This is a different kind of topic for a coach. We’re supposed to tell you to keep trying, create new steps, never give up. Aren’t we?
Over my lifetime I have witnessed, and experienced, the painful realization that a dream, that’s been held so tight you’re white knuckled, is best let go. There are a thousand reasons that create this tragic situation but only a few words that define it. “I’m giving up.” “I’m letting go.” “I’m moving on.” If you’ve never uttered those words, please call me and tell me your secret. But if you’re like me and know all too well how difficult they are to say, let’s talk about how you know when to say ‘enough is enough’ and what you do afterwards.
Several years ago I was deeply entrenched in creating a business that I believed in with all my being. We had worked with an architect, had building plans, created beautiful marketing materials and even had multiple sales prior to one piece of ground being broken. Then two things happened: first, we ran into a costly construction issue and second, the economy took a nose-dive. One of those two things happening may not have been enough to throw the plans into the gutter, but both were devastating.
The realization that our plans were in the gutter did not come immediately. It was like a very slow death that you just refuse to accept. I felt it for months, but I denied it. Then came a day when I overheard my business partner on the phone with the architect and for some reason it became crystal clear to me that the business was dead. I sat at my desk, stone cold, without any feeling at all. I had poured myself into the business for over a year, shifted aspects of my life to accommodate it, and, above all, I wanted it more than anything I had ever wanted professionally. It was my dream.
To be sure, I could have remained in denial, continued pushing for the business, exhausted every ounce of energy and every dime we had. But the obstacles were great and the path was unclear. So, how did I decide that enough was enough? And how did I move past it? And, what’s even more amazing is how did I come out the other side in a better place than I could have ever imagined?
Here are seven ways to help you decide when to say ‘enough is enough’.
1. Recognize when your dream has run it’s natural path. It happens. We evolve. The world changes. Our priorities shift.
2. Live with both possibilities for 48 hours. Imagine for two days holding on and then imagine letting go. How does life look from both places? What changes? This is akin to a pros/con list but without the right and wrong, good or bad. Suspend judgement of each scenario. Just live with it and notice how you feel. We have enough timelines to follow so if you can avoid it, don’t self-impose one when you’re making life altering decisions.
3. Talk, really talk, with a trusted friend or advisor or a coach. Someone who will genuinely listen to all possibilities. Someone who won’t just indulge you, pity you, tell you that everything will be okay or shake her head in agreement to everything that you say. Having this conversation over email or the dinner table isn’t enough. You need to turn this decision upside down, inside out, look at it backwards and forwards. You need to feel free to say one thing and then completely contradict yourself in the spirit of examination.
4. Identify what it is specifically about the dream that you want. Is it the tangibles? Or is it more than that? Think about what rewards you would be getting. Are they extrinsic or intrinsic? Can you meet these needs and desires in another way?
5. Recognize the opportunity in the challenge. I know that is an overused piece of advice. But I give it anyway because, frankly, it’s true. There is opportunity in every dead end, every shut door, every mistake and every failure. One of my favorite sayings is a Japanese proverb, “fall down seven times, get up eight.” Get up.
6. Have more than one dream. It is a whole lot easier to let go of one dream when you are also invested in another. The sense of disappointment may be just as great, but having another focus helps us to move on.
7. Have the courage to move on. Courage is one of my favorite words. It incites images of strength and fortitude. It reminds me that I can act even when I am afraid. When I don’t know what will happen next but I keep moving forward, I know that is courage. It comes from a place deep inside of us. It may start as a small voice but if we listen to it closely it will grow into a thunderous roar that propels us to the next place. It separates us from the people who sit on the sidelines of life instead of getting into the game. If having courage was easy, it wouldn’t feel so inspirational when we witness it. When you need to summon courage, close your eyes, be very quiet, breathe deeply, believe in what you want and it will come.
When I said ‘enough is enough’ about my business, it took me two days to speak to anyone, two days to realize that life was more than a business, two days to decide if I wanted to wallow in self-pity or seize the opportunity to do whatever I wanted to do next. I chose the latter. I decided to move to California, something I had always wanted to do, and start another chapter in my life. I have been in La Jolla for four years and have never looked back. I still have the poster from the business that failed hanging in my office. It used to be painful to look at but now I see it as a reminder of a beautiful thing I tried to create and I am proud of myself. I have another business now; one I never would have embarked upon if the other didn’t fail and I didn’t let it go. And I am exactly where I should be. Living my dream.