Will Salyards
Leadership Coaching and Mentoring

Will Salyards, PhD Blog

Life, Career, Leadership

When Don't Quit Can Be Wrong Advice

The thought of quitting a task or not completing a goal carries disappointment for others and us. Yet is that reason enough to press-on? Do we ever reach a place in our pursuits when the encouragement to "Don't Quit" can be the wrong advice? Frankly, I wrestled with this topic. Not because I don't believe it but because it can be hard to hear. Determination and perseverance are the stories of my life, my family, my faith, and my nation. Quit? Not in my vocabulary. But it should be.

There's a story about a young couple that seeking to better their lives decided to relocate. Of course, leaving family and friends was difficult, but the promise of better things drew them on. All went well: new jobs, new house, new friends, and even babies. Then life turned the table.

In the space of a few years the babies that had become men and married and the husband who had become friend and lover all passed. It was a cruel blow to a dream not yet completed. There would be no grandchildren scampering about the house as she and her husband looked on approvingly. A widow before she should be, Naomi was faced with a decision: to stay and continue the business or go back. What would you do? Quit or continue? She quit.

But Naomi didn’t just give up on the dream; she gave up on life. When asked, her response was that her fate was undeserved and that she was bitter. Maybe I would have been too. Surely Naomi needed to hear, "Don't Quit." But it is precisely because she quit that the rest of the story is so meaningful.

What Naomi didn't know is that in quitting her first dream, the daughter-in-law who would accompany her on the return journey, then decide to stay, would depend upon her completely for advice. What she didn't know was that in sharing the life story she had abandoned, that she was actually mentoring the woman who would become the grandmother of Jesus. Sounds crazy, doesn't it? But it's true; sometimes you just need to quit. Here are three things that have helped me.

Appreciate Disappointment To appreciate disappointment is to accept that life is not always pleasant nor is there any rule or obligation that it be. When I accept disappointment I also acknowledge that I tried something and that now it’s over. It is to admit the overall pattern of life from death and joy from sadness, that I am not an exception but part and parcel in the greater movement of life. It seems that in the case of Naomi her eventual willingness to accept disappointment actually allowed her to live again.

What might this mean for the leader attempting to “push-through” regardless?

Redefine Success While watching what would become known as the America’s Cup race, Queen Victoria was heard to ask about who was in second place. An attendant replied, "your Majesty, there is no second." Ever live as if "there is no second?" Maybe we all do.

Redefining success isn't to make “second place” okay but a decision usually forced upon us by disappointment. It becomes bitter when we believe our outcome is unacceptable. I think that’s what happened to Naomi. Yet redefining success is necessary if we’re ever to quit.

Like her, seeing any good in the circumstance would have been impossible. And that is the lesson: life success cannot be measured by the outcome of an event, a child’s choices, or even a year but across the broader strokes of our living, particularly how well I content myself with accomplishments, with what is enough, and what is meaningful. I am not saying it’s easy but that it could be necessary.

How would your greatest disappointment look if viewed this way?

Understand Role We know that we will live in multiple roles and accept that generally, we will do well in each. So, what is this thing about "understanding role?"

I think that understanding role is about understanding transition. I can easily and gracefully accept new roles when I have successfully completed others. But not so easily when I think there is more to do or more for me to become. Naomi's role changed before she was ready but ready or not, fulfilled or not, life was summoning her. She had to quit being a mother to be a mentor.

 Is there a decision you can make more freely by understanding role?

Coaching can be a good place to start. Want more information? Click here.