Should I Persevere Or Quit?

May 14, 2019

How may times have you heard someone say "never give up!", or the opposite, "don't even try!"? How often have you been confused about whether you should just give up or keep going? How much more time and effort can you put in to something? Does it make sense? Am I wasting my time?

Recently I read a very valuable and insightful book by an entrepreneur, author and marketer, Seth Godin, called “The Dip”. Given how powerful it is, I have no choice but to share a summary along with personal examples illustrating the simple concepts. I hope that the following helps shed light on different aspects of your life, and helps you proceed forth in the best manner!

What is ‘The Dip”?

Godin uses a couple of simple graphic illustrations to describe the ‘effort – results’ curve associated with different tasks. He outlines 3 curves – I will mention the two main ones:

  • The Dip: This is when you have a quick improvement in results when you first start something, but following that there is a long hard road before progressing from your starting point to mastery.
    • In order for athletes or entrepreneurs to become world class at their craft, they have to put in lots of focused training / hard work to cross the dip
  • The Cul De Sac (or dead end): you work and nothing changes – i.e. dead-end jobs.
    • Exit as quickly as possible because you’re wasting time that could be applied elsewhere.

The goal Godin outlines, is to be the best in the world. To do this, you need to know when to keep pushing, and when to quit and focus your energy on something with better chances of success (i.e. assess your opportunity cost).

By doing so, you place yourself among a select few. If any of you have studied (or have an understanding of basic economics), when supply is low, a high price can be demanded from the market. Being the best also means that you will also capture a higher proportion of the market (i.e. everyone will want what you have).

This sounds impossible – realistically, how many people are truly the best in the world at what they do?

Literally, there may only be a couple of people in each field, industry or sport. Practically speaking there are a handful in each industry, field or sport. But; and this is powerful guys, Godin points out a subtle nuance:

Become someone’s “MY best in the world”

You need to be the best choice for your specific target market. The best choice based on what they currently believe and what they know, right now, at a price they can afford, and in their world (not the entire universe). There are countless markets out there, determine the best one for you (your niche), and capture that!

“Strategic quitting is the secret of successful organizations” – Seth Godin

“The dip is your secret to success” – Seth Godin

The dip is what weeds out the wannabes from the real folk – it is your opportunity. Those who have what it takes and are willing to put everything in to it, make it past the dip. Those who don’t want it badly enough get beaten by the dip and make a swift exit.

My most recent blog on decision making discussed the power and impact thoughts have on our lives. One’s mindset plays a critical role in shaping out actions, behaviours, habits and character, which all impact our future (in that order). To learn more, check that blog out here.

Another wonderful analogy Godin shared regarding folly of diversification really resonated with me. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this one as well:

“A woodpecker can tap twenty times on a thousand tress and get nowhere, but stay busy. Or he can tap twenty thousand times on one tree and get dinner.”

A real-life example that Godin shared, which I found easy to relate to arises in Silicon Valley and the technology industry. The notion Godin puts forth is that the goal of any company is to create a massive dip that becomes an insurmountable hurdle for any competitor. He cites the example of Microsoft, which has put so much time, effort and quality in its flagship products (e.g. Microsoft Office Suite), that it’s practically impossible for a new business to come in and over throw them. This is what any of us could (and arguably) should be doing for ourselves (in sport, in business, or another endeavour) to separate ourselves from the pack.

Something I’m Constantly Harping on With Those Closest to Me

Our modern society is built on instant gratification – “I want that, but I don’t want to work for it. It should come easily”. Maybe it isn’t explicitly stated, but actions don’t lie. The previous generations (baby boomers and before) truly understood the value of hard work due to their living conditions – realistically, they didn’t have many options. Let’s conduct a quick reality check on modern society. Everywhere I look, I see: fast food of all types, the internet which contains incredible amounts of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ content with the touch of a button, powerful cell phones that provide instant access to games, information, friends, and more. Don’t get me wrong, the internet has certainly provided a ton of positive value, but what has happened is that with the advent of these luxuries, peoples’ mindset has changed.

If you’re a younger person, do you expect an immediate response to a text-based conversation with a friend via your cell phone? Do you start panicking when there is no wi-fi and you can’t access Snapchat, Instagram, or some other form of social media because of a feeling of being disconnected?

There is a strange dynamic of needing and wanting, but all from arms length. There is an invisible barrier between everything and everyone, but people are softer and more fragile than ever before.

What does all this mean? Any achievement of significant value requires a lot of time and effort. The mental paradigm shift I have described above has made it such that people are unwilling to put in the required work. Godin notes this fact in his book as well, when he asks the reader to seriously consider their ability to make it through the dip.

Quitting vs. Coping vs. Failing

Godin draws very interesting comparisons here. He notes that strategic quitting is a conscious decision based on the information you have. Coping leads to mediocrity because people are just getting by; neither excelling or quitting – leaving no time for anything but cruising along. Failing is akin to giving up, and that’s a tough pill to swallow mentally.

My Experience with The Dip

Taking stock of my life thus far, I realized that I have tackled several different ‘challenges’, rather, ‘opportunities’:

  • Basketball in high school
  • A Masters degree in Economics
  • A career in finance and management
  • Professional Squash
  • Elite mentor and coach
  • Entrepreneur

I should have quit earlier, but didn’t…

I loved playing basketball in high school. Every day after school I would spend between one and three hours playing with friends, or practicing by myself. I began squash quite late (close to 14/15 year of age). Looking back, I could have strategically quit basketball soon after I began squash, once I realized my potential in squash, and lack thereof in basketball (namely due to my height!). Interestingly, I did (independently) make a strategic choice to quit basketball around 18 years of age. I’ve never considered this before, but could those additional 3-4 years of focused training have taken my squash game to another level when I was younger? I’ll never know, and quite frankly I don’t have any regrets because I loved playing basketball, and enjoyed the social time, development of overall athleticism and fitness. But the question still stands…

Obviously, when it comes to squash, mentoring, and coaching, I have managed to push past a significant portion of the dip. I can’t say that I have pushed all the way past the dip because I am constantly learning, growing, and evolving in all three facets. But, to reach an international level at sport, and to be a well recognized mentor and coach is a humbling feeling after countless hours and years of effort. The journey is not yet complete of course. It never truly is…

The next dip I am embarking on is related to life coaching. As far as I can remember I have always wanted to help people and make the world a better place. I am amalgamating my life experiences, and learning (more formally) about the art and psychology of coaching, so that I may affect even more positive change in myself, my life, my family, and those seeking support and guidance.

If you’d like to discuss your journey, any challenges or hurdles you’re currently facing, send me a message and I’d love to help coach you along the way.

How to Apply this Knowledge?

  1. Figure out which curve you’re facing.
  2. Decide if you have the talent, abilities, support structure, and will to push through the dip.
  3. If you’re facing a cul-de-sac, QUIT IMMEDIATELY and re-focus your efforts!
  4. Don’t quit when you hit the dip. Quit before (be honest with yourself if you can’t cut it), or push through it.
  5. Consider these 7 factors that Godin notes on pg. 33 of his book before embarking on an effort with a steep dip. Be honest with yourself and not only consider these in advance, but prepare for them! I am sharing verbatim from pg. 33.
    • You run out of time and quit
    • You run out of money and quit
    • You get scared and quit
    • You’re not serious about it and quit
    • You lose interest or enthusiasm or settle for being mediocre and quit
    • You focus on the short term instead of the long and quit when the short term gets too hard
    • You focus on the wrong thing at which to be the best in the world because you don’t have the talent
  6. Note a distinction between quitting a product or a feature (which is good), vs. quitting a market or a strategy – pg. 50 in Godin’s book.
  7. Godin notes 3 questions you should ask yourself before quitting (pgs. 66-71)
    • Am I panicking? Never quit when the pressure is on. Decide to quite before, or after the challenge has passed.
    • Who Am I Trying To Influence? Trying to win over a single individual is much harder than influencing a market. It’s almost impossible to change one person’s mind, but gaining momentum and cross influence from your followers makes capturing a market easier.
    • What Sort Of Measurable Progress Am I Making?
  8. Decide in advance (and write down) what conditions will cause you to quit so that you aren’t making a panicked decision in the heat of the moment.

A Word of Caution: How Far Should One Really Take This?

This is more of a moral and ethical question for me. As human beings, we try things and often make mistakes. That’s how we learn and develop. The concept of the dip and strategic quitting are vital. I genuinely believe in them and find value. Heck, I’m applying the concepts to my life as we speak. That being said though, to what extent should one apply this? Should a child quit a sport and pick up a musical instrument at the first sign of a lack of athleticism? Should a student quit math because of a challenge grasping basic concepts? We must apply sound discretion when applying the concept of strategic quitting. Let us not forget the importance of youthful innocence. I personally feel that the world is becoming far too professional and overly competitive in too many realms. Let’s do our best to keep things in balance, and remind ourselves that happiness, joy, truth, money, and all else that we desire are not based on zero sum games…rejoice in the concept of abundance, for your thoughts shape your character and surroundings.

Closing Thoughts

Would I recommend this book to everyone? Most definitely! It’s a quick read (it genuinely is!), and regardless of whether you’re working a 9-5 job, you’re an entrepreneur, or just wanting to learn a new perspective about optimizing your life, there’s something in it for everyone. If you're struggling with motivation and desire, it may just convince you to get cracking! I’d love to hear from you if you found value in this post.

Till next time,