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Be The Best—Or Forget It

What’s the difference between people who make it big in any undertaking and those who merely do well?

What’s the difference between people who make it big in any undertaking and those who merely do well? Seth Godin posits that the people who achieve not only apparent success (that which the rest of us can perceive) but also inherent success (the person in question knows s/he’s accomplished something) is that those people have the persistence, staying power, and perception such that they can pass through what he calls “the Dip.”
Godin, who is an acknowledged master of marketing and messaging, prodding and provoking, has encapsulated his thoughts about this difficult stage and what it means to someone’s career and/or company in The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When To Quit (And When To Stick) (Portfolio; $12.95), which takes about an hour to read and more than several to think about.

Essentially, the Dip is that place that one gets to in a process (learning how to play the violin; learning how to setup a suspension; learning how to ______________) when the level of difficulty is sufficiently off-putting that surrender seems like the smart choice. So most people throw in the proverbial towel. Which is a good thing for those who don’t lose faith and abandon the undertaking, because Godin, drawing on the economics that some of us Dipped right out of, notes, “Quitting creates scarcity; scarcity creates value.” What’s more, he argues that in this age of Google, when everyone can find nearly every thing, people want the best, and the best happens to be what those who make it through the Dip are: “If you can get through the Dip, if you can keep going when the system is expecting you to stop, you will achieve extraordinary results. People who make it through the Dip are scarce indeed, so they generate more value.”

Quitting is for many people anathema. Godin isn’t one of them. In fact, he thinks that quitting can be the right choice. If it is made at the right time. He’s against quitting when one runs into the Dip. He is for quitting before one starts. If you’re not going to persevere, and push through the Dip, what’s the point? “Quitting at the right time is difficult. Most of us don’t have the guts to quit. Worse, when faced with the Dip, sometimes we don’t quit. Instead, we get mediocre. The most common response to the Dip is to play it safe. To do ordinary work, blameless work, work that’s beyond reproach. When faced with the Dip, most people suck it up and try to average their way to success. Which is precisely why so few people end up as the best in the world.”

What’s the bottom line to this? “The next time you catch yourself being average when you feel like quitting, realize that you have only two good choices: Quit or be exceptional. Average is for losers.” That’s not entirely true. Average is, well, average. Being exceptional is, well, exceptional. But that’s where you want to be. Don’t you?—GSV