Success stories have a beginning, a middle, and a payoff. We often focus on the difference between the start and the success but I’ll let you in on a secret: The struggle between the two is what’s important.
Writing Your Own Story
As you work to win at any endeavor that truly matters to you, there is going to come a point when you are tempted to quit, give it up, throw in the towel.
My friend Donald Miller, author of A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, would say this is part of your great “story arc,” the dramatic outline that nearly every compelling tale—including yours and mine—follows.
You might start off strong with the destination in sight, and you make some progress. Everything seems easy. You are a little surprised but soon become confident and even cocky. “This isn’t so hard. I’ve got it nailed,” you think.
Then you come to the middle of your story, the obstacles. Things get frustrating. You’re working hard, but treading water at best. You feel trapped by circumstances.
“Discouragement, anger, sadness are all emotions that you might experience when faced with an obstacle. These emotions could dissuade you from attempting to overcome the obstacle,” psychiatrist Karyn Hall warns in a recent Psychology Today article.
The dilemma is that you’ve come too far to go back, but you aren’t sure you have enough resources to finish what you started. Do you quit or push forward?
Try, Try Again?
People think it becomes a compelling story when you push through to reach your destination, and from the outside it probably is. But many who have done this realize the destination wasn’t all that important.
Instead, what stands out to us is what happened on the journey—which determines how we have changed and what we’ve become.
In the 90s, I owned my own business with a partner. We loved steering our own destiny. We had some initial success. I thought “We must be pretty good at this” and “This is a piece of cake.”
Then we hit a rough patch.
A few big transactions fell through and a few clients fired us. We could still pay our employees, but we had to forego paying ourselves for a long time.
One day I came home from work and told my wife Gail I needed to lay down for a few minutes before dinner. I plopped down on the bed and wanted to cry but couldn’t even get that out. I was too numb for tears.
I had a wife, five kids, a mortgage, and a bunch of bills. I wanted to throw in the towel. I felt stuck.
Well, I didn’t quit and my partner and I eventually got things unstuck and turned things around. It was hard and took far longer than I hoped, but we had some measure of success.
3-Point Check-up for Success
On the other side of that and several other hard-won success stories, I can say that success wasn’t the most important part. What really mattered was what happened on the way to making it.
From all of these struggles, I have devised a regular simple self-checkup to get perspective, which you can use as well:
1. Am I taking care of myself?
Without sufficient rest, nutrition, and exercise, my attitude will sour and I will have fewer resources for managing the challenges. In fact, sometimes a good night’s rest can move mountains.
2. Am I asking the right questions?
Questions are very powerful tools for improvement. Beware, however, that persistent doubts often masquerade as questions, which can leave one disempowered and depleted.
I make it a point to regularly ask constructive questions like these:
- 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 again?
3. Who can give me perspective on this?
Usually, my wife Gail helps to nudge me in the right direction. But sometimes I also need the counsel of my pastor, a trusted friend, a life coach, or even a therapist.
The bottom line is that I need people who aren’t as neck deep in the project as I am to help me step back and see the whole forest.
The older I get, the more I see the need to “stay in the story.” It’s always tempting to throw in the towel when things get tough. But when you do that, you miss the most valuable part of your story—the middle.