Step up or Step Down?

Photo by Anna Shvets on

We’ve all been in a situation where we’re faced with an ultimatum. Do we step up, or step down? Meaning, do we increase our efforts to make something happen, or do we quit before everything fails? This could be on a project, in a relationship, on a marketing campaign, a job search, a road trip gone awry, etc. There is an old story of a miner in Colorado giving up when he was just three feet away from striking literal gold. That’s the (metaphorical) risk we face. Do we walk away and risk missing the desired outcome? Or do we save our effort and resources for another endeavor?

The truth is, there is no universal tell for how to evaluate these types of situations. If there were, we wouldn’t have these dilemmas. That said, having a framework to evaluate will shed light on what the best option is. Here are pitfalls to avoid and questions to ask to guide the decision.

  • Avoid the pro and con list. Legendary Marketing Executive Bozoma Saint John pointed out that p&c lists have their opposite effect. They’re either used to talk oneself into doing something they don’t want, or used to talk oneself out of doing something they do want.
  • Focus on what can be controlled. Ask yourself, “am I putting in 100% effort on this?” if the answer is no, ask yourself what it would feel like to put in maximum effort. If it would feel good, then keep going. If it would feel bad, then consider pivoting.
  • Consider a different way to approach the work. Part time? Take a week off and revisit? Maybe try the opposite approach for a bit.
  • Recall the beginning of the project. What unknowns were assumed to hold a particular value? Based on what is known now, how far off were the assumptions? Does the new information point in a different direction?
  • Avoid the sunk cost fallacy. Just because money, time and effort have been spent, do not blindly commit to spending more.
  • Find someone who has been through a similar situation and ask a specific question.
  • Ask, “What information would make this a no brainer?” Seek out that information.

Don’t forget, this is a starting point. It’s not an all encompassing, perfect framework. It’s meant to paint a situation with more color with a goal of striking gold.

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