For most of my life, I have HATED the idea of being seen as a quitter. I didn’t want to be seen as flaky and inconsistent. I didn’t want to seem like someone blown about by every whim. But the end result was that I never wanted to try new things. Because what if I wasn’t instantly awesome at it, didn’t like it, learned more about it and wasn’t interested? Then I would have to be a quitter. A failure really.
Finally, about 8 years ago, I decided that was crazy talk.
I was going to be a quitter, border line failure and wave that flag proudly.
I was going to try things, all sorts of things, with no guarantee that I would like them, be good at them or keeping doing it. I would start and quite things like trying on clothes in the wrong size.
If you hate to start or even plan something for fear it won’t work out, these tips are for you, from a recovering “if-you-start-it-you-better-stick-with-it” friend.
1. Test things/experiment with your dreams
How will you know if you don’t try?
There are always small ways to test bigger dreams/ideas. Try it for a day. Test it over a weekend. Give it 6 months.
Sometimes we have little inklings of interest. Test them. I was interested in the idea of writing a personal finance blog. So I tested it. For 2 months before I launched, I wrote blog posts. I read blogs about starting blogs. I watched interviews. That worked out ok. So then I decided to test the idea for 6 months. The only questions to this test were 1. Do I like it? 2. Do others like it?
If your just “testing” an idea, you can’t fail.
What would financial freedom look like for you? What would you do during a year off? How would you spend your time in early retirement? If you wanted to become self employed, or have a side hustle that provided financial flexibility, what would that be? Want to renovate or manage rentals? You can test all these ideas. If you have a few years between now and then, start by testing out the ideas.
If you test 100 ideas, you will know which 90 to quite, like right away. Then you keep testing. You slowly scale each idea. With each test, the goal is to learn one new thing about the idea, or yourself.
Say you are interested in living full time in an RV. Before you jump in, test it. Read books. Read blogs. Rent one for a week, or borrow one from a friend. Go camping. Take a long road trip rather than fly.
8 years ago, I had this idea of traveling in an RV for 6-12 months with my kids. But now we have 5 little kids. 5 seems like a lot of chaos for a camper. So we tested the idea, then scaled it. We started taking 2 hour road trips. We started doing more things where we needed to be “out and about” with the kids all day. Last summer we took a 6 week trip.
You know what, if half way through the trip things were going horribly, I would have turned around and drove home. We test things, we get answers to the questions we have, we adjust course, we test again. (The trip was awesome!)
Part of scaling is to test something with vigor. This isn’t a wishy-washy, “I’ll think about it but not really jump in.”
A few years ago I ran into an old high school friend. I hadn’t seen him in a dozen years. And without missing a beat he said, with all seriousness, “I’m surprised I haven’t seen your name on the New York Times bestsellers list.” Um… what? Now it’s easy to shrug off an obviously misguided and ill-informed comment like that. I had hardly written in high school and very sporadically since. Sure the idea of writing a book had rolled around in my head for a few years in my 20’s. But the space between an idea rolling around and finished product is about a million miles.
But how do you know if you don’t test it and continue to slowly scale the idea?
I tested writing a blog. I tested writing more words each day. Then I scaled. This year I plan to write about 100,000-150,000 words. The average non fiction book is about 60-80k. So I will test writing words. I will experiment with finding my voice and message. Maybe I will like it, maybe I won’t. Maybe I will find it, maybe I won’t. But I’m 100% committed to the test. I’m a committed quitter.
As you test and experiment with this idea, you will gain clarity. Look at it as a learning experience. Like a high school science class, look at your hypothesis, test it, then evaluate. Gather data. Make notes.
I have tried a lot of things, some to figure out certain questions, others to gain a wider perspective. I signed up for classes that didn’t fit into my major. I read books I had little initial interest in. I traveled to places not recommended in the guide books. Each time I gain clarity into what I did and didn’t want.
I took a week long art history class in Amsterdam on Van Gogh.
I love history. I love Van Gogh. But this class had almost none of either of those. It was more art than history. As in our homework each day was to produce art. And not Van Gogh-ish art. The teacher was smitten with Pollock. So after only 20 minutes of lecture we had to spend the next 8 hours on assignments like, “Go out and look for that which is missing and paint the absence.” Um… my personality type almost had a panic attack! “Paint the absence….absence of what!!!!” No help, no instruction. Just, “Sometimes that which is missing adds more value than that which we see.” I could feel my heart rate skyrocket and I was starting to break out in a cold sweat. This was like trying to paint Taoism. So I bought some watercolors and painted tulips instead.
And I never took another expressionist painting class. Because I learned something. Something about me, my interests and my talents. I enjoy trying to “paint the absence” with words, but not watercolors. I love creating stories more than splatter. I really do appreciate Pollack. When I was 12, I went out and bought a Pollock print with my first real paycheck. But I’m not Pollock. If art had been my major I would have quit. But I was just “testing” a class. Testing brings clarity.
4. Change Course
The scariest part of saying, “I would like this to be on my highlight reel in 10 years,” is writing it down then having to change that plan later. But that is the crazy talk.
If we are constantly testing things, trying things, and gaining clarity, why would we use none of that information? The whole point is to apply the new insights. Our plans have to be a living document. With each new piece of information, a small correction ripples through our plans.
Here is the amazing thing about it all. The more you test and try things out, the clearer your path gets. Because it is tested. Because it’s not just some random idea, but slowly and surely battle tested. With each small experiment, your plan becomes stronger. You can rule a few things out. You can add some new things to test.
We don’t magically arrive in amazing places. Our highlight reel doesn’t get filled if we are too scared to even start something. Give being a committed quitter a try. Write down a 10 year dream. Run some experiments. Test it. Scale it. Clarify the idea and the path it will take to get there. And change course. Rule some options out. Try some new options again.
1. Anything you have “tested” or “scaled” lately?
2.What holds you back from jumping into something?
3. Do you hesitate to start things you might quit?
4. Do you have ideas for a gap year, or early retirement that you could test?