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Archive for March, 2011

Knowing When to Quit

Monday, March 28th, 2011

When the going gets tough, the tough get __? You fill in the blank.  Going?  Outta there?  Creative?  We have a few cultural expectations about “hanging in there” but there comes a time if things really are tough when you need to figure out if forging on is the right thing to do.

Right now, that’s probably a more common dilemma than in better economic times.  But the fact that it’s more common doesn’t make it easier.  A very savvy family member put it this way recently:  How do you know the difference between being persistent (“the tough keep going”) and being insane–which has been defined as doing the same thing again and again and expecting a different result?

Here are some things to ask yourself:

Am I changing my sense of what’s likely and possible based on what I learn as I keep trying?  If you are, you’re more likely to be grounded in reality and that means you’re sane.  Making sales calls to people who’ve already told you “no” three times isn’t the same as making sales calls to new people based on what you learned from the ones who didn’t want what you were selling.

How much am I learning about how to make this work?  If you aren’t learning anything new and are not getting results with the doing the same old thing, you’re slipping into failure.  There’s nothing wrong with failing but it helps not to take forever doing it.  The sooner you admit what you’re doing isn’t going to work, the sooner you can move on to somethng new that might.

Am I throwing “good money after bad”?  It’s particularly hard to give up on things where you’ve invested a lot of money in them.  That’s true whether it’s your money or someone else’s.  If things are starting to stabilize, maybe it’s a go.  But if you’re continually adding money to what’s already been lost, it’s time for some soul searching.  Perhaps there’s a way to do things less expensively if you look.  Perhaps there’s a way to sell off part of what you are doing so you can make the rest profitable.  Perhaps it’s a case of only giving up on part of it.  But if you’re spending a lot of money and making no progress toward the goal, something’s gotta give.

How is my ego is involved in this?  This is the one that ambushes us most of the time.  We keep going when it’s not wise because we don’t want to admit that we failed.  Or we stop when we need to keep going because we’re worried about “looking foolish.”  Pay attention to why you started down this road in the first place.  If it was just to look good and it’s costing you money you don’t have to keep going, it’s probably time to stop.  But if it’s that you’re just tired of slamming into the same brick wall, get your ego out of the way so you can look for different solutions.  Take on a partner? Ask someone for advice?  Get some coaching on what you’re not able to do as well as you want?  Admitting that you need help is a sign of strength.  Most of us don’t recognize that.

What’s the best thing that can happen if I keep going?  If the answer is something along the lines of “I get to stop trying to make this happen” your heart is already out of it.

What are the financial ramifications?  Sometimes, you need to keep going simply because not doing so would be prohibitively expensive.  A job search typically falls in this category as does cratering a business venture if you have a lease that you’re going to have to honor anyway and tons of inventory to dispose of.  However if you’re trying to decide to give up on marriage to a compulsive gambler, the reverse is probably true. Same deal with someone who risks your financial security with some kind of addiction.

Quitting just because it’s hard is kids’ stuff.  That’s never a good reason.  But there are good reasons and looking at the situation calmly can help you sort out whether those are there or not.  Is your situation like Edison and the 1000 tries at inventing the lightbulb?  Or like the recent disaster in Japan, where taking swift new action can keep you alive?


Is This Really a Problem?

Tuesday, March 8th, 2011

When the plan isn’t going the way you intended, don’t assume that’s a bad thing.  If you can stay open to what’s happening instead of what you thought should happen, life often has some exciting new offerings.

Everybody is nodding their heads, right?  It sounds so logical.  But let’s be honest.  It’s not typically how we react.  When things aren’t going the way we want, we do one of two things—try to get them back on track or complain.

This is also normal.  Humans are wired to be masters of their own lives.   Even newborns make noise in an attempt to get what they need.  However, there is a big difference between what we really need and what we’ve decided we’re supposed to get.

No, I’m not going to tackle the concept of entitlements with this—though we do need to start looking at that as a culture.  What I’m asking you to think about is this automatic rejection reaction that comes when things go off the path you chose for whatever you are trying to get done.

Sometimes, the alternative that pops up is much better than the strategy you’ve been focused on.  Sometimes the new situation can give you enough of a change in perspective that you recognize the original idea was not what you needed in the first place.  Sometimes, what develops in spite of your best laid plan is just plain more fun.

You will never know if you keep your “plan blinders” on and insist on getting things back in your chosen groove.

A lot of things we call problems are not. They are changes.  We dwell too much on the idea that we need to “fix” whatever isn’t what we had in mind.

As an alternative to asking “What do I do about this problem?” maybe we should be asking ourselves “What does this change?”  If it’s just the way you decided it was going to get done, tell your ego to take a nap and see where things could go using the new scenario.  “Problems” like an unexpected pregnancy, an adult child returning to live with you, or even the loss of a job are often the source of considerable joy and revitalization.

So….is it a problem?  Is someone or something going to be harmed if the change persists?  (e.g.  a flooded basement is a problem).  Is what’s changed going to keep what needs to happen for occurring or is it just a different way of getting there?  (A road washout can be either of these things, but missing the chance to go to a class you wanted is almost always the latter.)  Does the change in situation create real difficulty or is it, at the worst, an inconvenience?

Becoming more selective about what we see as a problem has some wonderful advantages.  Problems are stress producers.  Having fewer of them means less stress over all.

Recognizing changes in direction as opportunities instead of problems expands your world, too.  Even something as simple as having to take a different street because of road construction can make you aware of things you didn’t know before.  Maybe you discover a yoga studio offering just what you’ve been looking for.  Or a hardware specialty store that has just what you need.  Maybe it’s a park that’s perfect for a short break and a walk.

This idea that everything should go the way we want—and have already decided—is more counterproductive than it looks at first glance.  There is so much more to life than what we know.  Insisting on limiting what comes to what you can imagine means you miss out on all the options and opportunities that you’ve not yet had the chance to learn about.

Instead of focusing on “How do I fix this problem?” when plans start to unravel, learn to ask “What do I have to lose by seeing how this might unfold a different way?”  Seeing everything you didn’t get to decide as a “problem” makes life more stressful—and a whole lot less fun.