My bones ache from the repetition, and my hands openly bleed from where the skin has torn, sloughed off of broken blisters. The sun is bearing down on me, relentlessly, as there is no shade, not even the hollow promise of shadow from a hat. I can see the humidity in the air as sweat pours from me, soaking my clothes, obscuring my vision, stinging my eyes. I lift and heave the solid iron bar into the ground, again and again and again. Each impact breaks free little pieces of dirt and rock and skin. Something is bound to give and from the way things are going, I cannot help but feel that it is going to be me. With the cadence of my striking I voice a prayer, calling on everything to make this hole deeper, recognizing I am a long way from my goal. Sunday I had decided to build a fence. Monday morning, one quarter of the way through the first of seven holes, I was finding that the earth had other ideas. I have spent two hours and gotten a quarter of the way into the first hole. I quickly do the math: it is going to be 8 hours per hole. I’m going to be here all day. For one hole. I have seven holes to dig. The bar strikes again, breaking free only a handful of ground. Goethe, an 18th century artist and philosopher, said “In the realm of ideas everything depends on enthusiasm…in the real world all rests on perseverance.” I am starting to think this was a bad idea. I really want to quit, and I just started.
It is two weeks later now and I’m a thousand miles away at the ocean, sitting at the edge of the world again, as I listen to the endless repetition of the sea and reflect on how much building a simple little fence can teach us about ourselves.
I like the idea of quitting, but not the taste. If a person could receive accolades for desiring to quit I would be King of the Hill. I rarely quit, but I sure love the idea and I think that is why I achieve the level of success that I do: there is no downside to the idea of quitting. Legendary basketball coach Bobby Knight, in his bestseller The Power of Negative Thinking, approaches the concept of the conflict between positive and negative a different way, “being alert to the possible negatives in a situation is the best way to bring about positive results.” We all, at times, are enthusiastic about quitting – whether it’s a chore, a job, a relationship, or even reading a book. We like the idea of quitting so much Freakonomics did an entire segment on it, The Upside of Quitting. Where we win against the negativity of quitting is by not persevering through with the act of quitting. It’s ok to think about quitting, just don’t do it. In the spaces of my mind, under the stress and under the strain, the idea gives me a place where I can go, if only long enough to regroup and persevere. As Knight says, “realizing your shortcomings takes an awareness.”
Know the difference between stopping and quitting. One of the biggest keys to our success with conquering obstacles before us is recognizing the difference between stopping and quitting. If you look back on the things you have quit in your life I believe you will find, like me, you didn’t quit them, you stopped them. And that is a powerful distinction. We ask in our ARAINDROP course how often do you stay with something you know is not working before you do something else? It is not an exercise in failure, it is a practice of recognition. In that learning we are not advocating you quit and abandon your circumstances, we are challenging you to stop what you are doing to recognize a better way. And it is not a semantic argument. Webster defines quitting as “leave, usually permanently” which isn’t always possible, or even necessary. Just stop, start “not doing something that you have been doing before”. Assess. And redirect. Putting those energies into a different starting point – picking a new area to dig those holes – isn’t abandoning the project, it is recognizing there may be a better way. Those seven holes in the ground can teach us a lot. They can tell us when to stop, or they can show us when to quit. And both of those things is very powerful. As Lao Tzu, the father of Taoism, said, “mastering others is strength. Mastering yourself is true power.”