Failure. It’s one word that most leaders (let alone most people) never want to say, let along face. Failure has an ugly stigma that can push people to endure through tough times almost like super humans.
In some cases, failure is not an option and enduring whatever hardship you are under has to happen. Usually, these situations are ones where the consequences of failure are catastrophic (e.g. Death, dismemberment or harm to others).
Take the life experience of Dr. Viktor Frankl.
Dr. Frankl is the author of a best selling book entitled Man’s Search for Meaning about his experience in concentration camps during World War II.
His insights into how to endure an almost unendurable situation created the third Viennese school of psychotherapy called Logotherapy (the other two are Freud’s psychoanalysis and Adler’s individual psychology).
The primary idea behind Logotherapy is that the primary motivational force of an individual is to find a meaning to life.
Dr. Frankl’s insights help him endure through a tremendous amount of suffering and hardship because he really had no other choice — it was either find the meaning in the experience or perish.
When It’s Not Life and Death
What about the situations where enduring the suffering, discomfort or situation is not a matter of life and death? When should you stop enduring and quit?
This is a tough question to answer and an even tougher thing to achieve considering quitting usually means failing
What we can learn from Dr. Frankl’s example is that if we having meaning, even in failure, we can survive and be successful. In fact, failure is vital to our success since it’s by failing that we understand success. By failure we also push ourselves and others to succeed.
Three Questions to Consider
Any situation can have either a positive, neutral or negative outcome. For leaders, it’s about understanding these outcomes and figuring out if enduring the situation is still worth it. To help you determine when to endure or quit, answer these three questions:
Question #1: Will I Be Physically or Mentally Harmed?
Lots of times we want to press on even through pain and mental hardship. That can lead to growth but pushing too hard can result in long term damage that is not worth the pride of continuing on.
Professional athletes push themselves to the point of physical harm because they are driven to win. Even amateur athletes “push through the pain” to accomplish a goal or finish the race.
If you truly feel that you will harm yourself by pushing on then stop. It’s not worth the agony and your sense of pride or ego will only be bruised for a little while. You can always try again.
Question #2: Can I Change The Situation?
In some cases, the situation you are in cannot be changed (like what Dr. Frankl had to endure). If you can change the situation, then make an effort to. This can make all the difference even if you can’t make all the changes you want — at least you are taking control as much as you can.
If your attempts to change the situation fail and the conditions you find yourself under are just not bearable anymore, then it’s time to leave or stop. There is nothing wrong with leaving a bad situation especially if it’s harming you physically or mentally (like with an abusive spouse or boss).
It’s really not worth the agony to continue on in hopes of changing something that can’t be changed. It will just delay the inventible — you leaving anyway after being too frustrated to stay.
Question #3: Am I Able to Leave the Situation?
In some cases, you will have to stick it out simply because you can’t leave the situation (like Ernest Shackleton’s south pole expedition that got stranded when their boat got stuck). In these cases, your inner drive, mental toughness and endurance will be put to the test. You will have to find meaning and hope in whatever you can.
If the situation is not as dire as south pole survival, then you need to consider why your are staying. Is it because I’m afraid to leave or are can you really not leave. Chances are, if it’s not an exotic expedition, you can leave — it will just take courage and a little planning to do so.
Our Strong Desire To Stick It Out
The questions above really point to our desire to stick it out no matter the situation or potential outcome. We really fear failure and avoid loss at the cost of future gains. We want to take the safe and secure path even if it ends up hurting us (at least in the short term).
It’s hard to fail and even harder to move on after failure but what’s the hardest is to allow yourself to use failure as a way to learn and grow.
Sometimes you have to quit. Sometimes the situation is not healthy and the best way to protect yourself and live to compete another day is to stop before you get hurt. Don’t be afraid to stop enduring — it might be the best way to eventually reach your goals.