The Most Important Part of Your Story

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.”

An Executive Sitting on the Stairs of the Company After Getting the News He Was Fired - Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/THEPALMER, Image #7255442

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/THEPALMER

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.

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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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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?
  3. 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.

Questions: What did you lose by quitting? What did you gain by not quitting?
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  • http://www.work-in-progress-online.com Work In Progress

    My marriage! It was love when we started and everything seemed to work out great. We didn't fight like most couples, we has once in a while a fight (kind of once in a year) … then we hit the middle … I was ready to trow in the towel, but my kids … will I be able to just keep moving for the kids … it took four years … then we started to be honest with each other, not wanting to change a bit the other, but accepting the differences and realizing with felt in love because we were crazy about the other's differences … we complement each other so much, but first we had to lay down the competition … we weren't against each other, but to complement each other … we have the best ever relationship, those years i would of never think …it's so worth staying in the middle of the story … one step at the time, one day at the time … we both changed, to have the relationship we have now we needed both to change … we needed that "middle" section. It was hard and painful, but we been transformed for the better … just stay in … just keep walking, you might not run for a while, just walk … slowly move even even it seems that you walk the treadmill just keep moving … you'll change and become better IF you allow God to change you through these circumstances.

  • http://www.facebook.com/christian.salafia Christian Salafia

    Wow.

    This is exactly where I am at the moment…"I wanted to quit, but I couldn’t. I felt stuck."

    Thank you for this.

  • http://www.justopenthebook.com justopenthebook

    Great questions to ask yourself in the midst of tough times. I think the most important factor should be your prayer life – "Lord, is this your will for me?" and if so, "Lord, show me what needs to change." Sometimes we need His redirection, sometimes just the comfort of knowing he is there with us. Cling to his promises. Test the spiritual source of your frustration. And know that if it's God's will, quitting isn't always bad. I followed God to leave the corporate world and start a Christian ministry; it has been one of the best decisions of my entire life.

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  • Joan Linbeck

    I had a recent what I call an ah-ha moment that your post has helped me clarify.
    When I am too focused on the goal of where I want to be, I forget to notice that God wants me to pay more attention to the journey towards the goal. The journey itself…is where He lives in me the most abundantly, transforming me as I rely on Him. So in the midst of a struggle that I desperately want to be over, I am trying to live for and appreciate this very moment of time on that journey. I am learning, albeit slowly and stubbornly, that there is value even in a journey with the pebbles of disappointments & failures in my shoes. Some are given the great gift of heart to be a marathoner whereas some are short-distance sprinters. Though both finish their appointed race, I suspect the joy at the end of the marathoner’s race is so much deeper. Thank you for being such a strong resource of new and insightful perspective.

  • http://refreshmentrefuge.blogspot.com Gina Burgess

    Another excellent question to put things in perspective is "Will what I am doing make a difference a year from now?" Any decision or situation that has that kind of impact is worthy of tenacity. Sadly, our society is locked into a 30-second warp. If we don't get results in 30-seconds or less our ADHD kicks in and we're off to another race.

  • http://www.buzzardblog.com Justin Buzzard

    Helpful post. Thank you.

  • http://carlestercrumpler.com Carlester Crumpler

    Very very timely post… Thanks Mr. Hyatt!

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  • http://www.givegoodux.com Joe Natoli

    This is very, very timely for me Michael….and I'm finding equal wisdom in your other posts. As I get older I am finally coming to realize that the journey is the important part…not fully there yet, but posts like this one make me encouraged that struggle is part of the path. Sincere thanks for sharing your corner of the world with us.

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  • http://jeffkclarke.com Jeff Clarke

    I love the line, “Are you looking for an easier story?” We all at one point or another feel like the ‘grass is greener on the other side.’ But, if we stay on our current path, even through the rough patches, we learn in retrospect that the rough patches actually ‘made’ the journey worthwhile. In fact, my experience has been that the rough patches provided me with the resources needed to get to the other side. And, they will prove beneficial for future chapters in life.

    Thanks, Michael. Good thoughts.

  • Joey

    Years ago Andy Andrews taught me the power of persistence. It pays to stay in the story.

  • http://twitter.com/angiemagnino Angie Magnino

    Very timely for me. It’s definitely a lot harder to regain momentum once you’ve lost it. I loved how you said that you had many opportunities ‘to practice “not quitting.” ‘ Never heard it put that way before.

  • Alicia

    I’m actually in the middle of a challenge right now (well, several, but one in particular), and this was very encouraging to me. I read Donald Miller’s book a while; I definitely need to re-read that chapter. I don’t want to quit, and I’m believing that I will persevere. But thanks for the reminder that everybody hits “the middle”, but that doesn’t make it okay to give up!

  • http://www.skingsly.blogspot.com Kingsly

    I tried to quit my faith but didnt do it and thankful for people who helped me to get the right perspective.
    Nice post. Thanks

  • Guest

    This is such a beautiful blog…thank you for sharing. Most definitely just what I need right now :)

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