There is nothing wrong with quitting; but you have to know what to quit and why are you quitting

Well, the title of this post is a paraphrase of something I read a long time ago in a Russian novel. A guy was talking to his son who had just been in a bad fight; his admonishment was: ‘There is not much wrong with fighting but you have to know who you are fighting and what you are fighting for.’ Yes, when I was young I read many Russian novels. When I say this in Britain, people assume that this has something to do with the fact that Bulgaria was part of the ‘communist bloc’.  Not really: it always had to do with outstanding, captivating and memorable writing. This is probably a bit harder to appreciate when reading Russian (and Soviet) literature in English. But enough about Russian literature!

This is about something else; it is about a short book that hit me like a thunderbolt and made me see what I have done, have been doing and aim to do in somewhat different light. The book is The Dip by Seth Godin and I shouldn’t have been surprised – for some time now I have been completely enchanted by Seth’s blog. It has become part of my morning routine – brush teeth, check Alexa ranking, check Google Scholar citations and go see what Seth has delighted the world with. Just kidding, guys; but only about rankings and citations – Seth’s blog is a fixture.

So, what is The Dip, then? Simples – this is the time and distance between the first flattering of excitement at the beginning and the joy of completion of any project. This is the time and activity ‘in between’ and it is omnipresent. We experience ‘the dip’ in our relationships (well, except with our children and parents, probably), during the projects we do, when we study, when we write and more generally when we create. Anyone who runs marathons knows what happens at mile 16 when you body tells you to stop and your head is the only thing that can get you through – the dip.

The Dip is the slump that we all have to overcome if we were to bridge beginner’s enthusiasm and productive mastery.

Right, you are probably thinking, the dip is omnipresent; so what? We all know that ‘the middle’ is hard. Doesn’t it simply mean that we have to ‘keep our nose to the grind stone’ and we will come on the other side?

This is where Seth’s message becomes really interesting. Because the inevitable dip is not used as an apology for persistence but as a tool for deciding what to quit and why to quit it.

Seth Godin mentions three different situations that face us when trying to accomplish something: ‘the dip’, ‘the cul-de-sac’ and ‘the cliff’. As decisions to quit go, the cul-de-sac and the cliff are not problematic – if you think that something doesn’t lead anywhere you quit; if there are signs that something leads to ruin you quit.

Things are not that straight forward with ‘the dip’. It is true that success comes with the ability to navigate the dip. What is not so obvious is that conquering ‘the dip’ should be selective and focused, and that it is much wiser to quit either before we embark on the activity or very early into it – quitting in the midst of the dip only sucks energy without any return for it.

This book is wise, useful, well written and entertaining. I wouldn’t expect any less! But what struck me is that it provided a simple framework for looking at the things we do. I wouldn’t claim to have achieved mastery using this framework – far from it. But I find myself looking at the things I do and placing them in three categories: cul-de-sacs that I quit with immediate effect; dips that won’t get me where I want to be that I quit; and dips that I just have to suck it through. And it feels liberating!

Would I recommend this book? Absolutely! Anybody who feels lost in the pettiness of our busy world should read it and, even more importantly use it.

17 thoughts on “There is nothing wrong with quitting; but you have to know what to quit and why are you quitting”

    1. @Brent: I just finished the inventory and there are quite a few things – personally and professionally, that are cul de sacs and need quitting.

  1. I like Seth Godin’s writing too.  I find it thought provoking and stimulates a lot of thinking.  I sometimes read his blog for ideas. In fact, I do a lot of reading for ideas and not just personal finance, newspapers, blogs, online, and mysteries to name just a few.  The more I read, the more ideas I seem to have.  It keeps me engaged and stimulated!

  2. I’ll be honest that I’ve never read his blog before but it sounds like I might have to add him to my google reader. I think there definitely are times that you need to quit to avoid wasting time or driving yourself off the cliff.

    1. @Lance: Probably worth having a go at reading Seth Godin’t site. As to quitting – he is not the only one who wrote about this but I find the idea of making a distinction between dips, cul de sacs and cliffs very interesting and workable.

  3. I have read Seths blog and his content is excellent,but like many I get overwhelmed by the internet.Lets face it we could all spend our entire life reading blogs,but life is short and time is not going to stop.The point is we all go through Dips no matter what project we start,it is human nature.However sometimes the right thing to do is quit,there is no point doing something if it is not working,the very definition of madness.The trick is to find your real passion and joy(not easy I know) and this is the one to stick with through the highs and lows.

    1. @LCS: I would disagree here slightly: the dip is not about human nature, it is about a structural social problem and properties of the things we do. What do I mean? The harder and more desirable something is the longer the dip – because of the effort and focus it needs to bridge it and the competition one encounters. Also, what Seth Godin did in The Dip is not only to advocate quitting but to make it obvious that we have to choose our dips carefully and quit promptly before or at the start of the dip – going through most of it and quitting is a waste of energy and opportunity.

      Passion! Passion and mastery is a bit of a chicken and egg problem, I think.

  4. I absolutely love The Dip, this topic, and agree with the sentiment.. I think we glorify persistence, but we don’t need to persist in everything. Persisting in some things can do more harm than good.

    1. @Roshawn: Thought you may :). Did you see Seth’s post about impact? He just asked ‘are you making a dent or scratching the surface?’. …and it said it all.

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