I once worked with the co-owner of a family-owned business who was struggling to accomplish the marketing and sales objectives that we had set out together in a plan. After failing to complete many of the tasks we had outlined in our previous meetings, I asked him two simple questions: "Why did you go into this business?" and "What do you like about it?"
He could not answer either question directly and told me he would have to think about it.
The next week rolled around and I began our discussion by asking him the same two questions. He still was unable to respond. We moved through the rest of our agenda and agreed to meet the following week.
The next week I asked the same two questions and he became somewhat agitated because he still had no answer. At the beginning of our meeting a few weeks later, I started to ask those two same questions when he abruptly interrupted me and told me that his father and he had decided to sell the business to a key employee. He told me that the answers to my questions were that 1) his father had talked him into starting the business years ago and that 2) he never really liked it in the first place. His father had subsequently lost interest in the business and was not spending any time in it. And, unfortunately, the only reason my client had agreed to start the business was so he could work with his father. Stuck with a business situation he did not enjoy, he had no motivation to do what was necessary to make it a success.
With the pending sale of the business, my client would soon be out of a difficult situation, but he also felt as if you had given up; quit. In his book "The Dip – A Little Book That Teaches You When To Quit (And When to Stick)," Seth Godin writes that it is not only appropriate to quit at times, but essential. To be the best in your life and your career you must "Quit the wrong stuff. Stick with the right stuff. Have the guts to do one or the other." He continues that "Strategic quitting is the secret to successful organizations. Reactive quitting and serial quitting are the bane of those that strive (and fail) to get what they want." Godin recommends that, before you begin something important, you develop a plan which details the conditions under which you would or should quit. If you attempt to identify these conditions after you begin, you may not be as clear-headed and rational. So always try your best but learn to quit strategically. "Quitting is not the same as failing", Godin believes, but "quitting smart is a great way to avoid failing."
The moral to my client’s story is that if you don’t really want something, then you probably won’t do what is needed to obtain it. In the case above, after the sale of their business, my client moved on with his life. He was very appreciative that I had forced him to answer some difficult questions because it brought clarity to his motivations, saved him a lot of money and who knows how much time and energy in the further pursuit of something he did not even want.
So, if you’re stumbling with something important, or failing to take the necessary steps to move forward, ask yourself "Why do I want to do this?" and "What do I like about it?" If you cannot answer these questions to your satisfaction, it may be time to move in a different direction (to "strategically quit"). Or, at a minimum, answering these questions can help you remember what motivated you to start your journey in the first place and help you regain the passion that fuels your desire to achieve.