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I see so many quitters. They start something new and quickly stop if they don't have wildly successful results. If they aren’t immediately great at something, they walk away.
Or, they give up once they encounter the hard work that exists when you get past the initial, exciting rush of a new hobby, project, or endeavor. It’s no longer fun.
Real-life success isn’t like winning some effortless lottery. Even if you do see early promise, taking something all the way requires consistent effort, grit, and determination.
Yes, you do have to know when to fold ’em. It’s easy to succumb to the sunk cost fallacy and want to keep going when you’ve already invested so much. But, sometimes, an initiative just isn’t going to work out, no matter how much time and effort you sink into it.
But, you also have to know when to hold ‘em. Just because something isn’t easy doesn’t mean that you should give up.
Steve Carell played smaller parts on television for almost 10 years before landing his big role in The Office.
Jack Canfield was rejected 144 times before finding a publisher for his book, Chicken Soup for the Soul (my affiliate link). It’s now sold more than 500 million copies worldwide.
It took 5 years and 5,126 failed prototypes for James Dyson to develop the world’s first bagless vacuum cleaner.
When J.K. Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter book, she was divorced, bankrupt, and on welfare. A dozen publishers rejected her before one finally agreed to publish the book.
Amazon was founded in 1994 and didn’t show a profit until the fourth quarter of 2001.
We look around, see successful people, and forget that it took them a long, long time to get to where they are today. Where would they be if they had given up and quit in the first few months or years?
“There's a reason this 10-years-to-overnight-success pattern shows up over and over. And it's not just about working hard over a long period of time. I know from personal experience. In 2004, I started a personal-finance blog while I was a college student. Today, that "hobby" is a multimillion-dollar business. For the first three years, we made no money (literally). In 2014, 10 years later, we had our first $5 million week.”
— Ramit Sethi, Why Successful People Take 10 Years to 'Succeed Overnight'
But how can you quit being a quitter when you have a history of that behavior?
How can you push through and commit to doing something for the long haul when you know it’s good for you?
How can you stop giving up when the going gets rough?
I want to share some advice that has worked for me and others:
Done is better than perfect
Be OK with being bad
Scratch your own itch
Do it for you
Keep showing up
Done is better than perfect
The curse of perfectionism is one reason people turn into quitters. When they fear that something isn’t going to turn out well or that they won’t be great at a new activity, they give up before failure occurs. If it won’t be perfect, then forget it.
I’ve lived with this curse, as well. Believe me; I’m not saying that I’ve always been full of amazing grit and determination. I’ve given up on plenty of things. I’ve quit more times than I care to admit.
I screwed up my first year of college and quit in the middle of the second year. I was disappointed in my performance. Unfortunately, school had always been easy for me, so I never learned to dig in and really study. College required more hard work than I expected, and I wasn’t doing well, so I tapped out.
However, I did return, and I did finish. I finally had to set aside my notion of being a perfect student and getting perfect grades. I didn’t have to graduate with a 4.0, but I did want to finish what I had started.
“Done is better than perfect.”
― Sheryl Sandberg
Making peace with flawed completion can help you overcome perfectionism. Rather than giving up when things get hard and messy, focus on just getting the damn thing done.
Think about how good it will feel to finish that thing you’ve been putting off (or keep quitting). It’s also OK to reward yourself when you succeed at pushing through your discomfort to complete an unpleasant task or project.
Be OK with being bad
Many quitters don’t want to do anything they aren’t good at doing. It’s upsetting to accept mediocrity, so they give up. If they can’t be the best, what’s the point?
The other day, my wife reminded me of a saying; if something is worth doing, it's worth doing poorly. You have to give up an “all or nothing” mindset.
The example we discussed was exercise. A 10-minute walk may not seem like a worthwhile workout. But, you know what? It's a helluva lot better than sitting on your butt all day and never walking at all.
Even on my worst days (like today), I'm still going to work out for a few minutes. I have a terrible headache that won't quit. But I'll lift for at least 15 minutes instead of doing nothing today. Perhaps — like most days this happens — I'll feel better by the end of that 15 minutes and keep going.
Some things are worth doing, even if you’re bad at doing them. Even when you can’t give it your all, they’re good for you, give you pleasure, help you relax, or are just fun!
So, rather than give up, make peace with being “bad” at them and keep going. What you’ll probably discover in the end is that chipping away at something every day eventually transforms your bad into ok, good, or even great.
Scratch your own itch
As a business owner, writer, and podcaster, I thrive on sharing my thoughts, knowledge, and advice with others. I love helping people.
However, it can be tempting to give up and quit it all when you feel like your words are being sent into the void. I know many business owners who doubt themselves and wonder if it’s worth continuing when they feel like no one is listening, engaging, or buying.
One way to break through the temptation to quit is to scratch your own itch. Create something that you need too. Build things that you want.
Then, if other people want it too, great! But, your drive to continue and make progress isn’t dependent on how others react. You keep making it for you.
I know, I know. You’re supposed to find real potential customers, talk with them, and listen to uncover their needs and wants. Solve their problems. Build for them!
Yes, that's an amazing way to build a new business. When you get it right — just right — it works like magic.
However, it's damn hard to build a new business that you personally don't care about. If you don't have skin in the game, you feel passionless about the problem and the solution.
I’ve watched many new businesses fail because they tried to create something they thought would make money, but they had no personal interest in the space at all. Their heart wasn’t in it, and it showed.
On the other hand, there have been many successful businesses built by founders who wanted to scratch their own itch:
Joel Gascoigne created Buffer to solve a problem he was dealing with when trying to schedule out his social media strategy ("In reality, all I wanted to do was to tweet five times per day." — Joel Gascoigne).
Joe Gebbia and Brian Chesky wanted to make some extra money renting space in their apartment during a conference, and thus the idea for AirBnB was born.
Chad Hurley and Steve Chen created YouTube because they wanted an easier way to share videos.
Joshua Schachter built Del.icio.us as a better way to keep track of his links/bookmarks.
Rashmi Sinha and Jonathan Boutelle built SlideShare to solve a problem they and their friends were dealing with after speaking at conferences (i.e., how to share the presentation files easily).
These companies (and more) were created by founders who wanted to scratch their own itch. Then, they built an audience of more people like themselves who had the same itch.
One way to ensure you won’t quit a project is to build something you need. Then, it doesn’t matter what other people think. You want it, so you keep going.
Do it for you
My advice isn’t only for people who want to build a business. Some things are worth doing — and not quitting — simply because they are good for you.
I'm talking about everyday life. I'm talking about things that can enrich your life and make you happier, healthier, and more fulfilled.
I write for myself.
I create art for myself.
I make music for myself.
I don't have to be great at any of those things. I don't need amazing results.
I just commit to doing them consistently — for me. If my followers want to come along for the ride, I love to have company. If no one else likes it, it doesn't matter.
I'm doing it for me.
You should do it — whatever IT is — for you too. Is there something you enjoy doing, even though you’re not great at doing it? Is there something you know you should keep doing because it’s good for you?
I’m sure there is. So, whatever it is, don’t worry about being good at it. Don’t worry about what others think. Just keep doing it for you.
Keep showing up
A big part of success is showing up and not giving up (e.g., don’t break the chain). Most people quit. Most people start and never finish. Very few people stay the course and keep chipping away at whatever it is they want to accomplish.
When you keep showing up, it sets you apart. You’ll be one of the few — the very few — who refuses to be a quitter.
I may not be the best in the world at anything, but at least I keep showing up. The one thing I can be proud of is my stubborn consistency. 😂
I've been writing on Medium for the past 6 years.
I've been publishing a newsletter twice a week, every week, for more than 2 years.
I've been working out almost every day for the past 12 years.
I tried doing it for someone else. I tried doing it for an audience. I tried doing it for you instead of me.
But, there's not enough signal or feedback to reinforce my behavior. The vast majority of my followers and readers are absolutely silent.
I have no idea if you're reading this, enjoying my words, or hating my message. I do hear from a few people, which I always love. That does help, and I appreciate you!
But it's not enough to keep me going. I read, research, write, and record videos and podcasts for hours and hours every day.
It's a serious commitment of my time, energy, and passion. If a creator ever tells you that they haven't considered giving up, they're lying.
So, how do I keep doing it? How do I consistently crank out content and publish stuff every day all over the place?
I realized that I had to switch gears and rewire my feedback and reward system. It took years, but I do find the act of creation is pleasurable and cathartic now. But, more than anything, I tell myself to keep showing up and that I have no choice.
Not doing it is unacceptable. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but I do have to keep showing up and creating.
So, whatever you want to be doing and know that you should be doing, find a way to keep showing up. Create a habit and a schedule that ensures you make progress — even the smallest amount of progress — every day.
Invest in your professional development for yourself, not for some fickle employer.
Write to put your thoughts out into the world because you want them to exist, not for some imaginary reader.
Create your art because you want to make the images in your mind become tangible and real, not for some potential buyer.
Make music because it heals your soul, not because you hope it will make you famous someday.
The world is already full of consumers, sellouts, and quitters. We don’t need more. Be a creator and a doer.
Be true to yourself.
Do it for you.
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Larry Cornett is a leadership coach and business advisor who hosts a private mastermind community for solopreneurs and entrepreneurs who want more accountability and support. If you’re not interested in starting your own business someday (or accelerating an existing one), that community probably isn’t for you.
Larry lives in Northern California near Lake Tahoe with his wife and children, and a gigantic Great Dane. He does his best to share advice to help others take full control of their work and life. He’s also on Twitter @cornett.