In contrast to the almost universal cry to “never give up” I believe it is more important to learn to take “no” for an answer and just fire yourself sometimes. Those are the times when you should not give yourself another chance. Where you throw in the towel and look for something else to do, change your career or find outside help in achieving your goal.
This is tricky of course. You don’t want to be quitter and give up before the magic happens. But you don’t want to waste your time and money either.
How do you find the balance?
I believe you’ll have a much better grasp of this if you simply ask yourself the following five questions:
1. What is your mission priority?
Everyone has a mission in life. What are your goals and what priority have you given them? If your mission is to paint the next Mona Lisa for example, then there is nothing that should stop you from painting. But if your mission is to hang your masterpiece in the National Gallery, that is quite another story. Your goal might be inconsistent with other life goals.
What about your family? Don’t you also have a mission to take care of them? What do you do when missions collide with each other? On the one hand, you’d sure like to get that painting done. On the other hand, what if pursuing that goal is keeping you from supporting yourself and your family. How do you resolve these problems?
You do so by having a priority list. Simply write down your priorities. Then, order them from most to least important. Let’s look at the example above. Assume you’ve determined that your family comes before your masterpiece. If by pursing one mission (painting) you jeopardize your other mission (the well-being of your family) you know it’s time to burn your brushes.
You won’t know when to stop trying to achieve one goal if you don’t have a written priority list of your life missions. This is the most important tool in your arsenal if you want to know when to stop (or cut back) on any particular endeavor.
2. Are you advancing towards your mission?
Let’s say you are on the painting kick and it doesn’t conflict with your other missions. Great. But if you’ve pursued that goal for a long period of time without advancing (as you define “advancing”), you should quit. I realize this seems harsh but remember that we all have a finite number of sunrises and sunsets. We must use them in a meaningful way.
If your mission is simply to paint and it doesn’t conflict with other missions and you have no defined outcome other than being able to paint, you are fine. Wax on. Wax off. But if your goal is to display at the Louvre and your mom won’t even hang your work of art in the hallway, move on.
Life is too short to waste feeling dissatisfied. Find something you can succeed at and spend your time doing that instead. Again, you might feel satisfied simply by the “doing” and that’s fine. You have yourself a fine hobby – not a business.
When it comes to life goals however, I have learned that it makes much more sense to focus your attention on your strengths rather than weaknesses. If you are engaged at an activity that is not evolving and not getting close to success, stop and find something you can be successful at.
3. Are you learning anything?
If you aren’t learning anything, why continue? Being involved in an activity or job where you learn nothing is one of the world’s greatest soul sapping activities you could find. Cut it out. Either change jobs, change how you do your job or talk to your manager and ask for her input on a solution.
4. Is there any reason to expect a different outcome?
Whether you are stuck in a job or business that is going nowhere or you are a serial job hopper, it might be time to take a good hard look at yourself and your thinking rather than your circumstances.
Your mind has gotten you where you are today – for better and for worse. If you think about that sentence, it can be very empowering. You might need a mind-interrupt – some other outside influence to guide you onto a different path. Are you willing to take direction? If not, you are feeding your ego rather than trying to reach a goal. Sorry. I know that doesn’t sound nice. But it’s true. Get mad as hell at yourself and do something terrifically different.
5. What went wrong last time?
Be brutally honest about your situation. If your circumstances are less than ideal, can you describe why that is without blaming someone else? What part do you have in this situation? If you’ve tried to launch 5 unsuccessful businesses or careers, what went wrong? What could you have done differently? What should you have done differently? Are you implementing that change now? What patterns do you see from the past? Are you continuing them? If so, fire yourself.
Do people give up too soon? Sure. But I see people bang their heads against the wall far too long and far more often. Some knock at the same door and expect a different person to answer. Others repeat the same pattern that failed the last umpteen times and expect a different outcome. It all boils down to the same thing.
If you want control of your life, take a hard look at yourself. Pick out the 3 things you are most dissatisfied with. Do they demonstrate a pattern? If so, you are fortunate. You now know what you have to do differently in order to get a better outcome. You can use the questions above to really change your life starting today.
Have you found other ways to get back on track? Did you ever spend way too much time on a losing proposition? How did know it was time to move on?