Never Quit! Another Half Truth (#97)

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Never Quit! Another Half Truth (#97)

You’ve probably heard this saying a million times: Never quit or never give up. I know that I have and I’ve probably said it a million times. And, it’s something that I believe in. It’s something that I’ve been praised for. Some people describe me as relentlessly persistent. And, I suppose there is some truth to that. But, as much as I believe in the “never quit or never give up philosophy,” it is only a half truth AND, consequently, when it is applied in the wrong way, it can lead us into trouble.

What do I mean by this? When we say, Never Quit – what’s the rest of that sentence? 

Never quit on WHAT?  On our goal? Or on continuing to learn?  Because I am 100% in on never quitting on ONE of these.

Let me explain the distinction.  When I’m coaching people, I often hear them say, “I never quit.”  On the surface, that’s a great thing.  We all know that persistence is a good thing.  But, what I sometimes see in coaching is that they are persistently pursuing a goal that they no longer care about, for any number of reasons.  But, because they set the goal, they HAVE to achieve it.  Why?

Something that my coach said to me years ago is this:  there is a difference between letting go and giving up. 

Really think about that for a minute.  Giving up is “I quit or I can’t.”  Letting go is “I choose not to.” 

Why did she drop this pearl of wisdom on me? 

Because I was relentlessly pursuing something that ALL of the data indicated was a dead end.  In that case, it was a relationship with someone who was close to me that had turned sour – very sour – and I was determined that I could salvage it.  And – after years of trying – Maria, my coach, said to me, “Why are you still trying?  You’ve tried everything known to man.  Don’t you think that IF something was going to work, it would have worked by now?  I replied, “But, I don’t quit.”  And that’s when she presented the distinction above:  that there is a difference between quitting and letting go.  It was very powerful for me.

There is a good book called Destructive Goal Pursuit and the author dives deep into how we sometimes over-commit to our goals and how that can have destructive outcomes.  He uses the 1996 Mt Everest disaster where 8 members of the same expedition died.  They got caught in a blizzard while trying to descend from the summit. Another great book on that is Into Thin Air.  I read those books for a grad school project that I worked on that contrasted successful and unsuccessful teams.

One of the things that stood out to me is that two of the climbers who died were very, very experienced climbers who had summited Everest many times.  On this particular mission, they had a goal of getting their clients – who had paid more than $50,000 -- to the top.  More than the money, though, these two climbers cared about the folks they were helping and they didn’t want to turn back shy of the summit.  Even when the people monitoring things back at the base camp were pleading with them via radio communication to turn back.  They kept telling them that they didn’t have time.  Each of them responded with something along the lines of, “I can’t fail them.  I can’t give up now.” 

This is an extreme example of NOT paying attention to the data that is telling us that the goal should be either abandoned or re-set or re-framed. 

I had this experience back in 2005.  By that point, I was 2 years into my health crisis.  Even though I was as sick as I was, I continued to push on with my business; even though that meant that I would write my columns and articles in bed.  I would write my speeches in bed.  On days that I was booked to speak, I would spend the entire day in bed – other than the time of the actual event.  And, since I was too weak to drive, Rick would drive me.  I would sit in the car for as long as possible, because I didn’t have enough energy to talk with people beforehand AND deliver my speech.  Now, an amazing thing would happen when I stepped on to the stage:  I was so in the zone, and I loved it so much, that I would have the energy to deliver.  I was, however, aware of the river of sweat that was running down my body because the effort to stand and talk and move around was so great and so taxing on my body. I cannot even begin to count how many shirts and suits I ruined because they were literally soaked with sweat.  But, I continued to because I didn’t want to quit. 

Then, in June of 2005, when I had my monthly appointment with my doctor, Barb, something changed.  I had had yet another serious relapse.  And, she said to me, “you are getting married in about 2 months aren’t you?”  I said yes.  Then she said, “Then you have a very simple choice in front of you:  either stop your business or you will NOT be alive to see your wedding day.” 

Put that way, it was a pretty easy choice.  And, this is where things had to be re-framed. 

Why did I even start my business in the first place? 

2 reasons:  to help people and to have freedom in my life.  Well, guess what?  There are a LOT of ways to do those two things – neither of which can be done if I’m dead. 

The point here though is that if we are so locked on to “this is my goal and I have to hit this goal,” it can lead us to miss the signs and the data that is telling us that we need to shift.  There is NOTHING wrong with shifting when it’s done for the right reasons.  Quick sidenote:  shifting becomes an issue when it’s done frequently or without the data to back it up – but that’s a whole other topic for another episode.

Earlier I asked:  Never quit on WHAT? 

Will I sometimes quit on a goal?  Yes.  If there are enough data points that tell me that it’s time to shift, then yes.  If my priorities shift and then the goal becomes obsolete or it leads me away from my priorities, then yes.  But, here is what I will never, ever give up on or quit on:  myself and my ability to learn what I need to learn so that I can grow in the direction that I want to grow in. 

And, that, to me, is what each of us should be 100% committed to in terms of never quitting or never giving up.  I even used the word should there even though I have an inherent distaste for that word and for others telling us what we should or shouldn’t do.  But, in this case, I believe so strongly that all of the magical stuff in life happens when we are 100% in – on ourselves and our ability to learn and to grow. 

I want to leave you with this question:  is there a goal that you have been pursuing – maybe half-heartedly – because you set it and you can’t bear the thought of quitting?  If so, it might be time to really look at it and be honest:  is it still a priority?  If so, why?  Why does it matter to you?  If not, why not?  Here is one thing to consider in your analysis of your goal:  if the only reason  – or main reason – that you want to dump the goal is because it evokes some sort of fear in you, that is not enough to cause you to give up on it.  In fact, 99% of the time, that IS the reason to go for it. 

Mentioned in the episode:

Destructive Goal Pursuit: The Mt. Everest Disaster:

Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mount Everest Disaster:

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