If you’re like most entrepreneurs, you have a lot on your plate.
Maybe you have a full-time job, and you’re building your online business on the side – and it seems to be growing too slowly – or is completely stalled.
Maybe you’re looking forward to quitting your job and becoming a full-time entrepreneur.
Or you’ve been an entrepreneur for a while, with some successes under your belt, but the latest project you’ve been working on just hasn’t drawn the attention you had hoped for.
There comes a time when we all ask the question: Should I throw in the towel, call it a day – is it time to quit?
Maybe it’s Not When, But What to Quit?
Some of us tend to spread ourselves too thin. We give each part of our lives some attention, but no part gets our best effort.
It’s tiring, unproductive, and discouraging.
Sometimes, the urge to quit is a signal from our brain to let go of something that is no longer working for us.
When we feel that urge, rather than survey our lives for those things that are no longer serving us, we often look to the hardest, scariest, or most challenging thing on our plate, and that’s what gets the axe.
It’s easier to quit the hard and scary things, and hold on to the easy and comfortable things. I’m here to suggest that’s not always the best solution.
When you get a quiet moment, take a look at your different projects and opportunities, and ask: “Is there anything I’m doing now I should reconsider? What should I quit?”
I’ve gathered a few resources to help you make those important decisions.
Quitting Has a Bad Rap
First, let’s get this out of the way: Is it OK for you to quit?
Do you have one of those scripts running in the background that tells you it’s wrong to quit anything, ever?
No one wants to be a quitter. So, we tough it out. We hold on, we endure.
It seems to be part of our cultural wiring.
“Winners do quit all the time,” writes Seth Godin in his book The Dip. “They just quit the right stuff at the right time.” He goes on to write, “people should quit the tasks that aren’t worth the effort for a long term success.”
So maybe that’s the next question we need to ask: “Is this project worth the effort for a long term success?”
Can you know this in advance?
I think so. Here’s how.
Into The Dip
Have you ever watched one of those performance shows like American Idol? There’s a new one now called X Factor.
One thing both shows have in common is the “bootcamp,” a few weeks where the producers put all the young hopefuls through their paces. They throw all sorts of new challenges at them and watch as the performers grow or melt under the relentless show-biz pressure-cooker. Yes, this bootcamp is enhanced pressure, to be sure: it’s intended to be a condensed version of the first few years of a young performer’s life.
During the bootcamp, we watch the genuine performers resolutely emerge from among the tears and stomping fits of those less suited for the hard effort of learning the ropes.
And this is the kind of phenomenon Seth Godin was writing about a few years back when he published his great little book The Dip. Seth theorizes that any learning process – or business – starts out smoothly. At first it’s new, it’s fun.
Inevitably, we enter the dip: our very own “bootcamp,” where we come face-to-face with the unknown, and either embrace the challenge and expand our knowledge and skills, or shrink from the challenge. In the dip, our learning curve is steep. As we apply our new knowledge, we may stumble. We may fail.
In fact, in The Dip we’ll probably fail, more than once.
And this just isn’t very much fun.
What’s more, when you’re in the dip, your mood often follows the same curve, which makes it doubly hard to stay motivated and on task. Here, there’s a lot to learn, there’s often even more pressure to perform.
It’s enough to make you want to quit.
The deeper this dip, Seth writes, the fewer people who make it to the other side.
And that’s one of the reasons making it through the Dip is so valuable.
No Path is Straight
The Dip is one of three “curves” Seth identifies along the path to success. The other two are the cliff and the cul-de-sac – both of which can be deadly.
The cliff is something you can’t quit, but you end up falling off when everything eventually falls apart. Seth’s example is a smoker. When someone starts smoking, they think they can quit at anytime, but then they become addicted and reach a point where they can’t quit and end up “falling off the cliff.”
Come to think of it, I think I once had a relationship like this . . .
If you’re on the cliff, hopefully you know it. A little harder to pinpoint is the next curve, the cul-de-sac.
The cul-de-sac is French for “dead end,” and it will take you nowhere. You work and work, nothing happens and nothing changes, everything either remains static, or grows worse. Seth recommends getting out of the cul-de-sac as soon as possible. Why? “The opportunity cost of investing your life in something that’s not going to get better is just too high,” he writes.
When you’re in the cul-de-sac you know it, because it’s deadening. You can feel your dreams and goals slipping away.
Many new entrepreneurs will tell me their job is definitely a cul-de-sac. And I’ll ask them, “Are you learning anything that will help you in the future?”
It’s easy to identify the soul-killing aspects of the typical job while you dream about the amazing life you imagine entrepreneurship will bring you.
But what value are you giving and pulling from that job? Most of us need some form of stable income while building our business.
Not only that, but looking back, skills I picked up and practiced at the jobs I held form critical pieces of what I teach others today. I can’t imagine having learned those skills any other way.
Before you quit a project – or your job – try measuring the decision against the knowledge you gain from it:
- If you’re learning something worthwhile, but you haven’t seen much success, then it might not be the right time to quit. You can’t always evaluate the value that knowledge will have in the future.
- If you’re learning nothing and not succeeding, then you’re in the cul-de-sac, and it’s time to move on.
Both the cliff and the cul-de-sac lead to failure. If you’re on one of these curves, you need to quit. Writes Seth, “What’s the point of sticking it out if you’re not going to get the benefits of being the best in the world?”
Seth points out that coping is not a good substitute for quitting, nor is it heroic or noble. Coping is what you do when you muddle through something. Coping leads to mediocre performance, and depletes energy that could be applied towards more productive pursuits.
At any one time, you may have several paths you’re pursuing, each with its own curves. Look over the paths in your life right now.
- How many of those paths end in cul-de-sacs?
- Are any of them cliffs?
- Is any path you’re on in the Dip?
Godin defines The Dip as “any rough patch you have to get through before achieving your big goal . . . if in fact you’re chasing the right goal.”
Are You Chasing the Right Goal?
Let’s frame this question another way: “Does your job, your project, or your business help you reach your long term objectives?”
When I first started coaching, one of my favorite goal-setting examples was one I called “the arrow with a mind of its own.”
See what you think.
First, create your goals and paint them vividly, placing them out there in front of you.
Imagine those goals as a target placed years into your future, and your daily actions are arrows aimed and shot towards this target.
A funny thing happens with those arrows: you can aim carefully and shoot with precision, but sometimes the wind catches them, and carries them off in completely unexpected directions.
Others are a misfire, and fall a few feet away from you.
The point is all we can do is paint that vivid future and then get to work setting into action the steps we believe will take us in that direction.
It’s OK if our tactics aren’t always the right tactics, it’s fine if the wind changes direction, and the target can change completely – in fact, it often does.
What’s important is that in any given moment you’ve clearly defined your goals, given them dimension, and are intently aware of them daily, and take at least one step daily toward your goals.
Seth suggests one of the best ways to make it through the Dip is to visualize your “light at the end of the tunnel.”
Visualize this in any way that works for you: A vision board can be a huge boost. It motivates me to visualize the person I’m helping to make it through the rough waters of entrepreneurship.
Whatever it takes for you, visualize that consistently. Writes Seth: “Persistent people are able to visualize the idea of light at the end of the tunnel when others can’t see it. At the same time, the smartest people are realistic about not imagining light when there isn’t any.”
Aren’t clear on your long term goals? Get a coach to help you get a clear eye on your goals. Get aligned with those goals and get clear about your next steps. It’s really difficult to make a decision about quitting or starting anything when we’re surrounded only by today’s urgent needs with no life-line tossed into the future.
A good coach will help you identify that life-line, and help you create a plan to live it.
The Biggest “What-if” Question . . .
Shelley was a successful executive who started working with me when she was due to retire in two years. We had started her long planned-for business and website on the side. She was building her “tribe,” and looking forward to coaching others full-time on topics she was passionate about.
But then Shelley was offered an unexpected promotion at work, and her retirement was shoved well into the future.
The focus of our coaching suddenly changed dramatically.
“Should I accept this promotion?” She asked me. “It’s a lot more work, I won’t have time for my writing – or my coaching. I’ll be doing a lot more traveling.”
I pointed Shelley to her goals that we had mapped out when she started working with me and asked, “Which opportunity best helps fulfill the future you’ve laid out here?”
The answer seemed clear: Her job would be a few more years – or longer – in the “cul-de-sac,” a few more years running on the treadmill she admitted she despised, never having time to really focus on expanding her efforts in her own business.
Her website and future coaching clients awaited her. There was only one question left to ask, and Shelley asked it, timidly, “But Keith, what if my own business doesn’t work out?”
And I responded with the only answer there is: “What if staying right where you are doesn’t work out? I think it’s time to define what “working out” looks like to you.
None of us has a crystal ball. We are either working towards those things that will fulfill our values and our goals, or we’re not.
How to Quit Strategically
Only quit as a long-term strategy, not a short-term answer.
The intent behind quitting is to quit the tactics that aren’t working while staying the course on your long-term goals and vision. It’s about understanding the difference between strategic quitting and reactive or serial quitting.
Determine your quitting strategy in advance. When starting anything, determine the circumstances under which you’ll quit: No movement, no improvement in my skills, I get bored, whatever it is for you.
This way, you avoid the “emotional quit.”
Seth offers three great quitting questions in The Dip.
Seth’s Three Questions to Ask Before Quitting
1. Are you panicking?
I’ll freely admit that in my 30-plus years of entrepreneurship, the times I’ve most wanted to quit were those times I was most tired, frazzled, or emotionally spent.
And common sense tells us that’s the worst possible time time to make decisions. Wait until you’re on a more even keel, and thinking more rationally.
Now, when I got some rest, did I still want to quit? Many times, sure. But, I was able to weigh in with some evidence from the other side of the table.
2. Who are you trying to influence?
This can be critical to moving forward. Get clear on your target audience. Are you casting too wide a net? Are you trying to attract everyone? That’s next to impossible. Narrow your niche, especially at first. For whom are trying to become the best?
3. What measurable progress are you making?
You’re either falling behind, standing still, or moving forward. Yes, sometimes, you don’t move forward as quickly as you’d like. But are you seeing any results? Attracting any fans and readers? Getting any offers for guest posts? Selling any of your products?
Look for evidence that your ideas and strategy are “scalable.” If it’s getting attention and a small amount of traction with a small list and a part-time effort, what are the chances you’ll get more attention and more traction by growing your list and giving it a full-time effort?
We’ll close this discussion with one more quote from The Dip:
The point is that in a world of infinite choice, in a world where the best in the world is worth more every single day, the only chance you’ve got is to find a Dip and embrace it. Realize that it’s actually your best ally. The harder it is to get through, the better your chance of being the only one to get through it.
Over to you . . .
Have you spent any time in the Dip? What are your strategies for making it through, or for strategically quitting?