Does anyone else remember the old Peggy Lee song, “Is That All There Is?” It’s about a woman struggling in the face of many regrets. This morning I was thinking about how projects (and lives) get off the tracks. Sometimes as professionals we can get so focused on accomplishing a certain goal that we can lose sight of what the whole enterprise was supposed to be about in the first place.
My business coach gave me a great little book—The Dip by Seth Godin—that contains a lot of wisdom about questions like these. Our society makes a fetish out of “winning,” but the truth is that real winners quit on things all the time. They just quit the right stuff at the right time.
At the beginning, when you first start a new endeavor, it’s fun. You could be taking up golf, or beginning acupuncture treatments, or starting a new job or your own business or beginning a new initiative with your work. It’s interesting and everyone is cheering you on. Over the first few weeks and months, it’s easy to stay engaged.
Then “the Dip” happens. You’ve harvested all the easy wins. The long slog to getting lasting results has begun. Perhaps you have 40 pounds to go, or three years on your degree, or you have two tiny clients and none of your sales prospects will return your phone calls. Your acupuncturist poked you full of holes and you’re still in pain.
It turns out there’s a secret to success in this all-too-familiar scenario, but you have some analysis to do. Suppose you have the idea to become a great snowboarder. You’ve left the fun, awesome bunny slope and now you are falling on your butt a lot. You have three choices:
- Tough it out and become a great snowboarder.
- Realize early on that you’ve encountered a Dip too wide and deep to cross with the resources at your disposal. Perhaps you simply don’t have the physical capacity to be good at snowboarding. Or perhaps your motivation slips away when you realize how tough it’s going to be. Write off your losses, swallow your pride, and move on to something you’re truly passionate about.
As Seth Godin writes, either of these choices is valid and constructive. But far too many people choose option three:
- Stupidly invest a lot of time and money trying to get good. Then quit in the middle of the Dip before it pays off.
How many times have you done that to yourself? I sure have—lots of times.
When you are in the Dip and you know what you are doing is truly worthwhile and has potential—if you know that the pain would be worth it if only you could somehow get there—then that’s when you don’t quit! That’s when you rededicate yourself to it, with all the energy you’ve freed up from bailing out of those dead-end activities. Shedding that sunk cost will invigorate you. It’s a different way of thinking, and that helps you change the game.