When to call it quits
by Ana Palles
Originally Published: July 2009
We invested a good chunk of money purchasing semi-customized business software. Our team dedicated several months to detailing out requirements, designing process flows and testing every page, every link.
Bugs were rampant in the application and each time we performed regression testing to verify a fix, we would inadvertently come across another unexpected glitch. We all felt as if we were navigating a field of fragile eggs, some of which contained hidden booby traps for us to step on.
We worked directly with the head of the technical team. He followed through on fixing all the problems, although at times, it required quite a bit of back and forth before we could get understanding and correction of the issues.
Eighteen months into our relationship, we were still experiencing bug issues. We found that things would break without us being aware of the trigger and it became an exercise in patience for clients to do business with us.
Maybe it’s the story of the frog in the pot of water who continually adjusts their temperature while they slowly boil to death, but I continued my frenetic cycle of problem-resolution without lifting my head to question why. It wasn’t until a close friend finally sat down with me and said, “Look, you need to walk away from this.”, that I stopped to question why?
Why had I continued in my perpetual loop? Why did I tolerate the time expenditure on mine and the team’s part to find, report and confirm fixes on practically a weekly basis? I examined my muddied emotions and worked on untangling exactly what was going on with this particular little drama in my life.
The truth was, I hadn’t suggested to the team that we walk away from this and try a different product largely because I felt fear. It was fear that I would make the same mistake again. Since I was not an expert in software, and in particular, this type of software, I realized that I did not feel that I had enough information to switch. This was uncharted territory for me.
I also did not have access to a team of technical experts that I could call upon to advise me. The folks on our team were all business people not technical superstars. While web experts are becoming much more available it is still a young field with a huge knowledgebase out there. Not exactly a walk in the park to understand the latest.
I was afraid to think about making the switch because I did not want to make a wrong decision. Considering that one of my strengths in the business world has always been my ability to act quickly, effectively and assertively, I was shocked to confront this change in my own behavior.
Here I was, someone who was very good at foreseeing where a road led and cutting losses or redirecting, so focused on the rut I was walking that I forgot to look up and see that it was shaped like a circle. What had caused this shift in me? Why were well practiced skills turned off and frozen in place?
We all experience periods when our confidence recedes and we’re left standing on the sandy shore of our lives wondering when or if that tide will turn back in our favor. I was deliberately pushing my nose harder up against that grindstone and like the boiling frog peeping over the rim one last time, wondered how I could make it more tolerable. Just hang on for a bit more and things would iron out.
We function in life largely on what we believe about ourselves. When a crisis happens that shatters the image we carry around of who we think we are, we are left staring at mechanical fragments. Parts of us continue to operate on auto pilot, like the wind up drummer toy whose arms continue to move up and down even if the drum has broken off and the head is hanging at a precarious angle.
When we lose confidence in ourselves, we enter a state of paralysis. We question our every action and pick ourselves apart like a vulture consuming a meal.
All of us have experiences like this in life, but what we tend to forget is that in the multitude of people that we come in contact with each day, at work, at the grocery store, on the road, in bed, there are others who are going through a similar experience. If we kept that more in mind we would have a better understanding of one another.
My friend’s metaphorical shaking of my shoulders woke me enough that I was able to follow his solid, logical steering out of my self-imposed mental exile . It was exactly what I needed, the cold shower of true words snapped me out of it.
Through the labyrinth of my carefully engineered alleys, I was seeing the same old walls and thinking I was getting somewhere. Nothing was changing, even the hope with which I navigated each challenge that things would shake out differently looked and felt the same.
The time was ripe for radical change.
We sometimes fall asleep at the wheel steering our lives, and we have difficulty mobilizing ourselves to make changes. This is why we stay in work situations that we know are not right for us. It is why we continue taking abuse from friends and lovers that leave us feeling like gum at the bottom of a shoe. We think things will change, be different somehow, if we only stay the course, stay focused, and look for small adjustments that might make the relationship better.
In the business world, we think about exit strategies both as logical project conclusions and as termination paths if results don’t materialize. “Don’t throw good money after bad” is a good saying to keep in mind when making choices about what stays and what goes. If something isn’t producing results, if you don’t truly see improvement, perhaps the lesson here is about cutting losses.
Perhaps it’s time to find a new job. Start by thinking about what you enjoy doing, what makes you happy, keeps you interested and makes you feel like you’ve accomplished something. Once you can describe those things, you can picture where you need to go and what you should be doing.
Maybe the relationship you find yourself in is far from healthy. Maybe it causes you pain, anxiety, stress and always leaves you feeling like someone punched you in the stomach. Healthy relationships don’t do this. Healthy relationships leave you feeling peaceful, comfortable, hopeful and at ease.
Don’t be afraid of coming to a dead stop and admitting that things are going nowhere and the situation is not improving. Think how wonderful you’ll feel once when the weight and stress of trying to keep baggage afloat is dropped. Don’t be afraid to make choices that walk straight into your greatest fear and unknown. Disconnect all the little threads that tie us back to our old course. Take a few moments to feel what release is like. Breathe deeply. Then choose a new door and see where that opening takes you.