There comes a point in every story when you are ready to quit. It could be a relationship, a project, or your job. Regardless, you’ve had enough, and you are ready to “throw in the towel.”
My friend, Donald Miller, discusses the temptation to quit in his book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. In a chapter called “The Thing About a Crossing,” he describes something called a “story arc” or trajectory. This is the dramatic outline that nearly every great story—including yours—follows.
Here’s how it works. You start off fast, visualizing the destination. Everything seems easy. You are a little surprised but soon become over-confident. You think, This isn’t so hard. I’ve got this nailed!
But, inevitably, you come to the middle of the story. Suddenly, things get difficult. You’re working hard, but you don’t feel you are making progress. You feel trapped: You’ve come too far to go back, but you aren’t sure you have enough resources to finish.
Eventually, you push through and reach the destination. But then you realize that the destination isn’t that important. Instead, it is what happened to you on the journey—how you have changed and what you’ve become.
From this quick outline, you can see that the really important stuff happens in the middle. Don describes it this way,
[People] come out of college wanting to change the world, wanting to get married, wanting to have kids and change the way people buy office supplies. But they get into the middle and discover it is harder than they thought. They can’t see the distant shore anymore, and they wonder if their paddling is moving them forward. None of the trees behind are getting smaller and none of the trees ahead are getting bigger. They take it out on their spouses, and they go looking for an easier story” (p. 179)
Are you looking for an easier story? Are you ready to quit?
I was. In the 90s, I owned my own business (with a partner). We loved being in control of our own destiny. We didn’t have to answer to anyone else. We had some initial success, and I alternatively thought, This is a piece of cake, and, We must be pretty good at this. I was pretty full of myself.
But then we hit a rough patch. The business wasn’t so easy. A few big transactions fell through. A couple of clients fired us. Although we were able to pay our employees, we had to forego paying ourselves—several times. It didn’t seem that we could do anything right.
I remember coming home one day and telling Gail that I just needed to lay down for a few minutes before dinner. I went to my bedroom and plopped down on the bed. I wanted to cry but couldn’t. I was numb. I had a wife, five kids, a mortgage and a bunch of bills. I wanted to quit, but I couldn’t. I felt stuck.
Eventually, we made it through. It wasn’t easy, and it took longer than I had hoped. But then I realized that it wasn’t about getting there. It was about what was happening along the way.
I have had many other opportunities to practice “not quitting.” I find that what I usually need is just a little perspective. I start by asking myself these questions:
- Am I taking care of myself? If I am not getting sufficient rest, nutrition, and exercise, it will affect my attitude. I will have fewer resources for managing the challenges I am facing. In fact, sometimes a good night’s rest can completely change my attitude.
- Am I asking the right questions? Questions are very powerful. However, they are a double-edged sword. If I ask the wrong ones, I will be left disempowered and depleted.
Instead, I try to ask question like one the following:
- What does this situation make possible?
- What do I like about this relationship/project/or job?
- How does this challenge provide a way for my leadership or character to grow?
- What is really at stake here and why do I need to finish?
- Who can give me some perspective on this? Usually, it’s my wife, Gail. Sometimes, however, I need the counsel of my pastor, a trusted friend, or even a therapist. The bottom line is that you need someone who can provide objectivity and help you see the forest from the trees.
The older I get, the more I see the need to “stay in the story.” It’s always tempting to throw in the towel. But when you do, you miss the most important part of your story—the middle.