quitting to succeed?

03/23/2011

by carolyn mathews

I have a friend who has owned a retail shop for over a decade. She brought years of high-level management, purchasing, and customer service experience to opening her shop. My friend loves the shop! She enjoys the customers, her employees, and the purchasing of stock. Initially, she enjoyed great success. But she is in a competitive business, the buying habits of people have changed the past few years and the shop has not done well for a number of years. She has adjusted the type and amount of stock. She has changed advertising plans. She has held special events. All of this is in hope of regaining the former success of the shop. Her personal work ethic prevents her from quitting. I suspect, however, that quitting is just what she should do.

I was reminded of my friend when a few weeks ago, I read The Dip, by Seth Godin. The message of this easy-to-read book is that we must learn when to quit and when to “stay the course.” Sounds simple, right? Yet, how many of you have stayed with something in your life because you don’t consider yourself a quitter? This something could be investments, a personal relationship, your work, or a project within your work. I suspect this is something we have all done, because the notion of quitting is often viewed as failure. However, before anyone quits anything, it is important to assess your current situation. Godin’s book can help.

In his book, Godin uses three charted curves to illustrate that “I’m getting nowhere…” feeling. The first is the Dip. Starting full of enthusiasm, and fueled by the learning curve, the Dip chart starts relatively high along the vertical axis. Soon though, you may experience that sinking feeling as you seemingly crawl along the horizontal axis while trying to move forward. You experience the Dip when it feels like there is a solid wall of in front of you, yet you feel the urge to move towards success. Godin describes the Dip as, “the long slog between starting and mastery.” The next curve to assess your current situation is the Cul-de Sac, which is French for dead-end. You know a Cul-de-Sac when you drive into one and that imagery explains the premise. According to Godin, “It’s a situation where you work and you work and you work and nothing much changes.” The third curve is the cliff, “a situation where you can’t quit until you fall off, explains Godin.

The trick is to understand which curve best represents your current situation. While persevering though the Dip can lead to success, staying in the Cul-de-Sac or moving ahead until you find yourself at the edge of the Cliff can lead to failure. The idea is to quit strategically before you fail. “Strategic quitting is a conscious decision you make based on the choices that are available to you. If you realize you’re at a dead end compared with what you could be investing in, quitting is not only a reasonable choice, it’s a smart one,” explains Godin. And, he adds, coping is a lousy alternative to quitting.

My friend with the shop copes. And coping uses all her resources, (financial, temporal, and emotional) to keep the shop open. At my urging, she read Godin’s book and recognizes this is no Dip for the shop. If I were her coach, I would ask what she would do with all of those resources if she quit. We would identify her personal strengths, talents and skills. I would ask her more questions about plans and passions. I’d ask her to really listen to her answers as these would guide her decisions. I have no doubt my friend would use her extensive experience to start something new – and it would likely be a success.

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