We all grew up being told to never quit or give up. This quote from Lance Armstrong sums it up pretty well:
“Pain is temporary. Quitting lasts forever.”
But is it ever okay to quit? If you’ve been working in a job you don’t like, is it wrong to quit and find a better one? Or if you’ve fruitlessly been trying to get a six-pack for years, is it time to embrace the “Dad bod”?
Seth Godin’s book The Dip challenges the social stigmas and misconceptions around quitting. He gives pointed advice about when to stop and when to keep going.
Key Ideas From The Dip
Being The Best In The World
The book’s premise is that it’s in your best interests to be the best in the world. While this may sound naive or egotistical, the world doesn’t have to mean the whole earth. It can be a small part of it.
Being the best in the world isn’t a vanity metric or an ego rub. It’s a sigh that you’ve mastered those skills and can apply them to bring real value to others. People look to you for solutions to the problems they have.
Instead, the idea is too look at the time and resources we have and work out if being the best in the world is achievable. If not, we need to shrink the scale of our world until it feels more reachable.
For me, I doubt I’ll ever become the best blogger in the world. I don’t think I’ll even create the best blog for people looking for career advice. But what I strive to do is to create the best content for young professionals interested in how the world works and how they can work well in it. It’s a much smaller audience than the entire world.
Dips and Cul De Sacs
Godin argues that every project, goal, achievement or relationship is either a dip or a cul de sac.
- A dip is a situation where you need to push through a long slog to master a new skill or reach a major milestone.
- A cul de sac (or dead-end) happens when you continuously work at something with little to no results.
Telling A Dip From A Cul de sac
Godin points out that something may be a dip for one person, or a cul de sac for another. The only difference is whether you have the resources, interest and motivation to endure the steep climb and end up at the top.
Stick With Dips, Get Out Of Cul De Sacs
The biggest takeaway from the book is that we need to push through dips, and quit cul de sacs. In other words, we need to persevere when we’re working on things with a high payoff, and let go of projects and opportunities that don’t. It sounds dead obvious.
Why Is This Even A Problem?
But the problem is that we do the opposite. We quit dips with great promise if we just persist, and we keep persisting with cul de sacs even though they lead to nowhere.
Why We Quit Dips
We quit dips prematurely because we don’t like experiencing pain, difficulty or being patient. We forget how meaningful and worthwhile achieving mastery or completion is to us and we just quit once things get tough.
Why We Don’t Quit Cul de sacs
On the other hand, we don’t quit cul de sacs because we’re either too scared or lazy. We don’t like rocking the boat by saying “No”, and wind up sinking time and attention into projects and pursuits that yield little. We find it easier to keep our heads down and plugging away at cul de sacs for the sake of ticking them off.
An even bigger reason why we don’t quit when we should is that we often feel that quitting is a moral failure. It’s as if you’re uncommitted and fickle for stoping. Whilst tenacity and resilience are important traits, the “never” quit” mindset isn’t a blanket rule. We need to quit strategically so that we can devote our time and energies towards projects and pursuits the we actually value and want to excel in.
My Thoughts On The Dip
I enjoyed Godin’s punchy, provocative writing style. Even though the book’s core messages aren’t revolutionary, he packages them in a way that challenges common social expectations and assumptions about quitting. And as with many of his other books, The Dip is a very short (read or listen). Paired with his clear and succinct writing, the book doesn’t overstay its welcome.
I felt like Godin could have provided more examples on how the “average” person could have applied its principles. Many of the example featured celebrities, superstars and executives. But maybe that’s the point. When you find the right “world” to be the best in, you become the go-to person for anything in that niche.
I’d also be wary of simply applying these principles like a formula to every part of your life. There are times when you can’t put a value on the payoff of a particular project or milestone. There maybe also be times when a job might have a high pay-off in terms of pay and status, but you really dislike the culture and environment. You still need to be discerning when working out if you’re in a dip or a cul de sac.
How The Dip Changed Me
Here’s 3 ways The Dip changed my thinking around when to quit and when to keep going:
1) Being Intentional About What I Start & Quit
I’ve always fallen into the trap of starting things because they seemed cool at the time, without thinking about whether I care about them enough and want to put in them time and work to see them through.
I’ve picked up a few languages as I’ve grown up. Even though I’m fairly proficient at all of them, I’ve nowhere near mastered any of them. Looking back, I often put a language on pause and worked on another when I hit a plateau. It felt good to make quick progress ona . new language. But in the grand scheme of things, I wasn’t really becoming fluent in any of them.
Godin warns against this mindset, because it can lead to you becoming a “serial quitter”. You start something new and enjoy the thrill of progressing in a new skill quickly. But the moment it gets hard, when you have the greatest potential for long-term growth, you just give up and switch to something easier. In the end, you end up being mediocre at many things and being exceptional at none.
2) If It Feels Hard, It’s Probably Worth Doing
The second way The Dip changed me was to be more willing to embrace difficulty. It challenged me to see it as a positive sign that something is worth pursuing. I often let my “logical” side talk me out of starting a passion project or learning something. I tell myself, “It’s too difficult and it’ll take a lot of time and effort. No one’s got time for that.”
I needed to hear this advice in these moments of self-doubt and hesitation. Being in the middle of these dips grows you and stretches you. Do it long enough, and you’ll start to reach mastery. Rather than focusing on the immediate pain, I needed to embrace the grind and look forward to the outcome.
3) The Importance Of Re-Connecting With Your Purpose
My third takeaway from The Dip is that I need to regularly reconnect with my purpose. When I’m in the midst of a dip, I become so focused on how difficult it’s become. If I’m not reminded about why I’m going through all this effort, it’s so tempting to just quit.
That’s when I realise that I’ve done it before.
How I’ve Used My Purpose To Push Through A Dip
Every new guitarist always faces the dip when learning how to play barre chords. They’re obscenely difficult for beginners to learn, because you have to lay your index finger flat across the strings.
When I asked people how they learnt barre chords, they just said they just “kept practising until they could do them.” It felt like such a lame answer. I was really struggling, barely getting a sound out of my guitar. I felt like I was trying to strangle a crocodile with my thumb and forefinger.
So I kept choking that crocodile every day for 20 minutes a day. What kept me going was the goal of being able to play Hotel California by The Eagles. Whenever I heard the song, I became determined that I would be able to play it just like Don Felder.
One day, after a year of solid practice, I woke up one day and was able to do it. I was able to play barre chords without any problems. And yes, I nailed Hotel California. I even managed to work my way through the solo too.
So what’s the secret? Well, there’s no secret at all. I just had to be persistent and keep practising like everyone else had been telling me to. And every time I heard the song, it reminded me of what it would be like to master them.
And that’s ultimately what The Dip is all about. When our progress starts to slow, you need to lean into the the dip even harder. That’s what will carry you through to the end. There aren’t many people who make it through dips – that’s why they’re exceptional at what they do. But you can be one of them by pushing and persisting through the dip.
Should You Read It?
When it comes down to it, The Dip is a very simple book. You could say that its key messages are common sense. But I think the book shines in connecting our experiences with sound principles. Godin writes in a way that grabs you and makes you look at your life from a different angle. That’s far more value than I’ve gotten from books that try too hard to be different, yet fail to make a difference to your life.
That’s why I would recommend the book to anyone. It addresses experiences we face on a daily basis. It gives you a clear framework to decide if something’s worth doing or letting go of. This is a mindset that can change how you evaluate every area of your life. And it’s only 86 pages!
I’d particularly recommend The Dip to people who find themselves starting a lot of things, but never finishing them. I also think people who find themselves stuck in a rut or at a dead-end in their life would also enjoy it.
I hope my review of The Dip gave you a good overview of what the book’s about and whether you’re interested in reading it. It’s definitely given me some helpful ways of thinking about quitting and I hope it can do the same for you too.
What’s one dip that you’re in right now that you want to get through? I’d love to hear about it in the comments down below!