Do you know when to call it quits? (II)

And yes, sometimes the direction is right, but the way of getting there – well, not so much… This is also a tough one since the thought “But I am moving towards my goal/destination/vision” can prevent you from recognizing that there’s something wrong about the way you’re getting there.

One of my clients has been trying to move in the direction of higher level of leadership and responsibility for the past two years. Taking responsibility in leading her team, delegating tasks when necessary, mentoring her direct reports, making decisions related to deadlines, training, vacation, etc… However, along the way she was getting more and more frustrated.

Reason? She found herself in a constellation of people (both at the management and the team levels) that made it very tough for her to move in the right direction. Her decisions were not being backed up by her boss threatening her ability to assert herself in her team. She had a few team members who not only failed to deliver quality work, but also had an indifferent attitude when she questioned them about it. But she was determined that she wanted to move to the next level of leadership and hence persisted in doing what she was in her current role. This was the point when we started working together.

At the beginning she was so convinced that she just needed to find a way to get the acceptance from her team and her boss if she was to get where she wanted to. At that point she had also started questioning her confidence and assertiveness. So, the move towards the direction she wanted was far from fulfilling to say the least!

How many people like that do you know who are in a similar position? Who find themselves hitting against a wall and spend most of their energy to demolish or dig through that wall because they are so convinced that, at the end of the day that’s the direction they want to go.

I have no problem with working to get rid of the obstacles on your way to whatever you want. On the contrary, I believe persistence and perseverance are key to success. My questions is: When do you say “Enough!”? What has to happen for you to ask yourself: “Yes, I want to move towards that direction but is it normal that I am so frustrated/ tired/ angry/ burned-out/ over-stretched/ unfulfilled along the way?”

When I started with a new path that I believed would help me move towards my vision and found myself tired, frustrated and unfulfilled along the way, my own coach asked me: “How long will you take it? How will you know it is time to stop? When will you know it’s time to say ‘Basta!’?” Hah, I thought…I rarely set criteria that will help me recognize when to call it quits*… And based on my work with my clients and observations of a lot of professionals around me, I am not an exception.

People rarely specify what needs to happen for them to change course and find another path that would take them in the right direction. Or when they do, generally that is limited to task-specific criteria: I’ll try this tool and if it doesn’t work (read: solve the problem, speed up the process, increase the sales), then I’ll try another one.

But how about psychological indicators such as cognitive and emotional burden? Are we also willing to try another “tool” or path to get to there when the going gets tough?

Well, I am happy to report that my client decided to say “Basta!”. She realized or decided that getting “there” in a fulfilling manner is as important as getting there. When you think about it, it is rarely about only the destination. The way of getting to your destination or in other words the journey or the process is an intricate part of the “right direction” from the very beginning.

And about my unfulfilled, frustrated journey? With the support of my coach I did define how I was to recognize the point where I call it quits. Despite that I must admit I did wait past that point. My learning? Next time calling it earlier to save myself time, resources and energy.

*”Calling quits” sure is a loaded term – and it is often associated with another loaded term “failing”. But as research also shows, knowing when to quit is a indicator of successful coping. It is also something high self-esteem people do more often than low self-esteem people especially when there are alternate ways to reach the goals.

Reference: Baumeister, R. F., Campbell, J. D., Krueger, J. I., & Vohs, K.D. (2003). Does high self- esteem cause better performance, interpersonal success, happiness, or healthier life-styles? Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 4(Whole No. 1), 1– 44.

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