How to know when to keep pushing

Recently, I was out driving on the highway during a rainstorm. I signaled right and started to switch lanes. The problem was, due to low visibility, I failed to see a van that was moving into the same space. Its tail swiped the front side of my car.

For the next few days, I drove around with increased hesitation. Before turning, I would double and triple check. My driving speeds were down a few miles per hour. In general, I was more cautious. After a while, however, I was back to my New York driver self, navigating the streets with (semi) reckless abandon.

It’s common for people who experience a setback to be more cautious the next time. The problem is, many folks will often view a single failure as an indictment on past efforts and will not try again. For example, they make many sales calls that don’t convert. Or they produce a product, service or program that they believe will sell and get almost no response. So, they quickly throw in the towel and give up.

While there is merit to failing fast, which encourages us to quickly identify when an approach won’t work and move on before investing large quantities of time, capital and other resources, we also need to be able to persevere in the face of adversity and try again when the situation calls for it.

In “Think and Grow Rich,” author Napoleon Hill tells the story of a man who traveled from his home in Maryland to Colorado in pursuit of gold.

After weeks of labor, he was rewarded by the discovery of the shining ore. He needed machinery to bring the ore to the surface. Quietly, he covered up the mine, retraced his footsteps to his home, and told his relatives and a few neighbors of the “strike.” They got together money for the needed machinery and had it shipped. He and his nephew went back to work the mine.

The first car of ore was mined and shipped to a smelter. The returns proved they had one of the richest mines in Colorado! A few more cars of that ore would clear the debts. Then would come the big profits.

Down went the drills. Up went the miners’ hopes. Suddenly, the vein of gold ore disappeared. They drilled on, desperately trying to pick up the vein again, all to no avail. Finally, they decided to quit.

They sold the machinery to a junk man for a few hundred dollars and took the train back home. The junk man called in a mining engineer to look at the mine and do a little calculating. The engineer advised that the project had failed because the miners were not familiar with fault lines. His calculations showed that the vein would be found just three feet from where the others had stopped drilling.

That is exactly where it was found.

The junk man took millions of dollars in ore from the mine, because he knew enough to seek expert counsel before giving up.

The question is, how do we know whether we need to buckle down and give it another go or when it’s time to cut our losses and move on?

Here are some questions that can help add clarity:

  1. Do you offer a product people are willing to pay for? If you’ve done your research and people said that they would pay for what you’re making/selling, then you may be closer to succeeding than your initial sales indicate. Try to determine what prevented them from stepping forward the first time and adjust your approach accordingly.
  2. Are you making progress? Use the business goals that you set and measure your progress. The benchmarks you set for your venture should give you an idea of your progress.
  3. Are you, or can you be, better than your competition? You don’t have to be much better. Just 1 or 2% will suffice. And it can be in your service as much as your product.
  4. Have you cultivated diehard fans? If you can’t even get a small group of people to love your product, there is almost no chance that your business will succeed.
  5. How passionate are you about your business? Without passion, you will most likely fail. If you are not getting pleasure out of your business, it may be time to try something else. No matter how much you love your business, there will be ups and downs. Passion helps you get over the downs, and there are many.
  6. Is your business relationships-based? The more that your product or service depends on how much trust people need to have in what you’re offering, the longer it will typically take for you to gain traction. 
  7. How would you advise someone else? It’s often much easier to look at your situation objectively when you take a step back and remove the emotional triggers, such as how much time, effort and emotion you’ve already invested.
  8. Is it in you? Much of success is based on your capacity to push ahead. If you don’t have the skills required, can you build the team that does? If you don’t have the right connections, can you hustle to open the right doors?

Naphtali Hoff, PsyD, (@impactfulcoach) is president of Impactful Coaching & Consulting. Check out his leadership book, "Becoming the New Boss." Read his blog, and listen to his leadership podcast. Download his free new e-book, “An E.P.I.C. Solution to Understaffing.”

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