When should you quit and when should you persist? I’ve asked this question of myself about my writing and professional life. I’ve asked this question when deciding when to push and when to back off when it comes to my kids’ activities. Relationships. Volunteer work. Trying out something new. There are so many areas that this question applies to!
In my current job as a mentor, and in my many years as a first-year writing instructor, it is also a question I hear students sometimes ask. So, when I saw Seth Godin’s book, The Dip: A Little Book that Teaches You When to Quit (and When to Stick) (2007), I immediately scooped it up. It was an easy sell (though all it cost was a check-out on my library card), especially since it runs to well under 100 pages.
Though Godin’s rhetoric is geared mostly to the workplace and professional development, he is able to abstract his ideas enough to make them more or less applicable to other areas of our lives, though the idea of “the dip” may require some creative links to apply it to, say, personal relationships.
Here are, very briefly, my notes on this text.
Mainly, Godin argues in The Dip that you should focus on just those things you can be the best at (or whatever is in service of that goal). Don’t be afraid to quit “Cul-de-Sacs”—dead-ends. You should aim to be “the best in the world,” however you define that. “The world” can be a small, very specialized market, for example.
“The Dip” is that ‘long slog between beginning and mastery.’” Once you have determined that something is worth doing, then stay in the Dip until you come out the other side. When you get there, you will have achieved what few others have. Don’t quit in response to immediate pains; quit if and only you meet predetermined conditions (he suggests writing these down when starting something). “If you can’t make it through the Dip, don’t start.”
How to get through “the Dip”: It’s important to see the light at the end of the tunnel, to keep your end goal in mind. Keeping track and being accountable also helps. None of this is new, of course. I always ask students what their goals are. The key is not to back off just because it gets hard.
If it scares you, it might be a good thing to try.
I think what’s perhaps a little different from Godin’s thinking here from the constant mantra to “keep trying,” is that Godin argues that some quitting is good. You should quit anything that’s not serving you towards your end goal at being the best at that one thing. Don’t be competent at a lot of things, he says. Be the best. At one thing.
Some of this–perhaps much of it–may already be clear to many. But I find that it is so darn easy to get bogged down in the day-to-day, into our reactions and responses, that it can be very hard to keep the end in sight (at the same time as we should also try to “live in the moment”–figure that one out!). And it also echoes something that I think has also become clearer to me as I’ve found myself with a dwindling supply of energy, attention, funds, time, and the ability to focus (I’m 40-something with 2 kids). I find each day a continual battle to pare back. What’s important? What can I NOT spend my energy on today? It isn’t always easy to figure that out, but, as many others have said, in different ways, you have to focus on what’s most important. To Godin, what’s most important is being the best at something.
Does this mean students need to be the best in my classes? No, not unless they want to be great writers, or need to have straight A’s, or for some other reason their grade in my class is a factor in their doing the best at getting to wherever they want to go. I accept that some students are not as invested in others. And that’s OK. I’ve got a job to do; and that job is being the best at what I do.