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Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard of Beyonce Knowles and her band Destiny’s Child. (If not, hide, because the sound you just heard is the sound of her Bey Hive coming to attack you).
But how many of you have heard of “LaTavia Roberson”? Anyone? Anyone?
Well, the reason why you’ve never heard of her is because she quit the band, just before it broke out and became one of the best-selling girl groups of all time. Something about creative difference or whatever bullshit, but the real reason is that LaTavia was pissed that Beyonce’s Dad, who was managing the group at the time, was giving too much spotlight to his daughter. LaTavia couldn’t stand not being number one.
Unfortunately for LaTavia, Beyonce went on to become a big star, and the remaining bandmates who stuck with her, Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams, managed to rocket to fame just a few short years after LaTavia quit.
This is why the tried, tested and true advice of “don’t EVER quit your dreams” applies here. If you quit too early, you don’t get the reward because you simply haven’t pushed past the hard part yet.
But is this advice always right? Does it make sense to never quit?
Well, in the case of Troy Hurtubise, this advice failed miserably. If you’ve never heard of Troy, he’s a dude from North Bay Ontario, who, after getting attacked by a bear when he was 20, devoted his life to developing a “bear resistant suit”.
So obsessed was he with this dream that he spent 7 years of his life and $150,000 (which was his family’s emtire life savings) developing a protective bear armour that looks like it was hacked together by a 40-year-old virgin living in his mom’s basement.
But don’t let the duct tape and flimsy mattress foam fool you. To test it out, Troy hired a bunch of bikers to beat him up with baseball bats for 2-hours, he then had a “friend” hit him with their car and throw him off a cliff. And guess what? The suit actually worked!
But as it turns out the market for bear-proof suits was, let’s say, a tad small.
And after bankrupting his family, almost losing his wife and son, without a rich (or stupid) investor in sight, he decided to put the suit up on Ebay to recoop some of his money. Turns out no one wanted to fight a bear that badly, so he pretty much ended up raffling the thing off.
Troy, is a classic example of someone who SHOULD’VE quit. Had he quit, not only would he have saved hundreds of thousand of dollars, he probably would’ve increased his life span by not repeated getting hit by cars.
Now, obviously, the Troy example is a bit extreme as most people aren’t that insane, but the point still stands.
Sometimes it makes perfect sense to quit something. Sometimes it makes sense to pack it up, retreat, and regroup for another day.
The point is not to NEVER quit, but quit strategically.
But how do you decide this? How do you decide WHEN to quit?
Well, before you quit, realize that at the beginning, you WILL get frustrated. You WILL WANT to quit. The human brain is designed to seek pleasure and reward. So when you don’t get that right away, naturally, you get discouraged and want to move on to something else.
This is the crucial part—the learning curve—that you have to push through.
And most people who’ve read Malcolm Gladwell’s books think that you have to put in 10,000 hours before you can quit. Because that’s how many hours it takes to become an expert.
But guess what? Most of us don’t NEED to become experts. We don’t need to become the next J.K. Rowling, the next Paul McCartney, or the next Michael Jordon. We just need to be good enough.
And according to Josh Kaufman, bestselling author of “the first 20 hours”, how you get good enough is with 20 hours of practice. He discovered this when he became a new Dad, turned into a sleep-deprived zombie and was frustrated that he had very little time do anything. So he set out to find a way to do what he loved the most (other than his daughter)–how to learn a new skill in as little time as possible. And what he realized is that he was able to learn almost anything in just 20 hours. Because by that time, you’ll have gotten good enough that you can correct yourself and keep improving. Before that point, you’re basically drowning in your own suck and can’t get out.
But don’t get me wrong. When I say 20 hours, I don’t mean just setting the clock and mindlessly practicing for 20 hours. I mean “deliberate” practice for 20 hours.
What do I mean by deliberate practice?
Deliberate practice means practice specific skills, paired with coaching and feedback, to improve over time. And once you master a part of that skill, increasing the difficulty, so you can further master that skill.
If you just practice in a vaccum, with no feedback and correction, and just repeat for 20 hours, that’s not deliberate practice.
Deliberate practice requires focus, strategy, feedback, and incremental improvements.
Now, after you’ve pushed past the hard part, and done deliberate practice for 20 hours, but are still not getting you any closer to your goal/dream, it might make sense to re-evaluate and see if it’s time to move on.
And if it pains you to quit anything, remember not to fall for the “sunk cost fallacy”. This is the idea that you’ve already sunk enough cost and time into something, you have to keep going because you can’t fathom spending that much effort but not getting the results you want.
Don’t fall for this.
You don’t want to be LaTavia and lose out on your dream by quitting too early, but you also don’t want to end up like Tory, and throw your entire life savings and years of your life at something that you should’ve quit a long time ago.
So to help you decide whether you should quit something, I made this handy chart you can use the next time you try to learn a new skill:
If you’re trying to learn a new skill, after you’ve practiced for a while and aren’t getting the results you want, ask yourself “Should I quit?”:
Ask yourself, have I put in at least 20 hours of deliberate practice?
If you haven’t, keep trying because you’re still at the most frustrating part of the process–the beginning.
If you have, ask yourself “Are you getting results”?
If you answered “no”, then there is probably something wrong with your process. Figure out if you’re really doing deliberate practice or just brute force. You may need some feedback and/or coaching to help you get some results. Fix the process.
If you answered “yes”, ask yourself if the results are getting closer to your dream. If it is, then great! Keep up the good work and keep going! It’s hard work but you know it’s worth it.
If answered “no”, it means you are working on something that isn’t helping you get to your dream. Maybe it’s the wrong dream, maybe it’s just a distraction. Maybe you’re climbing a ladder and it’s leaning against the wrong wall. At this point, it makes sense to ignore the “sunk cost fallacy” and just quit.
What do you think? Do you think it makes sense to give up sometimes? How do you decide when to give up?
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