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It's OK to admit defeat

I’d felt like this before.  Nearly twenty years ago, in fact, right before I had a complete and catastrophic meltdown.  Not the most treasured period of my life, but a period that I’d like to think I’d learned from.  And, as events of recent weeks showed (but only by the skin of my teeth), it turns out, I did learn from it.  Want to know what I learned?


I’m not going to lie: admitting defeat at anything is not something I’m good at.  Whether it’s a near impossible HIIT workout, a DIY project (I use the terms ‘DIY’ and ‘project’ in their loosest sense), a crazy-long list of household chores or, a totally unachievable deadline, my mantra is always “I will do this”.  And, in the main, I live up to that mantra, even with the ‘unachievable’ deadlines.  But not this time.  Not this deadline.

Nearly nine years ago, Kate and I set out a strategy for pursuing our vision.  Along the way, we got pulled this way and that, but we never lost sight of our strategy.  That strategy was our dream.  It held the key to everything we wanted out of life.  We guarded it like it was a newborn child. 

And, in April of this year we finally committed to that strategy.  We went all-in.  No income.  No back-up plans.  We pretty much bet the farm.  But, that meant no distractions; and no distractions meant no excuses.

Initially, we figured it was a three month project to go from zero to launch with our signature product - a digital course that brought together everything we have worked on since 2002 into one, unique and special offering.  So, we gave ourselves four months, just to be safe.

Planning done, every base covered (or so we thought), launch date set, and webinar schedule mapped out, we got to work.  And, as we beavered away, we began to see that this was more than we had at first envisaged.  Way more. 

There was a four week period early on, now forever seared into my memory, where pretty much every new task we started lifted the lid on a whole string of new things to do - things we hadn’t even considered.  And, as the tasks mounted up, no amount of twiddling with the Gantt chart would bring the milestones into line with our planned schedule.  Oh my, how we had underestimated the scale of what lay before us.

Undeterred, the approach we took was to work harder.  We could do this.  We would do this.  Come.  What.  May. 

So we switched gears.  7am alarm calls became 5am alarm calls.  9am appointments with our desks became 6am appointments.  Eight-hour days became 12-hour days, and then some.  Five days a week became seven.  Yes, we could do this.  We just needed to keep going.  Keep working.  Keep cranking the handle.

Had I learned nothing from my meltdown of twenty years ago?  Apparently not.

Or, at least, until a few days ago, that is, when I woke up with that same feeling of that morning twenty years ago when it all started.  I could hardly move.  I felt like I had been hit by a truck.  Everything ached, my head was pounding and my thoughts were scrambled.  A cold shiver ran down my spine - not from a fever, but from a recollection of what followed the last time I felt this way.

And, gripped by fear, in that moment I admitted defeat.  So maybe I had learned something from the last time I felt like this after all.

But here’s the thing with admitting defeat - and pay attention here, because this is the difference between pursuing your adventure and resigning yourself to existence: admitting defeat does not mean giving up.

I admitted defeat on the schedule.  I admitted defeat on launching when we planned.  I admitted defeat on being the superhero who could do what no mortal man could do.  I did not admit defeat on our dream.   Far from it.  In the moment I admitted defeat, I committed to finding another way.

So, now we have a revised schedule - kinder, more realistic.  And we have opened up new possibilities with what we can do in the intervening period between when we had originally planned to launch and when we will actually launch; possibilities that, we know, will make our launch better

And, most importantly, we have space to breathe - space in which we can start to repair the damage that driving ourselves so hard inflicted.  And there was plenty of damage across any number of fronts.  But you know the best part, the good that has come out of all this?  I am excited again.

Why have I laid my heart bare and shared all that?

Because I don’t want you to fall down that same pit I found myself in.  I don’t want you to lose sight of your dream and throw the towel in.  And, with all my heart, I don’t want you to settle for existence.  Not ever.  So, here’s what I want to leave you with…

  • Know your dream. Spend time unpacking it.  Write it down.  Draw it.  Make a video of your thoughts.  Have a record of it, however you choose to do that, so that you can keep it front and centre.
  • Be kind to yourself. You are human.  Humans have limitations (yes, even you and me).  Embrace those, not as a failing but as a safeguard for your health and wellbeing.
  • Learn to hear your own voice. Your mind and body speak to you each and every day.  Sometimes urging you forward, sometimes pleading with you to reign it in.  Keep a diary for a month and track your energy, your mental capacity.  How were you feeling each day?  What were your mind and body telling you?
  • Listen to that voice. Hearing it, and listening to it are not the same thing.  Listening requires that action follows, always - even if that action is to be still.

And finally, never, ever forget that it is OK to admit defeat.

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