Quitting is a rather taboo subject in Western culture. In the States where I grew up, quitting was treated, essentially, as an immoral act. I think that Vince Lombardi, the late American football coach, explained this cultural attitude best with his quote, “Winners never quit, and quitters never win.”
If you’ve had a chance to read author Seth Godin’s book, “The Dip,” you know that this cultural attitude is wrong – even harmful.
Rather than thinking in terms of quitting or not, I suggest that, instead, you imagine your process in pursuit of your goal in this way:
Imagine yourself standing at the base of a very large tree. This tree has many branches heading off in many directions. These branches intertwine a great deal, so it is impossible to tell which of these may lead you to your goal – the very highest point on the highest branch. The base of the tree signifies your starting point. As you climb this tree, you will guess at which branch to follow. Very often, you will find that the branch you chose is a dead end, of heads off in a direction that you do not want to go. So what do you do? Why, you quit climbing that branch, of course.
Now imagine that you have begun a great project in pursuit of an important goal. To achieve this, you formulate a strategy and begin to execute it by moving ahead. However, after a bit it becomes clear that this particular effort is a dead end, or at least that it won’t take you where you really want to be – the top of the tree – your ultimate goal. Do you let your ego attachment to this path keep you from quitting it and starting a new one? Do you think about all of the energy that you have already put into this path, and imagine that energy now wasted unless you “press on” in this dead-end effort? Do you get lazy and just keep going because you don’t want to face the negative energy of stopping and starting? Do you fear the stigma, from your friends, family, colleagues, or peers, of being labeled a “quitter.”
When you think of this problem in the context of the tree climbing analogy, the answer is obvious. The goal is the purpose of the effort. If what you are doing will not take you there, then only a fool or ignorant would continue another minute in that direction. This kind of “tactical quitting” is smart and necessary. But when we are close to the effort, in the moment, things often look different. We think of all of the effort, and the ego investment in this path, and it seems more difficult to stop and start another effort somewhere else.
For me, the key has always been to keep my mind’s eye on the ultimate goal. That’s where my ego attaches itself – not to the process. “Keep your eyes on the prize,” and tactical quitting becomes just one more tactic towards achieving what you really want.
So the next time you think that you are not on the right path, consider your ultimate goal. Is the path that you are now on the fastest way there? If not, quit, and climb a different branch towards your dream.
All the best,