Achieving something great means going where you've never gone before. Even though much of the ground is therefore unknown to you, there is one main feature of your journey of which you should be aware in advance: the tempation to quit.
I would sate very confidently that anyone who has achieved greatness in any endeavor has been mightily tempted by the desire to quit. In fact, one of the key differences between champions and the rest is that somehow, in some way, the champion found a way to continue moving forward when the others gave in to the impulse to quit.
Hanging on is a big part of moving on.
Quitting doesn't just happen, though. Instead, it follows a progression of destructive thoughts that culminate in the murder of the dream. The key to not quitting is to recognize these poisonous thoughts early, identify them for what they are, and counteract them with productive ones - quickly. Just as a weed is easiest to pluck when it's only a sprout, so too are thoughts of quitting. Pull them from the garden of your thinking early.
Here is a list of thoughts that can lead to quitting:
1. I no longer believe I can do this!
2. My main partners in the project quit.
3. I'm out of resources.
4. I gave it my best shot.
5. I'm not as far as I thought I would be by this time.
6. I've invested so much and still have so little to show for it.
7. This is harder than I thought.
8. Someone (or several someones) ridiculed me.
9. Someone I'm working with hurt my feelings.
10. I listened to the critics of what I do and now I'm not so sure.
Know this: these thoughts are not unique to you. I think nearly every high achiever experiences at least six of these (if not more) on his or her path to success. Identify them early; be slow to buy into them, and like a heart patient popping nitroglycerin, swallow a bit of the following to stave off being disheartened.
1. Go all the way back to your purpose, and remember what fired your enthusiasm in the first place. Has your core purpose changed? Likely, no.
2. Look at things from a completely different perspective. Instead of looking back over the ground traveled with discouragement, look at it for clues as to what could be done better.
3. Get with a mentor or expert in your field who has successfully survived similar bouts of doubt. What did they do to get through the tough times? How can you see things the way they did? Look for inspiration that will resonate deep inside of you.
4. Take stock of what HAS been accomplished, instead of just seeing what hasn't. Have there been some intangibles? Have you become a better person as a result of the struggle so far? Have you made friends and connections you wouldn't have made otherwise? Have you learned something?
5. Analyze your expectations. Often, people become discouraged because they began a pursuit without a mature understanding of success. Most particular endeavors aren't harder than expected; rather, success itself is harder than expected. Realize that succeeding at anything would likely provide moments of discouragement to you. Our society glorifies mediocrity so much that we are shocked how tough excellence can seem.
6. Realize that success is often located just beyond the most doubtful moment. Many great accomplishments were achieved immediately after a crisis of confidence. Hang on and see if just a little bit more effort might be enough!
7. Dramatize your own story to give yourself staying power. This one may seem silly, but it's got real power. Use images, visualizations, music, and drama to build your quest into a romantic pursuit. Picture yourself as the director and lead actor in your own movie, with a crowd of eager onlookers. What will you do next? Will you play the hero? Will you thrill the crowd?
8. Keep the goal but modify the plans. Often all that's needed is a little tweaking. This is where someone with experience (see #3 above) can help. What adjustments can be made? What slight modifications can be put into your approach? Being just a little off track can add up to a huge difference in the destination reached at the end. So make little course corrections along the way often and intelligently.
9. Read, rest, and restore yourself. (For more on this whole concept, see my book A Month of Italy: Rediscovering the Art of Vacation). You should never make a decision about anything of any importance (including quitting) when you are tired, stressed, or sick. Read something that speaks deeply to you, restore your physical and mental strength, and see if things don't look better once you're refreshed. They almost always do.
10. Realize that ultimately, it's your life. You will be held entirely accountable for it. The committee of "they," the critics, the naysayers, the dream-stealers, the know-it-alls, the back-stabbers, the false friends, and the outright mean people out there will be nowhere to be found, whether you quit or win. These types of people are shockingly scarce when it comes to finding help once you've hit rock bottom, or for applause when you've ascended the victory podium. At both places they are as scarce as fur coats on fish. Realize this. You don't even have time to ignore them. Think of it this way: if you quit because of what someone like that does or says, you get to become like them. Perish the thought.
As my friend and often co-author Orrin Woodward likes to repeat, "When the going gets tough, the tough get going."
May this article be a nitro pill for your heartache, and may you get back out there and finish the journey!