When to Cut Your Losses

Man with head down on desk, sticky note with "HELP" writte on it on baseball capTenacity and persistence can be friends … or foes.

By Bill Reeb

You are now at the final leg of the Process. To be here, you had to kick out of the Try (Work)-Evaluate loop because you were either feeling unsuccessful or unhappy about your progress or priorities. This negative evaluation occurs as you are either starting to get stuck or you are already stuck.

MORE: Heading Off Course? Time to Correct | It’s All Right to Enjoy Success | Failure Paves the Road to Wisdom | Are You Paralyzed by Fear? | How to Change the Way You Think (and Why) | Have Your Beliefs Stopped Serving You?
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Because you have already worked through the techniques of “What You Are Thinking,” it’s time for us to walk through the other side of this evaluation, which is “What You Are Doing.” These techniques should help you find ways to get unstuck from what you are doing so that you can once again start regaining momentum toward whatever goal you are trying to accomplish.

My dad, who died in December of 2008, was my best friend and someone I will always admire for the life he led and the values he lived. I wish he were alive today to read my book because I know he would be smiling and chuckling often. I also believe he would have truly enjoyed reading about my exploration and discovery, even in this post as I challenge one of his foundational teachings.

From an early age, my father taught me that tenacity and persistence were two of the greatest tools for success. His belief was that those who achieve do so by

  • staying focused,
  • doing the work and
  • tenaciously and persistently staying the course to overcome all obstacles.

It was as if he believed that everyone had the same basic skills, so the only real determining success factor was who could overcome – time and time again – the obstacles put in front of them. To him, at the end of the day, the winners were always the ones left standing – those persistent long enough to be survivors.

My dad grew up in the Depression and he also had a tough start in life: His father died when he was 12 and his family struggled throughout his teenage years to put food on the table. He used to tell me stories of how he would walk to school every day 5 miles in the snow, uphill both ways (I think every parent tells that one). He joined the military early and fought in two wars, including the big one. It would certainly make sense that his philosophies were rooted and shaped by these major events. And though I agree with the premise that tenacity and persistence are important tools for success, I believe they can easily become drivers of chaos and struggle, and eventually a weakness. Let me explain.

I do believe in the power of tenacity and persistence … to a point. You can’t run from every obstacle in your way because life regularly puts them in front of you everywhere you go. My experiences as an athlete immediately come to mind because if I had been uncomfortable getting up, dusting myself off and trying again after falling short, I would never have been able to do anything that required much hand-eye coordination or flexibility. I would definitely tell you that tenacity and persistence have clearly been my friends.

I will also tell you they are major foes as well. Too many times, these two qualities lock your mind into a detrimental way of thinking. In other words, we get so focused at breaking down a door that we don’t just turn the knob and open it, or we don’t look for the easy alternative to go through an open window instead.

During the last two decades, Michaelle and I have adopted a different philosophy regarding the use of these tools. While we are prepared and plan on using them when attempting to achieve any goal or objective, we monitor closely for their overuse. If it seems that the only way to make something work is to constantly call on persistence and tenacity to force it, we regroup and make sure we still believe in the desire and plan we are following.

I don’t want to get too new-agey on you, but as we looked back over our successes, our marginal successes and our failures, we came to the conclusion that when we were on the right track in our approach and goals, our effort and accomplishment came together pretty easily. That doesn’t mean that we didn’t have to overcome hurdles or experience failures along the way, but overall, things seem to fall into place.

On the other hand, there have been plenty of times when one of our many theoretically good ideas just wasn’t panning out, but because of pure tenacity and persistence, we were able to keep those ideas or initiatives alive. However, in these cases, they were not thriving, but rather on life support because we should have just let them die.

I didn’t realize then that we were paying such a high price (in potential lost opportunity) spending so much of our time and resources keeping some of our marginal initiatives from fading away.

To be fair, Michaelle realized this long before me because I was unable to see clearly given that I was too busy beating my head against the door trying to open it. But, as she so often does, she finally convinced me to step back and look at our situation from a different perspective. What I realized was that tenacity and persistence can easily get intertwined with ego and vanity, and when that happens, bad things are about to come your way.

Our second ladies’ clothing store was a good example of this. We opened up a dress shop called “Suited for Success,” a professional women’s clothing store, over three decades ago in casual Austin, Texas. After years of operating a single store about 8 miles from downtown, we were approached by a well-known retail consultant who asked us to open a second store in downtown. We were offered an experimental retail space – it was an open area in an office building (we had a little metal fence around it with multiple entry points). This kind of space is common today in airports and in other retail spaces 25 years later, but when we were propositioned, this design was unheard of. However, how could we pass up the huge incentive of free rent for the first year? Even after that first year, our rent would be a percentage of sales with no minimums for several more years. And besides, downtown was where many of the suit-wearing businesswomen worked. I remember talking to Michaelle and saying, “Wow! … Free rent … The right audience … We need to do this!” I didn’t ask questions like

  • Does this make sense? (We were absentee owners because we both worked full time at other jobs.)
  • Do we have the time to manage two stores?
  • Do we have the personnel we can count on and trust to run two stores?
  • Do we have the financial resources to keep two stores stocked?

No, I didn’t ask those questions because all I could think about was free rent! Anyway, we opened the store and we moved our store manager to the new location, thinking we wanted our best person there in order to give this new operation the greatest chance of working. In the end, several years later, not only did that experimental retail space never take off, but the low traffic was so discouraging for our talented store manager that she eventually quit. In addition, the second store spread our resources too thin (we had really nice stuff tied up at a store with no traffic that we could have easily moved at the original store), and our customers at the original store were disappointed that our talented manager was no longer there. To recap, opening the second store was motivated by an attractive lease without regard to our overall plan and the cost of running it (money, time and skill). The real failing here was continuing in tenacity and persistence.

After six months, we knew opening it was a mistake. However, I was not going to let this store fail and therefore beat me. I was going to make it work, whatever it took. So, we kept working harder and spreading ourselves thinner in order for me to prove to myself that opening this store wasn’t a bad idea. It was my persistence to stay the course that finally made my wife throw her hands in the air and say, “I’m done being involved.” Finally, after trying for multiple years to out-last and out-effort this situation, we ended up closing the downtown store and then a couple of years later we sold the original store because we were just too burned out to try to keep it going.

There are two important concepts I am asking you to consider without having to go through the painful learning curve I did. First, holding on to an idea or opportunity that requires superhuman effort to keep alive only robs you of the time and energy to explore other possibilities, many of them with far greater potential. Second, accept that tenacity and persistence, misapplied, go from being positive qualities to negative ones that can hold you back and keep you from going through the many open windows in front of you right now.

Assess yourself regarding your tenacity and persistence. Circle how you feel you are doing. On this subject, I:

  • Need a lot of work
  • Need a little work
  • Am okay
  • Feel good where I am

What should you change to leverage tenacity and persistence to work in your favor instead of allowing them to be your albatross?

Where in your life are you trying to beat a door down rather than go through the open window?

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