#10: A theory on quitting: the "dip"
to press the gas or pump the brakes
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I'm in the dip. Even though you may not know the term "dip," you've probably experienced it. You may be trudging through it right now. To your dismay, the dip may be pending for you in the background somewhere.
The dip is a crossroads. It's the point at which two paths emerge, forcing your hand in one direction or the other. If it helps, think of it as that point in the run when you're waiting for your second wind–waiting and further, hoping that second wind comes to push you forward. The dip is the reality that things get worse before they get better. In the dip, you have a choice to either endure the descent or retreat.
This week, I felt the earth shift under me like a roller coaster about to go down, throwing my stomach into my throat. I had more foggy days than clear ones. I'm not a stranger to a foggy day, one that feels more ghostly than lived. On these, I'm hesitant. I feel constricted, slow, and hazy. I'm like a car in a storm with visual and mental access seemingly only a few feet in front of me (sometimes less). My pace steadies in agreement with the disagreeable weather. These days can be productive and active, but they're unsettlingly quiet. The usual banter that is my stream of consciousness, full of ideas and ripe conclusions, lowers to a simmer. Like a car in a storm, I'm moving forward, only my pace slowed–and it's uncomfortable for me to hit the brakes with a full tank (and no speed limit).
I shutter a bit on days like this because I feel both in and outside of my body. In my body, I'm forced to this moment, between two painted lines, limited to my view, and numbly aware of the stop signs, incoming traffic, and turn signals. I'm almost too present. I'm too aware of my slow speed, the places I previously wanted to go, and my incarceration in this sedated car. Inexplicably, I start to feel like I don't exist.
In one of my final sessions with my therapist, he said to me, "You seem to passionately build cities and then violently tear them down, exhausted by their very presence, one that you created." At the time, I hadn't thought of my life this way–as an ongoing process of creating and then, inevitably, destroying. He was right, though, that I build from the ground up, obsess over nooks and crannies, cut the red ribbon, then flee. I run to a new piece of land, and I rest. Or, as often, I run to an old creation, now overgrown and decayed, and mourn. That's the dip.
On foggy days, in classic, dip-fashion, I stop the car and get out. I walk the other way until I find open air. I leave my work as quickly as its conception. That action, that fleeing, that escaping and refusal to go forward slowly and maintain what you've started is what the dip does. It takes your hard work and your momentum and drops it, forming a dip, one that you either choose to endure or turn back on. The options are simple: press the gas or pump the brakes. To quit or not to quit.
The "dip" is a theory formed by Seth Godin published in his book, "The Dip: The Extraordinary Benefits of Knowing When to Quit (and when to stick)." A summary of his book describes the concept in three lines:
Quit the wrong stuff.
Stick with the right stuff.
Have the guts to do one or the other.
In other words, press the gas and drive through the fog or pump the brakes and get out of the car.
Before writing his book, Seth published a blog on what he calls your "Local Max," the point at which land after you "push and hone and optimize… The Local Max is where your efforts really pay off." That is, your starting efforts. You've formulated an idea, you've signed a contract, you've felt momentum, and you're off to the races.
You can think of the Local Max in a few different contexts.
You've been dating someone for a few months, and things are going well, perhaps. You know each other's favorite take-out restaurants, have mastered your signal for when to leave a party together, cuddle in mutually comfortable positions.
You've been in your previously new job for a while now and are finally comfortable with your peers. You're recognized for your work, understand your meeting schedule, follow expectations, and love new projects.
You've been buying groceries successfully with no waste for a few weeks. You're racing through your recipe books, buying new pots and pans, and started hosting weekly dinners with friends.
Here's how Godin lays it out:
As you can probably assume, you start in the bottom, left-hand corner. From here, you begin to process your ideas, sort the red flags, and commit to the given premise. Now you're at Point A, and you're still climbing the hill, but the direction is good. At this point, you're probably thinking things are getting better and better! Then, finally, you reach your Local Max. You're happy, comfortable, settled—the shoe fits.
Here's the rest of the diagram:
Such is life; the pendulum always swings the other one. The scales inevitably balance out. Nothing can be too good, and hey, luckily, nothing can be too bad either (at least not for very long). Suddenly the earth shifts, and now the trouble comes. The honeymoon phase is over, burnout kicks in, and the weekly dinners are exhausting you. The dip is here.
Gordin writes that "Winners quit all the time. They just quit the right stuff at the right time."
When I build my cities, I'm overjoyed with excitement. I obsess. I concoct to no end. I dream of their completion. I imagine opening the doors and letting people inside. When I left my full-time job and all of my freelance clients in July, I was so sure of my choice. I couldn't be shaken or stayed from my firm stance and belief that I needed to leave. I found myself back in the bottom, left-hand corner with nowhere but up to go. I started writing and working on my passions and felt them churn under my feet. Now, as I should've expected, the dip is here. The choice of the dip is upon me.
In the dip, when the days are foggy, and we're moving slowly, when we can either cut the ribbon and stay, or flee, what is worth the drive through the storm?