“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma–which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become.” ~ Steve Jobs
The popular adage that “winners never quit” is, in a word, poppycock. (Other words include claptrap, balderdash, rubbish, and nonsense.) It just ain’t true.
Winners quit the all the time. In fact, quitting is what makes it possible for them to win. That’s because they’ve learned to quit all the stuff that doesn’t truly matter so they can double down and really focus their grit on the few things that do.
But how do you tell which ambitions to quit, and which are worthy of your grit? Here’s a straightforward 4-step decision matrix I use with my clients:
1. Is it LIFE-GIVING?
Too many of the ambitions we spend our precious time and energy on are soul-sucking, energy-draining “shoulds” that are not actually things we personally want at all (or at least not very much). They’re things we think we should want, things other people want for us, or things society tells us we must want in order to be happy, successful, etc etc blah blah blah. But are they? The most important question about anything you’re going after is this: Do you, personally, actually, truly want this? If no one else got a vote or had any influence on the matter, is this something you would still deeply desire? Does pursuing this ambition move you toward More Life, or suck the life out of you?
2. Is it ALIGNED WITH YOUR VALUES?
Even if it’s something you really want, it’s still no good if pursuing it means you have to compromise your values. For example, you may want to become an ultra marathon runner or make four million by the time you’re 40, but if truly attaining those goals requires you to compromise a litany of personal values that really matter to you (i.e. how you live, how you love, how you parent, how you serve the world, etc.), then it’s ultimately not worth it.
3. Is it SMART?
Shocking as it sounds, it turns out that vague targets are very hard to hit. So there’s no point getting all gritty going after something that on its best day looks like a fuzzy blur of desire in your mind’s eye. It’s much better to make your desire SMART…
- Specific: For example, “travel more” is not specific. “Take a fun weekend trip each quarter this year to a different part of Colorado” is.
- Measurable: This means you’ve got to be able to tell when the goal is accomplished. For example, “learn to play guitar” is not a measurable goal. How would you know when the goal is reached? A more measurable goal would be “learn to play Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ on the guitar.”
- Accountable: i.e. Announce your goal to people who love you and ask them to hold you accountable to reach it. Better yet, enlist a friend or two to go after the goal with you. If your goal isn’t worth this level of external commitment, it’s certainly not worth your internal grit.
- Realistic: This is the reality-check assessment. Is this a goal you can actually achieve? Are you kidding yourself about your own abilities or talents? Are you employing magical thinking about how quickly or how easily you think you’ll be able to do this? You might need to consult with actual research to verify your expectations, and ask smart friends for honest feedback about how realistic you’re being about it all.
- Time-Bound: Your goal needs a deadline; or even better, a series of deadlines. If you’re going to learn to play “Hallelujah” on the guitar, by what date will you master the first chord? the second? the third? Progressive touchstones like these can really help keep you moving forward toward your ultimate Desire.
If you can’t make it SMART, it’s time to drop it, or delay it until you can.
4. Is the REWARD WORTH THE COST?
Finally, step back and really look at all it’s going to cost you to achieve this goal, and consider the full reward you can reasonably expect to gain from achieving it. Then ask yourself: Is this really worth it? Is the pay off worth the cost? Climbing Everest might be great, but if you know it’s going to shave 10 years off your life, then maybe it’s just not worthy of your time. Almost everything worth doing in life comes at a cost. Before you jump in, make sure it’s a cost that you consider worth paying.
Life-giving, Aligned with Values, SMART, and the Reward is worth the cost. Use the acronym LASR (or “LASER”) to help you remember.
If the thing you’re chasing after is Life-giving, Aligned with your values, S.M.A.R.T., and totally worth the cost, then turn up your personal grit and make it a priority that you actually DO. But if your goal doesn’t match up with these four criteria, it’s time to quit it, or at least delay it until some point in the future when it makes more sense.
Remember, YES lives in the land of NO. You can’t say yes to the things that really matter unless you’re willing to say no to a whole bunch of other stuff. Just make sure it’s the right stuff you’re going after…stuff that really matters to you.