to simply settle into mediocrity. It’s hard to admit that we have failed at something, it’s scary to think that we will have to start something new. Average may feel safe, but it isn’t, it’s just invisible. It’s the path of least resistance and it never leads to excellence. If you want to do something exceptional, you’ll never get there by playing it safe. Nobody every averaged their way to success.
If you can’t make it through the Dip with excellence, don’t start. It sounds simple, but if we truly embrace this idea we will be much choosier about which journeys we actually embark on.
Sticking It Out / / The opposite of quitting is rededication. It’s digging in, pushing harder, and finding new ways forward. Just because you know you’re in the Dip doesn’t mean you have to be happy to be there. The Dip is flexible, it will respond to the effort you put into it.
If the journey you started was worth doing, then quitting when you hit the Dip just wastes the time you already invested. If it was easy, everyone would do it. Scarcity creates value so when you can push through the Dip that caused others to quit, you increase your value.
At some point in our lives, we’ve all had a coach, teacher, boss, parent, or inspirational poster tell us to “Never Quit.” Godin changes that to: “Never quit something with great long-term potential just because you can’t deal with the stress of the moment.” If we can live by this second mantra instead, we are well on our way to living more intentionally.
To counter our natural instincts of, “it hurts, I quit!” It is important to amplify the long-term benefits of not quitting. Why did you start this project? What will the end result be? As the saying goes, “Is the juice worth the squeeze?” Focusing on the light at the end of the tunnel will help overcome our instinct to quit when it’s hard or painful.
Knowing the Difference / / When talking about when to quit and when to stick it out, Seth Godin talks about two main curves, the Dips and the Cul-de-Sacs. Almost everything in life that is worth doing follows the curve of the Dip. It gets hard, it gets painful, and it feels like a slog, but once through it, there is true accomplishment at the end. You’ve successfully learned a new language, or you got that promotion at work, or your child is finally potty-trained. Whatever your goal was, you’ve achieved it.
The Cul-de-Sac on the other hand, is the curve that leads to failure. It feels the same, it’s hard, painful, and feels like a slog, but there is no end. Things don’t get worse, but they don’t get better, they just exist. The term dead-end job summarizes this idea perfectly. The worst part about Cul-de-Sacs is that they suck up your time and energy so that you aren’t able to push through the Dips in other areas of your life.
Your Turn / / We all face both Dips and Cul-de-Sacs in our lives. Where in your life are you encountering a Dip? Now that you recognize it, how can you push into it? How can you get through it faster, achieving your goal with excellence?
What Cul-de-Sacs are you caught in? Where are you simply going round and round with no improvement or change in the foreseeable future? What area of your life is draining you without providing any other benefit? You need to identify this and do one thing, quit. And quit now.