My father told me that the reason doctors whack babies on the ass immediately after they are born is to communicate a fundamental truth they need to know to survive: outside the womb, life is tough. (Do doctors still do this? I don’t know. I’d guess not; today, it’d be viewed as infant abuse and threatening to the tiny soul’s fragile self-esteem, like, say, playing dodge ball and keeping score a bit later in life. But in 1954, the year of my birth, the Doc at Deaconess Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio delivered that whack.)
Everybody is presented with countless opportunities to quit. We stumble into places far most hostile than we anticipated – my daughter’s full term in the Peace Corps, in some godforsaken jungle with rats on her tin she’s roof, peeing through gaps, that leaps to mind. We sign on for things that quickly seem more challenging and difficult than we’d hoped for – maybe putting to use what is being provided to you by the publisher of this; maybe putting together furniture from IKEA. We walk into a dark alley, perhaps stupidly or ignorantly or arrogantly, figuratively of course, and then get the crap beaten out of us, literally, and limp home, humiliated. The list of celebrated, influential and rich entrepreneurs with at least one embarrassing bankruptcy or very close call, past and contemporary, is long, long indeed. I, myself, am on the list, and in very fine company. And if the doc’s message is true, that life is tough, life for those who claw their way to the peak of the business success and money pyramids is even tougher. Entrepreneurship is all about managing a never-ending in-flow of crap, and diligently looking for the pony occasionally in it; about converting adversity to opportunity when you can, and not being overly troubled when you can’t. And, of course, not quitting.
Quitters are very uninteresting. What’s interesting and instructive is those who are unabashed, who are quickly resilient, who achieve redemption, who have a greater and grander next act. Over the long haul, this ‘resiliency’ may be the single most important of all personal characteristics. How well you can take a punch. How quickly you can recover. How you can weather storms of criticism or humiliation. How adept you are at reinvention. How courageously and creatively you respond to difficulty. If you want to cultivate a characteristic, this is the one. And one way to do it is with little stuff. The day to day. A lot of people are easily derailed. Easily put into a funk lasting hours or even days. Easily compromise their agenda. The breeze from a missed punch is sufficient to send them to the canvas. They wonder why they don’t get more accomplished. It’s “their glass jaw.”
At least be honest whenever you quit – especially if your reason is “gee, where’s the Easy Button, anyway? Don’t see it here. I’ll go look over there.” That kind of quitting isn’t about the place you walked into, the activity you started, the toolbox you opened up, the learning curve and time required. It’s about YOU.