How many times have you said, “I don’t want to be a quitter, but…”? We all value the idea of tenacity, grit, and commitment. Someone who does what they say they are going to do is popular with their acquaintances. We recognize that we are in a society where quitting is the norm. People bail on projects, go back on their word, and give up on their dreams. We want to be different. However, this is not always possible. Sometimes quitting is a necessary option. Sometimes it is the best option. It is not just commitment we desire, but commitment to the right things. In the end, this is the key motivator to persevere.
So, how often do you finish what you start? What is your finish to start ratio?
No matter the percentage, you would likely prefer for it to be higher. But maybe finishing everything we start is an indicator that we are taking it too easy, too risk averse or exploratory. And maybe the key to the whole thing is not that we are bad at persevering but that we are bad at discerning what it is that is worth persevering for.
The Reason We Quit
One of the things that affects our finish to start ratio is we do not have a proper understanding of why we quit. We tend to think that all quitting is created equal; that every time we throw in the towel it is indicative of a character flaw.
This isn’t the case.
When we begin an endeavor, we start out with a vision in mind, an imagined future. There are, to put it lightly, a vast amount of imagined futures for us to pursue. There are a lot of things we could put our hope in. We choose the ones we choose because of their importance to us. How much they matter.
When we start toward this imagined future, we don’t know what we don’t know. We have high hopes. We have chosen this endeavor and put a lot of stake into it. Newlyweds talk about the honeymoon phase, an experience not limited to romance. Every endeavor we choose, every vision we elect to pursue, begins with a honeymoon phase.
It never lasts, in romance or any other endeavor. The middle phase is a difficult one. If we chase after a vision long enough (and not very long at that), we will discover our imperfection. We cannot perfectly imagine a future, let alone the steps it takes to get there. Eventually, things get hard. They are tough. They may be painful.
This is where we are most likely to quit. And a big part of it is that we have adopted another false perspective: namely, that when an endeavor gets hard, that means it has failed.
We quit, very often, because we are trying to avoid difficulty. Our imagined future was not all safe and easy; it led to this pain. So, it must not be as good as we imagined. We bail and look for something else, often oblivious to the reality that all endeavors eventually reach this stage, so we are guaranteeing we will be right back in phase two at some point, having to make the decision to quit or persevere all over again.
Why do we quit when things get tough? Of course, there is the false perspective that we have failed. We covered that. But more fundamental is this: we quit because we do not believe the vision is worth the pain. The third phase of every endeavor is something approaching the realization of the vision. It won’t look or feel exactly like we imagined, but it will be closer to it than before the particular endeavor began.
We quit, then, because we don’t think the realization of the vision is worth the struggle to get there. And here is the crazy thing. Sometimes that is right! Sometimes the pain in phase two helps us to realize we are indeed on the wrong path. We don’t really want what we are chasing.
The Reason We Persevere
This gets hard because when pain is surrounding us, it is difficult to discern if the thing we don’t believe is worth it is the vision itself or the struggle it takes to get there.
When we choose to persevere, it is because we have committed to a vision. An imagined future that is worth the cost it takes to get there.
The best way to improve our finish to start ratio is to be clear about what we are truly after. To do the difficult work of establishing a vision we truly believe in. If we have a superficial vision, everything will be great in the honeymoon phase, but exposed and abandoned in phase two. If we don’t have a clear idea of what we are heading toward, the pain of phase two will usher us toward confusion and anger.
When we develop a clear vision that we are committed to pursuing, we set ourselves up to see the difficulty as an opportunity, the challenge as part of the journey, and that the means are not just a way to the end but a part of it.