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Setbacks, Comebacks and the Urge to Quit

Jan 31, 2017

When’s the last time you felt like quitting?

Exhausted running Man Quitting Setbacks Comebacks

A Quitting Epidemic

I read an article recently which has been haunting me. The article appeared in The Arizona Republic, the largest newspaper in my state.

In the piece, Scott Bordow chronicles a new phenomenon in Arizona high school sports. Over the last year, there has been a 22% increase in the number of high school sports programs which have been canceled.

While program cancellations are not unheard of, the increase is worth exploring. In the piece, Bordow writes, “there’s no single reason for the cancellations. They’re not confined to a few sports, either.”

As he dug deeper, Bordow found common threads within many of these instances. He spent time with Eric Freas, athletic director at Coconino High School in Flagstaff, who recently canceled their girls’ soccer junior varsity season. He also talked to Arizona Interscholastic Association (AIA) Executive Director Harold Slemmer.

Bordow wrote, “The vast majority of programs being canceled are at the lower levels, both junior varsity and freshman. Slemmer and Freas believe that’s in part due to kids unwilling to put in the time and effort if they’re not going to be on the varsity team.”

Slemmer said, “They lose interest early. They don’t want to stay on the freshman team or junior varsity team to improve their skills.” Freas commented, “It was the mentality, ‘If I’m not on varsity, forget it.'” He attributed the attitude to millennials and entitlement.

(You can read the article in its entirety here.)

 

Is this a Millenial thing or a human thing?

Now, some of you may know, I am not a Millenial-basher. I am an older Millenial and frankly, I tire at the lazy generalizations made about my generation.

Last year, I wrote an open letter to Alexis Bloomer, whose viral video rant was watched by over 44 million people on Facebook. Alexis and I had a great exchange a few days later – we both see incredible potential for good within our generation.

But regardless of the state of Millennials, I believe entitlement is a pervasive problem affecting every generation alive today. While entitlement is not a new phenomenon, the technological advancement and dynamics of our modern world make it difficult to fight this deadly attitude.

I can sympathize with the students discussed in the article I mentioned above. Setbacks are difficult to swallow. None of us like being downgraded or missing our goals. It’s completely normal to evaluate the value of continued commitment when we’ve fallen short of our dreams.

I support the idea of quitting being a wise thing to do if you’re not willing to push through “the dip” as Seth Godin describes it in his book by the same name. I even enjoy Bob Goff’s description of Quitting Thursdays in his book, Love Does.

 

Avoiding Adversity Means Avoiding Growth

But when we become the kind of people who quit at the first sign of adversity, we limit our potential and sideline our future success. We severely hamstring our creativity and eliminate the possibility of innovation. Not only do we throw away a particular goal or ambition, we also eliminate the likelihood of accomplishing any of our goals or ambitions.

We cannot become successful without adversity. We cannot grow without pain and struggle. In his book, Leadership Pain, Samuel Chand repeats a simple mantra to end each chapter. He says, “you’ll only grow to the threshold of your pain.” Richard Rohr has written something similar. (I’m not sure I agree with the age he mentions, but I think he’s on to something regardless.)

 

I wonder if we have forgotten the vital role setbacks play in our life stories.

If we look back at our past life experience, we find setbacks which turned out to be unexpected setups for future success. What felt like a breakdown in the moment led to a breakthrough we wouldn’t have found any other way.

A breakup with someone which devastated us led to a greater awareness of the kind of relationship we truly wanted or deserved. Being passed over, fired or let go released us from a job where we had been stuck and wouldn’t have left on our own. An original plan went up in flames, forcing a reassessment and creative thinking which led to a breakthrough.

 

Setbacks in the Lives of Icons and Legends

Our culture has many famous stories of legends who experienced setbacks which set up comebacks. We know the tales of icons, whose breakdowns led to breakthroughs.

Michael Jordan

In light of the high school sports article, I’m reminded of my childhood sports idol – Michael Jordan. Jordan was demoted to the junior varsity team as a sophomore, while other sophomores made the varsity squad. He could have given up the game and the world of basketball would have been much different (less cool shoes, sports apparel, etc.) Instead, he dedicated himself to proving “them” wrong and decades later, Jordan still has a chip on his shoulder.

The Post-It Note

Have you ever heard the story of how 3M invented the Post-It Note?

“In 1968, a scientist at 3M in the United States, Dr. Spencer Silver, was attempting to develop a super-strong adhesive. Instead he accidentally created a ‘low-tack’, reusable, pressure-sensitive adhesive. For five years, Silver promoted his ‘solution without a problem’ within 3M both informally and through seminars but failed to gain acceptance. In 1974 a colleague who had attended one of his seminars, Art Fry, came up with the idea of using the adhesive to anchor his bookmark in his hymnbook. The original notes’ yellow color was chosen by accident, as the lab next-door to the Post-It team had only yellow scrap paper to use.”

***For the record, that’s a mistake, followed by a “solution without a problem”, and an accidental color choice. All of which led to a massively successful product and cultural icon.

C.S. Lewis

Author C.S. Lewis is one of the most well-known and respected authors of the twentieth-century. His Narnia series and his book, Mere Christianity, have been read by millions of people over several decades. One of his lesser known books is entitled The Problem of Pain. In the book, Lewis attempts to answer the question, “If God is good and all-powerful, why does he allow his creatures to suffer pain?” A brilliant mind, Lewis writes with compassion and insight on this important subject.

However, some important events occurred in his life after the book was published. He met his future wife, Joy Davidman, and they married. She later became sick with cancer and died. Lewis, who as an apologist had “an answer for everything”, was overcome with doubt for the first time in his life as he mourned Joy’s death. (The movie Shadowlands starring Anthony Hopkins as Lewis tells this story in a compelling manner.)

Lewis went on to write another book, entitled A Grief Observed. In it, he revisits some of the issues he touched on in The Problem of Pain, yet from a very different perspective. While Lewis retained many of the same “answers” he arrived at within the first book, he did so with a strikingly different spirit in the second book. I know many people who have been comforted, encouraged and guided by Lewis’ words in A Grief Observed, words he would’ve never known without his loss and grief.

 

How Will We Handle the Adversity of This Year?

I don’t know what the year to come will contain for any of us, but it’s a good bet that it will produce adversity. I doubt any of us know the student-athletes chronicled in Borrow’s piece I opened this article discussing. However, we may face a moment like they have.

What will you do when you have a setback? What will you do when adversity and pain come your way? How will you respond when your best-laid plans turn and contort into something you never imagined? How are you currently handling the fading of your New Year energy and the return of everyday life?

I believe a few actions and attitudes can guide each of us when we find ourselves where we didn’t plan to be. The items I list below are not magical, but they can help us reset our perspective and step forward in a new direction when we’re stuck.

 

5 Action Steps to Turn Avoid Quitting and Turn Setbacks into Comebacks

1. Return to your passion.

Have you ever noticed how often founders tell their “origin stories”? It doesn’t matter what the founder created – a company, a local church, or a justice movement. These leaders become adept at telling their origin story repeatedly, without it becoming stale for them or others.

The storytelling isn’t self-indulgent; it’s a discipline which keeps them connected to the core passion which moved them in the beginning. The origin story is the passion propelling them through the setbacks.

Think about it. What dream got you into this “work” which you’re currently thinking about quitting? It probably wasn’t a paycheck, a promotion or new perk.

Bill Hybels writes about your “holy discontent” – the sense of righteous anger that things are broken and the current status is not as it should be. Many times, though, we lose sight of our holy discontent and the dream behind it. What used to be a privilege becomes an obligation. What was once a “get to” becomes a “have to.”

It’s been said that “people lose their way when they lose their why.” When we return to our “why,” we find our fire renewed.

 

2. Embrace the setback.

I believe gifts are often hidden within our setbacks. What comes packaged as something we hate can hide something we desperately want. And we cannot discover the gift if we reject the setback.

Louie Giglio literally wrote the book on setbacks and comebacks. In his book, The Comeback: It’s Never Too Late and You’re Never Too Far, Giglio writes, “We can’t always start over. But we can always start again. To me, baby steps look like facing each day, each hour, as an opportunity to see God shine through.”

We can either fight the setback or embrace it. Embracing the setback may mean saying (repeatedly), “Hmm, I wonder what God is doing here. I have no idea what’s going on, but this is going to make one heck of a story to tell later.

 

3. Accept your current stage.

Embracing the setback enables us to begin accepting our current stage.

One of my son’s favorite games is Chutes and Ladders. I hated this game as a child because, after a long run of lucky dice rolls, I would hit a giant chute and lose the game as a result. I hated losing. After one slide down a chute, I’d just give up all hope in the game.

But, if I could have accepted the current stage in the game, I could have then focused on upcoming ladders and what I needed to make progress.

In his book, Limitless Life: You Are More Than Your Past When God Holds Your Future, author and pastor Derwin Gray writes about the experience of King David, the once-shepherd-boy who went on to kill the mighty giant Goliath. “Many people never get to slay a Goliath because they think that taking care of sheep is beneath them.” Each stage in our life is part of the process.

If I had a chance to speak to some of these student-athletes who are throwing in the towel with their sport because “If I’m not on varsity, forget it”, I’d say, “what if you accepted this stage and used this year as a training ground? You might get better, humbler and hungrier.”

 

4. Practice more patience.

If our current age fights against any attitude or discipline, it’s patience. Contrary to the thinking of some, patience is not apathy nor ambivalence. It’s the willingness to sacrifice now for success later.

I became terribly impatient with my career about five years ago. A team I led had made the difficult decision to close down the ministry we were leading in our church. I went from preaching 3-4x per month to not preaching at all. I felt like the work I was still doing didn’t matter and wondered if I making a difference.

This feeling led me to begin looking for a new position in a different church. But the applications I was submitting weren’t getting any responses.

I felt stuck.

A close friend of mine encouraged me to be patient and wait. Then another older, wiser man shared with me how the most frustrating season in his career turned out to be the most helpful in his leadership journey.

I kept waiting, but not by choice. I was uncertain what would come next.

A few months later, a leadership change happened in my church. I was seen differently and I gained new opportunities. Whereas I preached twice in that difficult year, the following year I preached 10 times. I was promoted and then twenty months later, I was promoted again. It’s still incredible when I think about how much changed in my life in a matter of months.

While I was battling impatience, I could not see how my actions were preparing me for opportunities I could not open up nor control.

Patience gets each of us ready to be moment-seizers.

 

5. Pray with new fervency.

As a follower of Jesus and a pastor, I believe in the power of desperate prayers. From my perspective, prayer is neither passivity nor weakness. It’s inviting a power greater than our own.

In his best-selling book, The Circle Maker: Praying Circles Around Your Biggest Dreams and Greatest Fears, Mark Batterson describes the power of prayer. He writes,

“Bold prayers honor God, and God honors bold prayers. God isn’t offended by your biggest dreams or boldest prayers. He is offended by anything less. If your prayers aren’t impossible to you, they are insulting to God.”

He also writes,

“Persistence is the magic bullet…100 percent of the prayers I don’t pray won’t get answered.”

As I’ve written recently, I think we often give up just before a breakthrough. I wonder how many times just a little more patience would have set me up for new success. I wonder how many times I stopped praying for something not because I thought God didn’t want to do it but because I had lost it would ever happen.

Take One More Step Today

My friend, Rachel Wojnarowski, inspires me on a regular basis. She released her first book in 2016 entitled One More Step: Finding Strength When You Feel Like Giving Up. Rachel not only inspires me as an author but also as a parent.

In the book, Rachel writes about the lessons she learned from adversity, including serving her daughter, Taylor, who was diagnosed with MPS at age 4 (MPS is a neurologically degenerative disorder).  Rachel shares how she overcame despair, rediscovered hope and how she keeps going when she feels like giving up. It’s a powerful book and the title sums up her message – you can take one more step today.

Maybe you’re living in a season like my friend Rachel. I hope this post gives you encouragement. This is not a promise that God will remove all the difficulty, but encouragement to take one more step today and then another tomorrow.

If you know someone who is thinking about quitting, pass on this post to them. And if you need a boost today, share in the comments below. I know others readers would love to encourage you – I would too!

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