Knowing When to Quit and When to Push Through
It might sound funny, even crazy, but I really think that there is an art to quitting and it’s something I have a real talent for. What brought this up was reading a review of Seth Godin’s book called The Dip. Everyone experiences the Dip, that time when things get hard, really hard. Those times where the fun has evaporated and it becomes hard to see a reason for our efforts. A Dip can last for minutes, hours, days or even weeks or months by which time it’s probably become something else altogether. Many quit at the first sign of difficulty, not realising that the dip is just a normal part of the journey. As Seth might say, they quit when they shouldn’t, when the winner would have pushed through.
In my late teens and early twenties I became an expert quitter. After three months of a Science degree I quit. After a year of Art School I quit. After three months of a stone masonry job I used the mass redundancy from the site we were working on as an opportunity to quit. I’ve quit good administration jobs and I’ve quit whole ‘scenes’ – you know, where you just accept that you don’t like the culture that you’re in. There have been countless other examples. I’ve quit for a variety of reasons. Sometimes I’ve just realised that I was simply taking someone else’s path rather than my own. Most often it was just because my heart wasn’t in it, even if I was very good at it. In my experience being good at something is no guarantee that it’s the best way forward. It can be, but not necessarily.
One aspect of all this quitting was that I got to try out different ideas, road test them. Sometimes it’s the only way to know what something is really like and to remove romantic illusions. Over time I was able to sample and weed out different options until I found things that really excited me. I did eventually find what I was passionate about, ‘my bliss’ as Joseph Campbell would have said, and this only happened because I was never prepared to settle for something when my heart wasn’t in it.
It’s only when the hard times come that our passion is tested and when there is real passion there, when we are motivated by our most deeply held values, we will push through the dip. The hard times can still be really tough, we might come close to quitting but in our heart of hearts we know we have to go on, to do what it takes.
So don’t just quit because something is difficult. Life is always going to have a good mix of tough days alongside the easy ones. But if your heart isn’t in it, don’t settle. Life is too special. Even more than that, your life is too special not to live in a way that honours the needs of your spirit.
I know this is a different approach to that advocated by a lot of people. I also had many critics during my years of searching, sampling and quitting, people who wanted me to finish things just for the sake of it. But it’s not about them, it never was. It’s about following our hearts and living authentically – with integrity, this can require lots of courage, but when you find your passion you’ll find all the courage and strength you need, and more besides.