Let’s get one thing out of the way; I’m no quitter. If you ask my family and friends, they will tell you that I’ll do just about anything before I ever quit. Several weeks ago, I came face to face with a situation that made the concept of quitting seem quite enticing. I had even figured out a pretty sneaky way to convince myself that I wasn’t really quitting.
The short story goes like this: About six months ago, I signed up to be in a race that I’ve competed in for the past three years. It is a two-mile swim, and I’ve enjoyed this race in the past. In the previous years, I was well trained for the event, and the race was not all that difficult for me. But this year was different. This year, I knew the race was going to be difficult for me. As the date approached, I had a queasy feeling in my stomach. It was the feeling of fear. I had a bunch of things to worry about:
- Unlike previous years, I was unable to train like I had expected to. I was nursing an injury that cut my training swims down by two-thirds.
- Unlike previous years, rather than increase my training as the date approached, I had minor surgery that kept me out of the pool altogether for four of the final six weeks before the swim.
- Unlike the previous years, I was unable to secure a wetsuit, and the water was running cold at 67 degrees.
- Unlike the previous years, I knew my time would be slower and my chances of winning or placing in my age group were slim to none.
So, I did what most of us instinctually do; I tried to convince myself to simply not show up. Why should I? This was certainly not going to be fun, and what’s more, I knew I was probably going to get kicked and punched by faster swimmers.
The more I thought about it, the idea of just not showing up sounded more and more appealing. After all, if I didn’t show up, I wouldn’t have to deal with the disappointment of failing. Considering all of my really good excuses, not showing up began to sound like the responsible thing to do! Armed with my boatload of pretty darn good excuses, the concept of not showing up actually began to take hold as a legitimate idea. Unfortunately, I started to think about another word for not showing up, and that word cut through the multitude of excuses and entered into my conscious mind. The word was “quitting.”
Perhaps you don’t like the word, “quitting.” Would “giving up” be a better way to describe it? Doing things out of our comfort zone always brings out the excuses. Maybe it’s calling a client who makes you uncomfortable, or confronting a difficult situation, or reaching out to someone who might make you feel awkward, or going to a meeting you don’t want to go to, or attending an event that may take too much effort… I can go on and on. There are clearly moments in all our lives that make us feel uncomfortable. I have a two-word answer to anyone who questions whether he or she should do something that’s uncomfortable: “Show up.” Use it as a battle cry – make it your mantra.
I really had no idea if I was going to compete in that swim, but I made a promise to myself. I would not take the cowardly way out and quit while sleeping in my warm bed. I packed my swim bag the night before, set my alarm for 6:00 am, and made a deal with myself. If I showed up, stood on the shoreline, and decided it was not my day to jump in, I’d allow myself to not swim that race. Well, I got up, showed up, and it never even felt plausible to not jump into that water. For the record, my lack of training slowed my time down, the injury I was nursing made itself known throughout the race, I was cold, and I got kicked and punched plenty of times. But I didn’t quit before the race, and once in the water, quitting was never an option.
I’d like to tell you that completing that swim carried some kind of extra meaning. In fact, it did not. In the real world, lack of preparation rarely rewards us with any meaningful victory. But it did remind me how fragile the line can be between courage and fear, and how intoxicating the idea of just “not showing up” can be. What’s more, can you imagine how much easier it would be to not show up the next time you felt fear or nervousness about something?
Finding a comfortable way to quit is no way to train the mind. When a fighter faces overwhelming odds and that fighter may take a beating, no real fighter quits on his stool. It is true that when you show up, you may have to face some of your worst fears. It may be that pushing past your fears will put you in a humbling situation, so dust yourself off, and learn from it. I can assure you: Whatever that feeling may be, it will pale in comparison to the feeling of not showing up. Woody Allen once said:
80% of success is just showing up.
The next time you feel those butterflies, and your mind presents you with a comfortable way to not show up, symbolically set your alarm clock, pack your bag, and get yourself to the shoreline. If you do, I’ll bet that, regardless of what’s holding you back, you’ll jump right in.