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Ceaseless Striving, and When To Give Up

“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.”

About Danny Iny

Danny Iny (@DannyIny) is the CEO and founder of Mirasee, host of the Business Reimagined podcast, and best-selling author of multiple books including Engagement from Scratch!, The Audience Revolution, and Teach and Grow Rich.

14 thoughts on “Ceaseless Striving, and When To Give Up

  1. Interesting perspective. This blog post of yours got me thinking. Asking whether we know if the situation is within our control or not…. is the next logical question. Control…in the case of internal matters like “cost control” or “process control” that is much easier to define. Controlling external situations and events…is that even possible…or is more about creating mutual value, incentives, passions or degree of influence? In my case this is related to vision and goals..especially shared vision and goals. Great blog post that got me thinking!

    • That’s the real trick – being able to tell how much is within your control and how much isn’t, when it’s all fuzzy boundaries and intangibles!

  2. Danny I loved this post! I have watched people at work in tough situations – I have witnessed the ones that have given up and those who have ‘let go’.

    This matrix is awesome and I think that it can give us the drive or permission to either ‘keep on keeping on’ or ‘letting go’. I certainly found freedom when reading your post.

    Thank you – I think this is a really important message.

  3. Danny,

    First of all – great post! I truly enjoyed reading this. I loved the pictures too 🙂

    To be honest, this question (when to give up and when not to) is a very very tough one. I have been thinking about it myself too.

    This is obviously related to the motivation that is inside ourselves. I know that in some situations when I encounter setbacks, but I’m motivated to meet a goal, I will continue, no matter what.

    However, in some other situations when the flame inside me dies, then I know that it is time to quit.

    So, I guess there just a special feeling inside me that tells, whether something works or not and if I should continue or not.

    • That’s a really valuable insight, Timo – when you’re motivated, you’ll push through, and when the flame dies, then it’s time to quit. I guess choosing to continue or not really is partially a leap of faith, and faith is a very personal thing.

  4. It’s certainly all relative. We can say that anything is possible and we are capable of anything if we set our minds to it but, while the potential may be there, the skill set and character traits to follow-through may not.

    We all have limitations. We also all draw our own lines in the sand. There are things I’m not willing to do to reach “x” reward/goal. Sometimes things are out of my control because my mindset, my disposition, won’t allow me to gain control. Self-limiting control metric here.

    Then there are things I can’t control, period. Ceaseless striving to force an event or a result happens when all of the inputs are either misaligned or misdirected. In business, if I’m trying to earn a living selling a product I created without due diligence in market research I’ll probably get hosed. If absolutely nobody wants what I’m selling then no amount of stubbornness to create a demand will prevail.

    Very thought-provoking, Danny. That matrix is an awesome resource, thank you for sharing.

    • Thanks for your comment, Jon. “In business, if I’m trying to earn a living selling a product I created without due diligence in market research I’ll probably get hosed. If absolutely nobody wants what I’m selling then no amount of stubbornness to create a demand will prevail.” – This should be made into a wallpaper graphic for every entrepreneur to keep front and center while they work! 🙂

  5. I guess one should never give up. You let go, but you don’t give up – so when opportunity arises, or situation change – you try again. In your diagram – things might move from areas of no control to areas of control. If you give up – you lost your opportunity.

    • That’s the ideal – to move from areas of no control to areas of control. But in some cases, it’s going to stay an area of no control, in which case you should let go, and focus on other areas.

  6. I love this post Danny! The matrix and this: “Never give up, but know when to quit.” a paradox at first glance! Wow! I know it was out a while back, but I’m RT-ing it now!Lori

    • Thank you, Lori! I’m really glad you like it – I’ve found this matrix to be very valuable to me since I learned about it last January (a year and a half ago). Thanks for reminding me of it with your post! 🙂

  7. Hi this post was exactly what I was looking for. It made me realise that I am ceaselessly striving and allowed me to Let Go with the acknowledgement of ‘Never give up but know when to quit.’ It took me a while to get to this point in my first ever go at creating a business from start to finish – you and Eric T Wagner! The ceaseless striving wears you out and I think I finally realised that. Its been good to let go and relax… Onward!

    • Congratulations Janice! It;s a hard thing to do, but when you make the decision that ends up being right it’s such a relief, even if it was difficult!

      Good luck on your next endeavors!

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