Persistence is a big part of success. Whether you're looking for a new job or trying to change careers, it's easy to find negative advice. The Internet is filled with experts who can give countless (bad) reasons why you will fail. However, if you're doing the right thing and you believe in yourself, success is almost always possible (See The Dip by Seth Godin).
Thomas Jefferson captured this idea in these words: "When you reach the end of your rope, tie a knot in it and hang on."
Seth Godin offers an interesting perspective on failure – It’s all about your attitude. Some successful people feel that they are failures. They are never happy with their work even when it is good. Such thinking is a trap. People lost in feelings of failure keep looking for an ever elusive success.
Godin is not saying we should be happy with failure, but that we should know how to work through failures and deliver. His books The Dip and Poke the Box are necessary reads for anyone who’s caught up in the failure trap. Successful people fail before they find a way to succeed. Or, as Godin puts in The Dip, they know how to quit the right things. If you’re doing the right kind of work for the right reason, the feelings of failure will still come now and then. But they won’t be how you define yourself. Take joy in your work and your life.
As Seth Godin says in his fine book The Dip, winners know when and what to quit. I met a client today who is taking some smart risks in managing his career and life. Fred (not his real name) left a job where he had worked for more than 10 years. His position was becoming impossible, and a new boss was promising to make it even worse. At the same time, Fred and his wife are selling their house as well his mother’s house. Fred and his wife, who is employed, have saved some money. So instead of staying at a bad job while looking for a new one and trying to fix up two houses, Fred decided to take one thing at a time. First, he quit his job. Next, he will prepare both homes for sale. Finally he will focus on his job search.
Not everyone has Fred’s resources or time, but his story has value for anyone who is trying to find a new job or change careers – It takes time and focus. I’ve seen many clients who put so much into the job they hate that they don’t have the energy or time to find a new one. In other cases, job seekers have responsibilities to their families that pull them away from looking for work. Fred’s story should be an example of how it is important to give yourself the time and energy to conduct a good job search. Even if you can’t quit the job you hate, or even if you have a serious family obligation, find a way to put the time in you need to find the new job. It’s not easy, but it’s better than staying in a job that is not helping you live better or be happy.
I often cite Seth Godin, who’s one of my favorite writers and thinkers. In his book, The Dip¸ Godin explores how winners know how to quit the things that hold them back from moving forward. The New Yorker has published a short essay by Adrian Cardenas, who last played in the Chicago Cubs organization. He played in 45 games for the Cubs in 2012. Cardenas is eloquent in explaining why he left the big leagues to focus on being a student.
I was especially impressed by his confession that money took away from the joy of the game. That’s a hard confession to make. Most of us would kill to make the minimum big league salary. Baseball as a business was not what Cardenas, a student at New York University, wanted. Leaving the sport is his first step to a new life. May he find happiness.
I’ve written in the past about Seth Godin’s great little book The Dip. Godin says that successful people quit the right things, and they know how to fight through the dips. A local business owner closed his store earlier this month. I saw him this morning and learned that he’s been a flight attendant for more than 20 years. He was operating the store as a second job and found that it was impossible to do both. His flight attendant job offers steady pay and benefits. While it was hard to close a business in which he had invested 3 years of sweat and dreams, he made a practical choice. He knew what to quit.
[On Sundays, this blog explores topics beyond its normal focus in “Sabbath,” a feature inspired by the similarly titled poems and collections of Wendell Berry.]
I’ve grown fond of a new poet, Simon Armitage. His poetry is accessible without ever feeling dumbed down or cliched. In The Shout: Selected Poems, Armitage has several poems about a urban everyman named Robinson, whose life is tragic in the sense that he is constantly bored, a hamster on a wheel.
The poem Robinson’s Resignation captures this feeling and what can be done about it. It is a simple poem, three stanzas and a telling final line. In the first stanza, Robinson grumbles that he is “done with this thing called work, the paper clips and staples of it all.” He is sick of complaining customers and their “foul-mouthed” children. In the second stanza, poor Robinson spews hate for something almost everyone loathes – meaningless, endless meetings. In the final stanza, he explodes the myth about the “friendship thing”: “I couldn’t give/a weeping fig for those so-called brothers/who are all voltage, not current.” Robinson walks away with a last line that is pure dismissal: “This is my final word. Nothing will follow.”
Some people like to read into poems like this. They would say the final line implies an ultimate ending, possible a suicide note. My take is simpler. Robinson’s lament reflects a frustration I frequently see with my clients. People are pushed to the brink at their jobs, so they walk way. Nothing will follow with the job they are leaving, but they quit in the hope of finding something better: better pay, less boredom, a boss who is not a sadist. If Robinson were a real person and needed money, what would follow this poem is a job search. We often make strong declarations like “nothing will follow” only to change our minds the next day, if not the next hour.
I love this poem because it shows despair and frustration turning it a type of power: self-determination. One book I’ve often recommended to clients is Seth Godin’s The Dip, which explores how and when to quit things. Godin challenges the claim that winners never quit. He writes, “Winners quit all the time.” They know how to quit the things at the right times and stick with what will help them to achieve their goals. Based on Armitage’s other poems about Robinson, I don’t think this poor man will ever be a winner, but his world is much like ours, so we can laugh at him and ourselves, hopefully learning in the process. I strongly recommend – in particular order – The Dip, Seth Godin, Simon Armitage’s poetry, and quitting. All are empowering.
Pittsburgh Steelers’ punter Jeremy Kapinos is a winner. After being cut last year by the Green Bay Packers, Kapinos experienced something not uncommon in America – he had trouble finding a job. Over the course of this year, Kapinos worked out for 12 different teams before signing with the Steelers in December.
When we think of sports, our focus tends to be on the stars, the people who have never had a problem getting the job. Jeremy Kapinos endured the frustration that so many Americans have faced over the past three years. Again and again, he heard the word we all dread, “No.” But Kapinos did not quit. He kept going to tryouts (job interviews in the sports world). More importantly, he maintained a positive spirit. Where did it lead him? The Super Bowl.
This story underscores Seth Godin’s model in The Dip. Successful people know what and when to quit. And they know when to stick, when to push against what is hard and do what it takes to achieve their goal. Jeremy Kapinos is a model of persistence and why it is important in managing a career. Whatever happens on the field this Sunday, Kapinos will be a true winner.
I often urge clients to read this book because the job search and career management require the ability to know when to quit. Too often, job seekers will follow one method of looking for work. When that method doesn’t bring results, they quit looking for work. Godin’s advice – quit using the method that is not working. Try something new.
The Dip is not just about quitting. It also challenges readers to realize their gifts, which will lead to happiness in career and life. When we find our goal, it will not be easy to achieve. As Godin puts it, “The dip is where success happens.” The problem is that too many people quit at the wrong time. They give up on what can make them happy and settle for the safe career.
When should you quit? Whenever you find yourself in a dead end situation (what Godin calls a cul-de-sac), it’s time to make a change. This situation may be in your career, your personal life, investing, or any other aspect of life. Quitting is often incremental rather than radical. For example, a husband and wife who are fighting can quit by going to a marriage counselor or minister rather than quickly running to divorce lawyers. The solution is to quit what is holding you back, not to run in the opposite direction.
Godin says that the best time to quit is “before you start.” Know why you are doing something, what you want to get from it. Is it worth the effort? Write down your goals. Write down what factors would make it worthwhile for you to quit. If you are moving toward your goals, keep pushing and quit only what holds you back. If you’re in a rut, quit digging. Climb out and try something new.
To be happy at work or any other aspect of our lives, we need to feel that we are performing at our best level. This means more than getting a good report from your supervisor. Each of us needs to affirm to ourselves that our work has value, that we are doing our best. Godin challenges us: “Quit or be exceptional. Average is for losers.” Much of our dissatisfaction in life is not that we feel like losers, but that we are average, floating, not real in control. The question to ask at these time is: Are we in the dip fighting toward our goals? Or – are we in a cul-de-sac? These questions require some hard thinking about what we really want. Once we define our goals, it’s a matter or knowing whether to quick or stick.
The Dip does not claim to offer a one-size-fits-all answer or method. The book is valuable because it reminds us that we are responsible for our own happiness and success. We have to make the right choices. To get ahead, winners know when to quit.