I am not concerned that you have fallen. I am concerned that you arise.
It’s the core of the American Dream:
Choose your path. Strike out. Stake your claim. Do it (cue Sinatra) your way. Work your fingers to the bone. Pull yourself up by your bootstraps. Seize the day. Make your dent upon the universe.
To which I sometimes declare…
Meh. Can you supersize that with fries, please?
Welcome to the Jungle
I’m old enough to have worked in a lot of job environments and roles. In deep snow, I have delivered newspapers (back when we still had them) on my bicycle, uphill both ways. My hands have been burned by the deep fryer at the fast food fish place (also the only place I was fired from). Dishwasher. School bus driver. Gas station attendant. Short order cook. Groundskeeper. Graduate student. Office supplies specialist. Juvenile court community service coordinator. Youth minister. Bicycle sales. Financial advisor. District Manager. Managing Principal. Startup Founder. Executive Coach. Author. Bass player. Artist. Dad. Husband.
OK, I probably missed something. It will come to me. But, until then, what’s the point?
Because every kind of work I have done has been exactly the same.
The Devil Is In the Details
The specific tasks involved in the work requirements varied wildly, of course. But they were still exactly the same in their sequence.
Each had a starting point.
Each had a middle. A huge middle, in fact.
And almost all of them had an end.
But these days, marinated as we are in an endless array of “reality shows,” we lean toward just wanting to skip the big fat middle of our personal stories. Why can’t we, like the stars of those reality shows, see massive progress in 60 minutes or less? Even the shows that take a season to complete display a skewed sense of reality. We don’t get to witness all that goes into the transformation of each participant. We shun the unpleasant, mind-numbing, soul-testing grind required for their progress. We don’t see how many times they quit. Or wanted to quit.
Instead, we idle away a few minutes and then cheer at their fabulous outcomes. We root for the underdog. We celebrate successes.
And we intentionally ignore how hard and long the middles were. We just want the good stuff that comes at the end of their journeys. Our vicarious experience of victory over their great odds. Their brave push past pervasive adversity. Consider how insanely popular Superhero stories have become. Superheroes don’t quit. Winners don’t quit.
I, Like You…
As a culture, we love to celebrate immediate winners. We fantasize about winning the Mega-Millions Lotto. Not the grunting, daily getting-up-in-the-morning-just-to-do-it-again slog, week after week, month after month. Because that’s not as compelling as instantaneous, world-altering success.
And with our focus so firmly fixated on winners and winning, too often we don’t just miss our own enduring and huge middles. We avoid them.
Because they’re hard. And boring. And long. They’re not inspiring. Not, not, not.
Middles aren’t what winning looks like.
Middles look like Sam and Frodo wandering through the festering stench and swarms of creepy bugs in the Dead Marshes. They didn’t want to be in that phase of their story. That doesn’t inspire one to follow, does it?
Too often, we forget that the beginning and end of our journeys are pretty quick. It’s that pesky middle where we live the longest, not the bookends that we start or finish. It’s in those pesky middles that we find ourselves tempted to quit. Or maybe we do quit…and forget to tell ourselves.
Benjamin Franklin said something disturbing about this reality:
Many people die at twenty five and aren’t buried until they are seventy five.
If this sad state of affairs was true in his time, then how much more so now?
Remember that list of all the roles I’ve had? Want to guess how many of them, at some point along their middle, I wanted to quit?
All of them.
How about your list? Have you wanted to quit any of them?
You, Like Me…
Everything we start in life we’re automatically going to mess up. We don’t have experience at it. We don’t know what we don’t know. And then, we find out. It’s tempting to quit during such times.
But most of the time, most of us, we keep going anyway. We’re not ready to quit. It’s too early, we think.
We keep at it. We make some progress. We get past the initial obstacles. Hey, maybe this won’t be so bad, after all.
It’s about here that we arrive at the long middle. We can’t recognize it as such, though, and it’s in those long middles where we face trouble. When it’s taking so long to reach our goal, we’re tempted to quit. These are the people Franklin is talking about.
Sometimes we quit without actually quitting. We show up. We go through the motions. We might even be receiving recognition for our work. But we’re not in it to win it. We quit already. We just haven’t told anyone. Yet.
What a shame. Hardly anyone we celebrate as “A Winner” got there quickly. Many of them refer to themselves as an overnight sensation that only took ___ years. Often, the number of years they kept plodding forward is in double digits. Many didn’t achieve the success they sought until their 40s or later. They were tempted to quit, just like you, just like me.
But. They. Didn’t. Quit.
So When You Want To Quit
Will you feel like it sometimes? Sure. If you must do like I have done on more than occasion, go ahead and “quit.” Just forget to tell anyone.
Persist. Embrace that long middle. Maybe it takes you another year. Or five. Perhaps even decades.
But this is your life and you’re not in a dress rehearsal. Make every day count. Pursue your purpose. Chase after your dream. Make your mark. But do it with your eyes wide open.
Know that you’ll get knocked down. A lot.
You will be bruised and bloodied.
You’ll have setbacks.
People will get in your way. Some will be mean about it. Some of them will be your friends. Some of them will be your family.
Keep going anyway. Because no one else will carry your dream. No one else can.
Surround yourself with like-minded, strong-spirited and courageous people. You’ll need them. And they’ll need you.
When you want to quit, don’t.
Keep going. Always keep going.
Engage here. What is your experience with the desire to quit? What has helped you persist? Leave a comment below. PS: Join our private group of daring, brave world-changers on Facebook. Need help right away? Start here.