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Is failure is just another form of quitting?

Your startup  fails miserably after a few years, but it’s really because you decided to stop pushing so hard. A dating relationship, which seemed so hopeful early on, led to constant conflict and it wasn’t worth the effort anymore. A project at work starts out with a ton of momentum, but spirals out of control when you become distracted by outside interests.

It’s a question that Erwin Raphael McManus poses early on in a book called  The Last Arrow, which came out last year. Failure could be a result of our own lack of effort, which does put quite a bit of pressure on us but also helps explain why failure happens. And, if we know the root cause for failure, it can help us dig deeper to find a solution.

One example from my own life?

I once tried to become a songwriter. There were many factors at play, chief among them my own disinterest in a corporate career that had stalled out circa late 1999 and early 2000. I was looking for a creative release, and songwriting became my outlet for a lot of frustration. This was long before I became a full-time writer. For years, I penned songs that were meant to connect with an audience, and possibly lead to a publishing contract.

At the time, I was a so-so musician. I knew a few chords. Most of my songs failed to resonate with people, especially in live performances. It was pretty easy to buy a ticket to one of my shows back then. I remember coming up with a lot of excuses. I had a day job, so I couldn’t invest the time required to really learn more complex chords on guitar. My songs weren’t really that inventive, but I hoped the words and ideas were enough.

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Another few years went by, and eventually I stopped writing songs.

When I look back, I realize that maybe I lacked some of the skills required–an inherent musical sense, an ability to craft my songs in a way that didn’t seem like re-purposing other ideas. It was too easy to call my songwriting venture a failure due to timing, or interest, or bad luck. In the end, it was my decision to abandon the idea. I didn’t persevere, I didn’t learn how to write with more creative expression, take a course in songwriting, or push myself further. I just decided to blame external forces, but it was all about me quitting.

Have you ever done that? Have you abandoned a calling or a career because you just lost the momentum, the interest, or the energy to keep going? When you look back, do you realize  you might be the reason the failure occurred, that it was mostly a form of quitting?

Sometimes failure comes unannounced and has nothing to do with our efforts. Starting an ad agency once as a young adult, I didn’t have the knowledge or the resources, but I also didn’t realize how competitive that market can be. It was destined for failure. And, some failures are a result of drastic market changes. A friend tried to become a realtor once, then ran into a brick wall called the economic crisis of 2008. Competition, financial issues, market trends–they all play a role in whether you succeed or fail in business, and they should not be discounted.

And yet, there’s that weird feeling at times.

What if it is me? What if I’m to blame? Quitting on yourself often leads to a gnawing sensation, a what-if moment. You lost interest, you moved on to something else, you stopped pushing, but what if you had stuck with it?

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I’ve been there many times. There’s nothing like going on a diet that can make you realize that quitting and failure are inextricably tied. I’ve started biking again recently, and I know how hard it is to keep pedaling even when you feel like your legs can’t move and your body is telling you pull over and just take a break. As a writer, I’ve found success mostly by sheer perseverance and never giving up on the field (or myself).

If the idea of failure and quitting really do go hand-in-hand, the question to ask is how much you should keep pushing and striving, and when it’s OK to release something and move on. The truth is that many of the most brilliant successes happen in life and at work because someone decided not to quit. And, only you can answer the question about when it is time to abandon an idea.

Before you do that? Take a moment to think about how much you’re to blame for failure, and how you can be the catalyst that brings newfound success. Take a long look at any current projects, life goals, and personal endeavors. If the one thing that is keeping you find finding success is you, then my advice is to keep trying.



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