I just finished reading Seth Godin's new book, The Dip. It's a book that fundamentally questions the idea that quitters never win and winners never quit. In fact, he argues, winners quit all the time. What? How's that? Read on.
What's the gist of the new book? Why was it written?
The subtitle of the book says it all: "a little book that teaches you when to quit (and when to stick)." The book articulates the Dip--that period of time when you have to choose to be the best or to to be average--and illustrates why it matters that you both recognize the Dip for what it is and make the right decision whether to continue what you're doing or pursue something else.
It's not a running book. It's ostensibly a business book, but it's really somewhere in the personal motivation genre because the message doesn't apply to just business. It applies to every aspect of our lives. As Seth says:
"If I could offer just one piece of inspiration, it's this: The Dip is the reason you're here. Whether you're lifting weights or negotiating a sale or applying for a job or lunging for a tennis ball, you've made a huge investment. You've invested time and money and effort to get to this moment. You've acquired the equipment and the education and the reputation...all so you can confront this Dip, right now.
The Dip is the reason you're here.
It's not enough to survive your way through this Dip. You get what you deserve when you embrace the Dip and treat it like the opportunity that it really is."
The point of the book is to make you think twice about where and how you are spending your time and energy (and money).
How does this book relate to excellence?
At first glance, the book may appear to be about quitting, but it's not. It's 100% about excellence, and the strategic role that quitting plays in achieving it. To be great at something, to be the best, you have to devote yourself to it. And that requires making priorities, making sacrifices, and often it means quitting something you'll never be more than "good" at.
Being a business book, Seth writes primarily about "norm-referenced excellence". Being the best matters because the best gets more money. But the Dip applies to the pursuit of "self-referenced excellence" too. (Don't know what I'm talking about? Read this.) If you want to be the best runner in the world, well, there's quite a Dip you'll have to overcome. Quite frankly, it doesn't make much sense for most people to pursue that goal. The Dip is too large. (Which is exactly Seth's point.)
But here's where I differ with Seth. He doesn't believe the Dip applies to hobbies, things you do just because you enjoy them. I disagree. Understanding the Dip in these contexts is equally important. If you want to be your best at something, sooner or later you're going to hit the Dip and you're going to have to decide whether pushing through it has value for you. The question is whether that value is greater than you'd get from pursuing other options.
Personally, I think pushing through any Dip is valuable. Recognizing and overcoming Dips gets easier with experience. Say you push through the Dip when you are a 16 year-old trying to learn Spanish. The next time you have to push through a Dip, whether it be in business, sports, or school, you'll be that much more likely to succeed. Having done it once, you can transfer that experience to your next challenge. Even if you never become the best Spanish translator in the world, your approach to studying Spanish might help to make you the best at something else later.
How does this book relate to running?
This book has everything to do with running, whether you are a world-class athlete pursuing a place in the record books or a first year runner trying to make the varsity team. At some point, you will face the Dip. And how you respond will determine how well you end up doing.
I can think of two running related Dips that stand out in my own personal life. The first was in high school, when I became the Editor-in-Chief of the yearbook. I wanted to make the best book the school had ever seen. But to do so required a ton of time and energy. And this was a Dip with a time constraint: I only had eight months. Keep in mind, at this time I was the top runner in my region and looking at potential colleges, etc.
My choice: I sacrificed my classwork and running--not to the point of quitting them completely, however--and made the decision to prioritize the book. The result: my running suffered, my grades slipped, but the book was awesome. And I learned a ton about what I was capable of doing if I put my mind to it.
Second, before my junior year in college, I made the decision to be the best runner I could be. To not just run, but to really go for it. So I made running my top priority on a seven-week trip throughout Europe. I stopped going out to the bars with teammates and friends. I didn't date, didn't party, didn't work more than enough to get by. I started reading more, stretching more, doing more sit-ups and push-ups, sleeping more, etc. The end result: huge personal records in every event, I qualified for NCAAs in cross country, and I became one of the top runners in the PAC-10.
Interestingly, I can look at my frustrating senior season through the lens of The Dip as well. Rather than continuing to "lean into it", I got complacent. I didn't work as hard on the little things, didn't pursue it with the single-minded obsession that I had the previous year. And the results showed. I was less consistent, less motivated, and less successful.
Anything else interesting?
Absolutely. There are lots of little riffs and anecdotes throughout the book. And like most great ideas, this one spans a number of different areas. Not only will you be given a new lens through which to analyze your running, but you'll learn other interesting stuff, too, like:
- The Eight Dip Curves
- What a Cul-de-Sac and Cliff are and why you should avoid them
- Why average is for losers
- Why the opposite of quitting isn't "waiting around"
- 3 Questions to ask before Quitting
- And even a running anecdote or two.
How would I rate this book?
I give it a 4 out of 5. First, it really is "a little book". It's only got about 80 pages. That so much insight is crammed into those pages is incredible. But I'd have loved a slightly wider variety of stories, with more detail. I certainly left understanding the gist of the book, but not understanding how to actually apply the ideas to make decisions in my own circumstances. I know to be looking out for the Dip, Cliffs, and Cul-de-Sacs, but how to actually tell which one is which is still vague.
Still, the book covers a topic that in many respects seems to me to be both universal and universally misunderstood. Most of the institutions in our society seem to reward conformity and well-roundedness. But that's just an illusion. Real success comes from being exceptional. And being exceptional requires people to push through the Dip. Reading this book will help you to better understand what it is you're trying to accomplish, why it is you're trying to accomplish it, and whether or not you should even pursue that goal in the first place.
It's a great springboard to a necessary discussion. I recommend it.