Quit. Or pivot. Whatever: You’ll be happier and figure out what you’re really good at

Don’t be afraid to change directions.
Don’t be afraid to change directions.
Image: AP Photo/Aijaz Rahi
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This post originally appeared at LinkedIn. Follow the author here.

People have a funny relationship with quitting. The way I see it, quitting isn’t losing.It’s simply changing direction.

The popular term used today is “pivoting.” In the Shark Tank, we talk about looking forward and recognizing those pivot points in your business’s development. Call it what you will, but quitting a strategy, or a job, should not be seen as failure. We can’t win at everything we do, and in my experience, those who achieve greatness learn what they are good at, understand what they are passionate about, and find a way to pursue both in combination.

Here’s the trick through: How do you find what you are good at?

Most of us know what we ARE NOT good at, but are you self-aware enough to really sense where you could excel?

Genius comes when you combine your natural skill with your passion. Then add a lot, and I mean A LOT, of hard work. The trick to quitting is that it’s easy when you’re bad at something. What happens when you’re good? You come close to excelling but ALMOST isn’t good enough.

I had a friend who in her 20s decided she wanted to be a ballerina. She had never danced or trained at a high level. She was far too tall, and she did not have the body type. I told her this was a bad idea and she should quit. She told me I was not very supportive because this was her dream. But to me, this was a situation where quitting could have been a blessing in disguise. An opportunity to pivot to something greater.

The truth is, I had been through something similar. I wanted to play soccer at a very high level and in fact played semiprofessional and tried out for a pro team. I was almost good enough. I quit once I found out how good the other players were, and how hard it would be to make a living playing full time. I still love the game but it’s not my primary focus—I quit.

Let’s transition from quitting to dreaming. We all have dreams and many believe that in order to pursue them, you need to blindly devote yourself to that ambition. I do a lot of public speaking, and I often raise that you “have to be willing to burn the ships.” It’s a military reference, and the idea is that if you’re going to attack your enemy on a foreign shore, you ensure your troops are committed by burning the ships so they know there is no way to go back—you only go forward!

I usually follow that statement with—“what we don’t appreciate is how much training, preparation, skill and passion” went in to preparing for battle. You don’t take your ship to a foreign land in the first place if you only have 100 men on board and the enemy has 10,000. I’m not a big believer in sacrificing one’s self for the sake of art. I’m a believer in pursuing your dreams and an even bigger believer of paying the rent and making a living. Machiavelli said it best: every war is won and lost before it is fought. Don’t fight a battle you are obviously not going to win—but if you must, then remember the difference between a dream and a goal is a deadline.

It may not be a popular belief, but dreamers rarely prosper—because life and victory often goes to those who stop dreaming and start doing. Find out what you are good at (It won’t be everything and it may not be what you really like) but pursue it with the devotion of a fanatic. Throughout that process, be open to listening to what life is telling you. Open yourself up to the idea that quitting isn’t a bad word.

When I was young, I really wanted to be an actor, so I did commercials. I quickly realized I was not that good at it and did not like the limelight (funny how things have changed) so I started working behind the scenes doing production—which I really loved. This led to an incredible opportunity to be the field producer at the XIV Olympic Games in Sarajevo when I was only 22. I was one of the youngest producers at the Olympics—ever. I did a great job and came back from the Olympics thinking I was going to become a director, move to Hollywood, and be the next Scorsese. That didn’t quite happen. I tried and tried and tried and could not get a job.

My roommate at the time was in the computer business and told me about a computer job he had interviewed for but didn’t get. I had no interest in computers (I have a degree in classical English literature), but it was steady work and I really needed to pay the rent. I talked my way into the interview and while I was sitting there, I realized that the man interviewing me was someone I had never seen before—an entrepreneur. He left a good job to start his own business and was looking for his first employee. As he described how he started the business, I became interested and realized that it was a very creative process—it was creating something from nothing—the tangible from the intangible. It was having an idea and making it into reality. It hit me that perhaps this is what I am passionate about. It wasn’t about producing movies; it was about creating something.

One thing was clear, I wanted to get this job. The issue was I had no experience in either sales or computers. The interview was about to wrap up, and I blurted out: “You have to hire me.” He told me I wasn’t qualified and tried to thank me for my time. I reached out my hand and said, “I will work for free.” He told me he couldn’t count on me if I wasn’t being paid. I looked at him with such conviction and kept my hand outreached while I said, “You can count on me.”

He smiled, went to shake my hand, and I stopped him with one caveat: “Six months from now, if I can do the job, you will pay me what you would have paid if I was qualified here today.” He agreed and I got my first job in the computer business. Mind you, I had to leave the interview and go find a restaurant willing to hire me as a waiter. I still had that rent to think about…

The lesson is that I quit being a producer, but I did not quit being creative. I quit the film business and started in the computer business. Call it quitting, call it pivoting, call it changing your mind or perspective and taking action. No matter what you call it, realize that quitting isn’t a bad thing.

It’s simply changing direction.