In 1976, a young and extremely talented theater actor auditioned for a role in what would become one of the highest grossing films of the year. She didn't get the part, though, because the producer thought she was "too ugly."
She was at a crossroads. Would she take this as proof she wasn't good enough, turn her back on the movie industry and stick to theater? Or would she use this challenge to shore up confidence in her own talent and find movie parts that are more suitable to her "look"?
In 2008, a young entrepreneur felt he had run out of options after the markets crashed, killing all hope that investors would fund his startup. He was $250,000 in debt, his bank accounts were empty, and his neglected consulting practice had dried up. Would he give up and find a job? Or would he pull himself together and build another startup?
The Dip, The Cul-de-Sac, and The Cliff
Our two characters experienced what Seth Godin would call either a Dip, a Cul-de-Sac, or a Cliff.
A Dip, says Godin in The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit (And When to Stick), is "the long slog between starting and mastery." It's a barrier that sieves out the amateurs from the experts. Working through the Dip takes guts, talent, money, and time, and very few succeed. But those who do stick it out emerge as the best in the world.
A Cul-de-Sac, literally a "dead end," is when no amount of striving brings positive rewards. When you're in a Cul-de-Sac, the best thing to do is to quit and redirect your energies towards another endeavour that will be more rewarding, and where you can be the best.
Less common but more alarming is the Cliff. It's when you can quit only after everything collapses.
You think most people would want to push through the Dip, knowing success is certainly waiting for them on the other side. But the problem is when people don't recognize the Dip. Instead of seeing a Dip for what it is, people think they have reached either a Cul-de-Sac or a Cliff, and so they quit.
And quitting when you're in a Dip, when you're on the cusp of success, is the sure way to fail.
The Alternative to Quitting
Instead of quitting, Godin says, one should rededicate or try "an invigorated new strategy designed to break the problem apart."
I like to call this the pivot. It's an adjustment, a strategic relocation, a change in direction that you make while keeping your eye on your goal. You're like an airplane making constant course corrections until it reaches its final destination.
Going back to our earlier example, the actor didn't stop auditioning for movie roles. Instead, she pivoted to roles where character was more important than looks. This course correction worked. Today, Meryl Streep is the most nominated actor in American history, with 19 Oscar nominations and three Oscars for her iconic portrayals in Kramer vs. Kramer, Sophie's Choice, and The Iron Woman.
The second example was me. I quit that dead-end startup, but didn't give up on my bigger goal of changing the world through entrepreneurship. I revived my consulting practice and created another startup, one that's teaching thousands of entrepreneurs how to build thriving and sustainable visionary businesses.
A Paradigm Shift
Rejection, a business that produces only debt, an unresponsive market, a product that doesn't work... these all look like gargantuan failures and good reasons to quit.
Or are they? What looks like failure may not be failure, but rather a cue to pivot to a different direction.
Next time you face a seemingly insurmountable challenge, ask yourself: Are you in a Dip, a Cul-de-Sac, or a Cliff?
And should you quit your strategy or big dream altogether? Or should you quit a tactic that hasn't worked? Because maybe your target destination doesn't have to change, even though you need to make course corrections to get there.
Whatever the setback or disappointment, don't make it the last chapter of your saga. Failure is failure only if it happens in the last chapter. Otherwise, it's a plot twist.