Stacey Abrams just conceded her brutal battle to be governor of Georgia. It made it all the more interesting for her to take the stage at TED Women today, as it was her first major appearance since the announcment. The talk ended up being a masterclass in how to accept setbacks, understand failure and decide on your next move.

Here's the killer quote:

But know why you're doing it and know why it must be done... because jumping from the "what" to the "do" is meaningless if you don't know why, because when it gets hard, when it gets tough, when your friends walk away from you, when your supporters forget you, when you don't win your first race - if you don't know "why", then you can't try again.

Establish your intention first

Simon Sinek has made an entire career over this idea, starting with his breakthrough Start With Why, but I think Abrams is also asking why from another level: intention.

When someone says, 'I want a bigger home,' it could be because I want to impress the neighbors or it could be because we've adopted four children and we want to give them more space.

It's not necessarily that you won't get it if you have less-than-pure intentions, but it's that you are honest with yourself about why you want it. In her talk, Abrams said she wanted to become governor to create better equality and eradicate poverty in Georgia. That self-honesty and clarity makes it much easier to remember why she got in this fight in the first place, which is easy to forget when you have a major setback or failure.

Then know when to quit

Revenge, Abrams says in her talk, is never a good reason to try again. You have to stop, remember why you are doing it, and decide if it is relevant anymore.

This wisdom requires more than a cursory looking into the dark abyss. You have to ask yourself, "Should I quit?" Exploring the honest answer is the only way you can come back stronger the next time.

Seth Godin explores wise quitting in his classic The Dip. As I wrote before:

Give yourself permission to say, "No, it isn't worth it." And give yourself permission before you actually start.

In other words, the smartest strategy isn't to decide on a potential comeback after a defeat, but to decide if you would potentially come back if you get defeated in the future.

Abrams made it very clear that she would be back in four years (or perhaps, ahem, in two years). The clarity of decision just days after defeat means that she prepared her strategy well before she got in the proverbial ring. You should do the same.

Published on: Nov 30, 2018
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.