“Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” –Serenity Prayer
Never give up, but know when to quit. That is the paradox faced by every entrepreneur.
This doesn’t just apply to the whole business – it applies to partnerships, client relationships, marketing campaigns, development efforts – basically anything that is proving to take longer or be more frustrating than you initially thought it would be.
So… what to do? When things aren’t working out as planned, do you keep at it, in hopes that it will get better, or do you give up and look for greener pastures?
The answer, of course, is that it depends on how much is actually within your control.
Let’s take a page from business schools, where everything worth learning fits onto a 2×2 matrix:
- There are basically two courses of action: “Act”, and “Don’t Act”.
- There are also two kinds of situations: those that you “Can Control”, and those that you “Can’t Control”.
Thus our matrix is created.
(Hat tip: This matrix was taught to me by Dr. John Pliniussen, who taught the Design & Innovation class in my MBA program at Queen’s School of Business.)
Well, two options multiplied by two options equals four possible outcomes:
- If you “Act” in a situation that you “Can Control”, that’s “Situation Mastery”
- If you “Act” in a situation that you “Can’t Control”, that’s “Ceaseless Striving”
- If you “Don’t Act” in a situation that you “Can Control”, that’s “Giving Up”
- If you “Don’t Act” in a situation that you “Can’t Control”, that’s “Letting Go”
So where do we want to be on the grid? Top-left, or bottom-right – either “Situation Mastery”, or “Letting Go”.
This is what we all strive for – to act in situations that we can control, and create the results that we want for ourselves, our families, our friends, our colleagues, and our clients. Or, if something is beyond our control, to move our efforts somewhere else, to where we can have an impact.
It’s the other two that are the real killers: “Ceaseless Striving” and “Giving Up”.
Ceaseless Striving and When To Give Up
This is where the paradoxical advice of “never give up but know when to quit” comes into play in a hard way; if you can’t control the situation, then don’t invest your time and energy into it, but if you can control it, then do what you need to do to create the outcome that you want.
Except for one thing: life doesn’t fit into a neat 2×2 matrix, and you don’t usually know whether you can control the situation or not! It’s an educated guess at best, and a gamble at worst.
This is the real question that we need help answering: How much is really within our control, and how much isn’t? In most cases, it’s a combination of both: some things are within your control, and other things are a leap of educated faith – that’s the definition of entrepreneurship.
In other words, if you’re feeling frustrated, take heart: if this was easy, anyone could do it!
How about you – how do you know if a situation is within your control or not? Please leave a comment and tell me what you think!
Update from Dr. John Pliniussen
I just received an email from Dr. Pliniussen:
“Nice post and thanks for the acknowledgement and I wish that were my 2×2 matrix…but it isn’t and it is called the ‘personal power grid’. And has been around for a while.
I’ve attached a jpeg file with the matrix and on it three places I think most people dwell…a lot.”