A lot of the advice we hear about being productive and achieving success boils down to one idea:
Stick with it.
And it’s true—it’s hard to find a single example of someone who achieved something truly extraordinary without perseverance.
At first blush, that seems to be the main takeaway of a wonderful little book by Seth Godin called The Dip, whose cover image shows a long, bleak valley in between the peaks of initial excitement and long-term success.
But this little book has a little secret that becomes obvious within the first couple pages:
Yes, perseverance is essential for success and truly extraordinary achievements. But just as important—though far less well-understood—is another simple idea: You must master the art of intelligent quitting.
What follows is a selection of my favorite quotes from the book along with my own brief thoughts and reflections.
On The Dip
The Dip is the long slog between starting and mastery.
The excitement of new beginnings blinds us to the long, winding nature of the road to excellence.
Anticipate the dip—welcome it even—and you’re well on your way to breaking through it.
Most people quit. They just don’t quit successfully.
Winners quit intelligently. Quitters persevere unthinkingly.
If it’s worth doing, there’s probably a dip.
Instead of viewing the Dip or challenging part of a journey merely as an obstacle to be worked through, what if we saw it as evidence that we’re on the right track? That it’s a task worth doing?
How many genuinely meaningful and enjoyable accomplishments in your life didn’t have a long period of struggle in the middle?
On Opportunity Cost
The opportunity cost of investing your life in something that’s not going to get better is just too high.
I continue to believe that the concept of opportunity cost is one of the most underappreciated ideas in all of wellbeing, mental health, and personal development.
Ever time you decide to put your time/attention/energy/passion in one place, you’re giving up putting it somewhere else.
Cultivating the habit of thinking like this is painful but necessary if you want to invest the currency of your life wisely.
In a competitive world, adversity is your ally. The harder it gets, the better chance you have of insulating yourself from the competition.
Adversity isn’t an obstacle; it’s a competitive advantage.
Quit or be exceptional. Average is for losers.
This sounds harsh, I know. And maybe it is. There are plenty of times, I think, when average is just fine. In fact, maybe that’s the problem…
Because average works in most of life, it’s that much harder to quit average when we really need to in order to become exceptional.
Like most people, all day long, every day, you use your muscles. But you don’t grow. You don’t look like Mr. Universe because you quit using your muscles before you reach the moment where the stress causes them to start growing.
It’s a mistake to equate repetition with practice.
True practice—the kind that leads to growth—demands stress.
The business [and people] we think of as overnight successes weren’t. We just didn’t notice them until they were well baked.
It’s a useful exercise to take someone you admire and look up to and then try to reverse engineer their success.
Sure, Steven King is an amazing writer now with a huge following and readership. But what steps did he take to get there before he was successful?
The opposite of quitting is rededication. The opposite of quitting is an invigorated new strategy designed to break the problem apart.
I love this idea of rededication.
Dedication is easy and glamorous and exciting. Setting off for the first time and dedicating ourself to the cause, the goal, the ambition.
But to find yourself face down in the mud, having gotten bumped off the proverbial wagon for the fifth time in as many days, to dust your self off, hustle back to the wagon, and get back in again… Rededication.
Persistent people are able to visualize the idea of light at the end of the tunnel when others can’t see it.
We talk about vision as if it’s some sort of superpower or genetic gift some people are blessed with.
Vision is a skill that gets cultivated like anything else. And there’s nothing magical about it. It means taking the time to actively imagine the details of a future possibility.
Developing a vision requires practice envisioning.
Coping is a lousy alternative to quitting. The problem with coping is that it never leads to exceptional performance.
I hate the word coping. Maybe there are situations in life when the absolute best we can do is to simply cope. But in my experience, there are almost always viable ways to actually improve your situation, not just cope with it.
Of course, they may not be obvious or easy. But if we do the work to understand the true roots of our difficulties and have the courage to make the changes we need, improvement is almost always possible.
We fail when we get distracted by tasks we don’t have the guts to quit.
Put another way: Success takes focus and courage—focus to resist tempting distractions and courage admit when we’re on the wrong path.
On Becoming Extraordinary
Persevering through hard times and quitting intelligently are two sides to the same coin—equally valuable skills necessary to achieve meaningful and lasting success in whatever endeavors we choose.
But are you willing to build those skills? To learn about them, practice them, and commit to them? They aren’t for everyone. There are more comfortable, easier paths through life. But if you want to become extraordinary, you won’t get there without them.
Extraordinary benefits accrue to the tiny minority of people who are able to push just a tiny bit longer than most. Extraordinary benefits also accrue to the tiny majority with the guts to quit early and refocus their efforts on something new. — Seth Godin, The Dip