Am I Beating a Dead Horse?

or “The trap of positive thinking and how quitting should be an option”

Have drive, have perseverance. Give 110% percent. Go confidently in the direction of your dreams, because your dreams don’t have an expiry date. Live the life you have imagined. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try and try again.

Does all this motivational stuff sound familiar? About not giving up, about trying harder, about getting up stronger after every punch. Yes, being determined is good for your life and for your career and for your feeling of self-worth. Being focus and relentless helps you get the things you want. But at some point, after the second, or third or tenth attempt of changing something, achieving something – you gotta take a deep breath, stop and ask yourself …

Am I beating a dead horse?

Yeah, are you? Maybe you’re locking in. Maybe you’ve reached the top of a little hill and you’re wondering why you can’t go any higher.

Because regardless whether we’re talking about your job, or your business or your personal projects – there is the off chance that your vision does not match reality. No matter how much you want it, no matter how hard the Universe is conspiring to make your dreams come true, maybe someone else’s dreams are higher priority. Or I dunno, maybe you’re down the wrong path.


I’m just saying that your objectives or your aspirations need a review from time to time, just in case you’re stuck pushing against a dead end. That dead end might be your job – which provides to little opportunity, satisfaction or visibility. Or your business, which is in an industry with zero or negative growth.

The point is that this whole motivational culture actually adds pressure and negative stress to the decisions we make in our career. It makes it shameful to give up, to quit, to admit failure. “How will others see me?” or “What are they going to think?”. The worst part is that “positive thinking” forces us to feel guilt and take responsibility for stuff that isn’t always in our control.

Let’s take an example. You might think the reason why you didn’t get that promotion has to do with your not trying hard enough, not being a team player, not being smart enough, not reaching your objectives. True. Your being awful at what you do is definitely a possibility. Other possibilities include:

  • You’re not good at that particular job (although you might be well above average in other jobs)
  • You don’t have the same vision as your superior or maybe he just doesn’t like you
  • You might not be a good fit in your team

This isn’t saying that you should blame external factors for each and every one of your failure/frustrations. Maybe you should just try something else. Roll the dice out of your comfort zone at least a little bit. The point is to know when to declare failure, when to throw in the towel – without feeling guilty or ashamed.

Of course, this whole post is about giving up and blaming the Universe. This post is about how choosing the problems you solve is as much your responsibility as actually solving them. You should teach yourself how to tell stuff that’s up for you to change (generally what you read, what you eat, who you hang out with, how much money you spend or save and other habits of yours) from stuff that’s not up to you to change (generally what other people read, eat, who they hang out with, how much money they spend or save and other habits of theirs)

Yes, you should focus on doing one thing (job, project, business) and doing it well. Yes, you should try several times with several approaches before you give up. Patience is a virtue – up to a point – then it becomes pathology.

When I was in high school, I read about the great unsolved problems of math, physics, cryptography. I had these geekish dreams of, at some point, proving Riemann’s hypothesis or Goldbach’s conjecture. I thought it would be cool to find the exact general solutions to the Navier-Stokes equations. But then I realized two things: a) doing math problems on paper bored me to death and b) I only thought math was fun if it tackled a practical problems using a computer (so I didn’t have to run the calculations myself). I could have been stubborn and forced myself into something that I hated. But I chose the easy way out: admitting my weakness (I hate repetitive work, I’d rather program a computer to do it) and taking advantage of my strength (I like to but real-world problems in mathematical/numerical models).

All in all,  every once I a while you gotta check the pulse and be honest about it.

The last thing you want is to keep beating a dead horse.

It’s unproductive.


Not to mention weird.

Bogdan Written by:

One Comment

  1. March 15, 2013

    Still, no matter what you don, if you don’t persevere, you do it for nothing. This is how it goes. It’s an easy formula in the end: do the thing you like, do it over and over and over again, do it better, improve continuously and results come. If they don’t over a period of time (might be years, might be months), review it all and change strategy.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *