That’s a photo of my family celebrating my dad’s 73rd birthday.
When I made reservations at his favorite restaurant, I mentioned to the host that we’d be celebrating this momentous occasion.
When the host greeted us he whispered to me that he had been expecting an “old man” to show up and my dad, with all his youthful vitality, really surprised him.
Of course, I hope to take after my dad and mom in the “vital longevity” department – look at the book on the dinner table for what’s giving me more ideas of how to do that (I gave it to my mom that evening).
But since no one ever knows how long they will live, I’m very glad I know I got something else from my Dad – what I call “purposeful perseverance” (he would probably call it commitment and not giving up).
Here’s the thing: I’ve never met a single person, man or woman, who hasn’t struggled to get clear on their dreams, or hasn’t had those crippling thoughts of “Who do you think you are?!”, or “Why does it have to be so hard?” or “No one will listen or care about what I offer anyway.”
Yes, even successful people. Especially successful people.
Everyone has these fears. When you find your heart-centered, purpose-driven work, it can feel like a long slog until you feel truly successful.
It’s how quickly you move through your fear that can make or break your dreams and success.
You’ve heard me talk before about purposeful perseverance. But here’s the thing: If all you need to do to succeed is not quit, then why do organizations or people less motivated, less talented, and less tested succeed while you struggle?
And what if that thing you so much wanted or loved to do just doesn’t have the same pulling power it once did?
It used to make you tingle with anticipation, and now it’s about as exciting as an old sweater, and serves you about as well. Sure, it still fits, but it’s also moth-eaten and smells a bit of mildew. So why do you keep it around, anyway?
Often we cling to the old because it seems safe and secure. But I think Helen Keller put it best: “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. Security does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than exposure.”
I’ve been thinking about that quote a lot. I’ve also been thinking a lot about Seth Godin’s The Dip: A Little Book that Teaches You When to Quit (And When To Stick).
They both have a lot to say on what it means to live your life as a daring adventure.
Almost everything worth doing involves a lot of time and effort. Ask any concert pianist. Excelling means doing your best and whatever else is required. There’s usually a long slog between starting and mastery.
In fact, in his book Outliers, author Malcolm Gladwell says that it takes roughly ten thousand hours of practice to achieve mastery in any field – that’s the equivalent of 5 years of 40-hour weeks (with 2 weeks off a year).
We’re talking about a long time of doing the work before you have any real chance of success. And if the dream or goal truly matters to you, you need to be okay with that.
Think of anything you’re proficient at now that you once tried as a novice: You wanted to speak Spanish fluently, write a novel, play a chord progression – and it took a lot of time and effort. Most of us understand that.
Where it gets tricky, though, is when we can’t tell if we’re just going through a particularly challenging patch on our way to the final goal or beating our heads against a brick wall. In other words, is this just a temporary dry spell, or is it a sign that you’re heading in the wrong direction and should just give up?
In his book The Dip, Seth Godin describes two curves that you can use to classify all the challenging stretches you might meet as you try to accomplish something.
Understanding and addressing these two types of situations – one that might make you want to quit, and one that’s telling you that you should quit – is the first step toward figuring out whether or not to keep working.
I’ll mention Seth Godin’s second curve first, just to get it out of the way. That’s the curve that is simply a Dead End, the one where you work and work and nothing changes.
You’ll know you’re at The Dead End when even apart from the hassles and challenges that everyone faces, your love of doing whatever it is you’re doing – writing, helping people, building houses – has evaporated, and you’ve reached the point where you don’t love what you’re doing, you get no pleasure from it, and you don’t even know why you’re doing it anymore.
If that’s where you are, stop now. That Dead End is keeping you from what you’re really supposed to do. Your life energy is too precious to invest in a dead-end anything. I understand perfectly well that staying “secure” in a dead-end job is considered responsible and mature in our culture (and if that’s your take on your situation, you can stop reading).
But there really is not a lot to say about The Dead End, except that when you spot it, turn around and get out of there.
So let’s talk about the first of Seth Godin’s two curves, the one he calls The Dip.
Simply put, The Dip is the long stretch between beginner’s interest and real mastery. It’s the distance between “hey, this is new and interesting and fun!” and “I am 100% certain I can now make a living doing what I love.”
Most people who undertake something bail during The Dip, and that’s why society puts such a high value on real accomplishment.
After all, if there’s anything anyone values it’s something that’s scarce – and The Dip is what makes real accomplishment scarce.
It’s easy to be Oprah – now. What’s hard is achieving her status. After all, Oprah endured a ton of obstacles and quite a few less-than-desirable jobs for almost 20 years before she landed her current gig. And society rewarded her big time.
Even in small things – learning to play an instrument, say – so few people make it through The Dip that even if you’ve just managed to learn how to play with confidence and consistency in front of other people, you’ll find yourself heaped with accolades.
So even when you know you’re doing work you love, work you feel you were meant, no, destined, to do – there may come a time when it gets hard and you’re not seeing the results, the accolades or the paycheck you’d like to have associated with it.
When that time comes, you’re in The Dip.
Keep going and you’ll get everything you want – the impact, influence and income commensurate with your efforts, the rewards that come from being one of those rare people who have gone through The Dip and have mastered the work they love – who can approach their day-to-day life with both passion and experience.
Of course, if you need a little extra support and guidance to navigate the slog, I hope you will check out my End Your Next 6 Months Strong program that has helped so many people already.
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