Everyone reaches a point in which they feel like quitting something: a job, a relationship, a project, or a hobby. It’s inevitable.
It’s easy to conceptualize, to imagine and to dream of what might be. It’s difficult to do the work.
When a job becomes difficult, we imagine a better one. When a relationship hits a rough patch, we look for a way out. When a hobby calls for a higher skillset, we shelve it.
We have conditioned ourselves to look for the easier way.
In September of 2000, I was a sales manager at SEI, we provide hardware maintenance agreements for data centers. Our customers were decommissioning servers that were not “Y2K” compliant and we had just lost a significant amount of revenue as a result. To compound problems, I was hiring and surrounding myself with the wrong people, we had lost a large client earlier in the year because of a bad partnership, I was working long hours with little results to show for it, and I was increasingly feeling as though I was in over my head. I had hit a rut and the opportunity to quit could not have been more visible.
I decided early on that I would, as the Marines say, embrace the suck if it made me a better person. I wouldn’t take my eyes off the long-term benefit of working through the difficulty just to settle for a bad short-term solution. I would stick with SEI and figure things out.
I resolved that I was all-in so I scheduled a meeting with SEI leaders and challenged them to find someone better suited for the job than me. If they could, I would tender my resignation. I agreed to sit in on the interviews; I would be the first one to admit if someone better was out there.
I hadn’t been looking for another job, I didn’t have a financial safety net to fall back on and I hadn’t planned on leaving SEI. But I needed them to know that I was committed to both the company and to my performance.
The leaders agreed to proceed and, after the meeting, Mike McCullough, the owner of SEI, pulled me aside and told me to unshackle myself from anything that was holding me back. He encouraged me to work as if I were running my own business and to do whatever I believed was necessary to succeed without considering what others would think. It was good advice.
When I got home that evening, my wife, Jodi, asked how my day went. She got more than she had bargained for with my answer!
The months ahead were difficult as I sat through several interviews of people who wanted to replace me while, at the same time, trying to turn things around.
In doing so, I discovered that as the difficulty increased, so did my resilience and ingenuity.
My attitude manifested itself in my performance- the fourth quarter was my best ever in sales.
On New Years Eve I met with Mike again. It was evident that I wasn’t leaving; truth be told, I don’t think there was ever a question in either of our minds that I was destined to not leave SEI. We both agreed that it was time to stop the search for my replacement.
Later, I would be promoted to Vice President and then to President of SEI.
I have developed characteristics that would not have been so mature if I hadn’t navigated through rough waters. I am more resilient. I am confident. I don’t make or accept excuses. I don’t quit. I actively look for the teachable moments in the difficult situations.
The runner is a better runner for having endured the pain. The Navy Seal is a better Navy Seal for having embraced “the suck.” And a leader is a better leader for having persevered.
Quitting is often the easiest way out. I’ve learned, however, that the best way out of a difficult period is to wrestle and grow through it. You will be a better person and a better leader for it.