I have been doing some reading and thinking about knowing when to keep going at some task/goal versus when to stop, change directions. There is a lot to be said for each side of the argument.
All of us have seen the quotes, the charts, the success stories that are meant to inspire us to not give up. “Michael Jordan was cut from his ninth grade basketball team”. “Thomas Edison tried and failed 1000 times with his light bulb before getting it right”. Or we see inspirational charts like this one:
They implore us to “keep going, you are almost there”. Failure is something that leads to success. “When the going gets tough, the tough get going”. It takes a lot of effort and determination to be good at most things. We hear of many examples of people persevering in the face of large odds. It is part of the American folklore. We have the successful person who started from humble background to be president of a company or a famous singer. There is no doubt that too many people give up to soon. We see them every day in our colleagues at work or our neighbors. We can see that with perhaps a little more effort, the other person could make a big breakthrough. How can they not keep trying?
But on the other hand, how do we ever know when to stop? When is it time to stop chasing an unattainable dream and try something different?
This Stephen Covey quote is one of my favorites. “Most people spend their whole lives climbing the ladder of success only to realize, when they get to the top, the ladder has been leaning against the wrong wall”.
Or this short anecdote from a really fascinating book I have been reading, It’s Not About the Shark by Dr. David Niven. The background is that Michael was a teacher who was not very good despite his passion for teaching math and his earnestness to teach the students. He tried numerous ways to improve, changing his teaching style numerous times based on what he learned. He sought advice from experts. He went to classes. He studied on line and even observed other teachers. But he never got better (as measured by student test score results and student satisfaction surveys). Then, all of a sudden this happened: “Michael had run out of new things to try when a chance conversation with a former student turned him around. She said to me. ‘Why are you still a bad teacher when you could be a great something else?'”
TI am sure the world is full of examples of people who let go of one obsession or career for another and met great success. So how are you supposed to figure out when to “keep going” and when to “be a great something else”?
That is the great question I am trying to figure out. I’ll have more to say in another blog post about that.