How to Be Remarkable: Quit AND Persevere

Last week, I finished reading entrepreneur Seth Godin's The Dip. A short book (about 80 pages long); it left a profound impact on me. As a type-A workholic and an opportunistic idealist, I have found it hard to say no to opportunities. Surrounded by self-made entrepreneurs on both sides of the family, I grew up in a culture where taking on anything and everything was admired. There was a sort of respect you earned from taking on challenges head-on, and persevering through the obstacles.

In our society, this self-imposed pressure has become more pronounced. Once a 40-hour work week for our parents, Millennials have become used to increased expectations, with 60, 80, or even 100 hours a week becoming the norm, especially for those in the startup scene. The ability to consume yourself in your work has become the status quo.

Recently, I have realized the importance of focus. Each person gets 24 hours in a day, and must decide how to allocate them. There are two options: 1) Becoming a generalist and allocating some hours to each of your interests, OR 2) Becoming a specialist and devoting yourself to one or two select interests.

In Seth Godin's The Dip, he argues that we need to be specialists. Yes, one can be a generalist, but if one is trying to do everything, then one ends up doing nothing. In fact, the ability to say no to distractions is a key predictor of success. This art of quitting is central to building the things that matter. After all, an entrepreneur is not rewarded for the amount of time they spent starting a startup and then giving up on it months later. The entrepreneur that is rewarded is the persistent and disagreeable one (as Malcolm Gladwell likes to say), the one that persists day after day, for years, knowing that the grind is what is necessary to get it done.

What does it all mean? It means that in order to be remarkable, one needs to know when to quit AND when to persevere. Quit if the end result is satisfactory, persevere if the end result is remarkable. Simply, right? Easier said than done.

A frustrating thing about being human is the battle that goes on in our brains, between our developed brain and the reptilian brain. For thousands of years, the reptilian brain was boss; he told our ancestors when to fight and when to flee from real, life-or-death threats like predators and other tribes. Unfortunately, since this part of the brain is much older than our developed brain (which contains our capacity for rational, higher-order thinking), the reptilian brain takes over. Even in situations that do not involve our survival, such as job interviews or that first date, the reptilian brain is the one that is telling us to flee, that this situation is not right, that the risk is not worth it.

Thus, we have to ask ourselves: How do we combat these instincts? Let me give you some examples:

The Art of Quitting

  1. Find focus. Stop saying yes to everything. Value yourself and your time, and choose wisely. "No" is your best friend.
  2. Decide if a situation, either stagnating or downhill, is repairable. If not, end it, and end it fast.
  3. Reframe your definition of quitting. Quitting is not failure. Failure is the inability to achieve the goals you have set for yourself. One can keep the same goals, but quit the tactics that are stopping them from getting there.

The Art of Persevering

  1. Sit with the fear. Acknowledge the discomfort, but continue to make the best choice.
  2. Stop self-sabotaging. As you become more successful or invested in something, it is normal that you will experience fear. There is nothing wrong with that! In fact, fear implies that you care deeply about what you are doing, and that there is an opportunity for growth. Rather than misinterpreting the fear as failure, allow yourself the opportunity to work through it.
  3. Understand and accept that remarkable things require hard work, and often pain. If remarkable things were easy to acquire, everyone would be remarkable. Author Mark Manson once wrote that the most important question of your life is: "What pain do you want in your life?" Happiness requires struggle, and you need to work hard enough to get the things you want. A successful career, a loving relationship, a healthy body? Nothing comes for free, and rather than seeing struggle and running away from it, run toward it. Work through the struggle, play the long-term game. Avoid the trap of instant gratification.

Ask yourself: What should I quit? What should I persevere with? Find that focus in your life, and you will be happier for it.