Don’t Be a Footprint in the Sand: Follow-Through is Everything
I just returned from a week in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, and let me tell you, it felt GREAT to disconnect from the world. Not only was I without my computer, but I was secretly pleased to find when I arrived at the resort that I didn’t have a cell phone signal either. Disconnected, secluded, and unwound, I spent the week relaxing on a beautiful beach with my girlfriend, and it couldn’t have been more pleasant. We took some nice pictures, so once I get them loaded onto my computer and set up on Flickr, I’ll share them here.
Although I tried to go the entire week without thinking about muses, blogging, and everything else “work” related, I was inspired by a simple observation I had while my girlfriend and I walked along beach, sipping our piña coladas. If you walk along the lower part of a beach (right by where the water meets land), the sandy ground tends to be soft and wet.
Standing momentarily, your feet will sink in, and with a little force applied, you can dig yourself a pretty deep footprint. The crazy thing is, with the rush of one wave, your footprint disappears as if it never existed. The deepest of footprints are gone within a matter of seconds. (I’m going somewhere with this, so keep reading…)
One Impression Isn’t Enough
You’ve always been told that making a good first impression is important. And it most definitely is. At a job interview, a great first impression may land you the job. On a first date with someone, a good first impression will probably land you a second date. First impressions can make or break you in many situations.
What happens though, if you get the job and you show up to work late everyday and fail to meet deadlines? What happens if, on your second date, you’re rude, obnoxious, and inconsiderate? The first impression is gone as quickly a footprint in the sand.
Follow-Through is Everything
I’m very quickly realizing that most failure is due to a lack of follow-through – taking that initial impression and extending it indefinitely. Patience is key, but patience on its own is passive. It’s going to take more than just being patient. Following through is about taking action. Not once or twice, but continuously.
Before we can examine what good follow-through looks like, it might be helpful to see a few significant reasons why people so often give up after a first or second attempt, even if those attempts were successful.
1) Laziness – If you’re someone who is trying to start a business while already working a normal “9 to 5” job, you might just not have the energy to put in those extra hours after work. Sometimes sitting on your couch and watch TV is more appealing, and it’s an easy trap to fall into.
2) Boredom – Even successful first, second, and maybe third attempts may not be enough to keep you going. A lot of people have short attention spans and are prone to jumping on the next thing that seems interesting, rather than following through on a current project.
3) The “wrong reasons” – It’s becoming a bit cliché, but “follow your passion” is critical to follow-through. People often undertake projects or businesses for the wrong reasons. It’s okay for money to be a strong motivating factor, but it can’t be the only one. If you dive into something for the wrong reason, you’ll find it difficult to follow through.
Chances are that you’ve experienced one or all of the above road blocks, and your plan of attack slowly faded. It probably didn’t even feel like failure, because you only really feel failure and recognize it when you’re actually trying hard to succeed.
What is Good Follow-Through?
Unfortunately, there’s no silver bullet that I can give you that will magically increase your chances of following through on a project. I could rattle off the same tips you’ve read over and over again – set goals, break them down into manageable pieces, follow your passion, team up with others, etc. You know these already, and reading them again will only briefly put them into your mind until you inevitably get distracted and return to your usual habits.
Therefore, I think it makes more sense to look at examples of good follow-through:
- The blogger who, after 2 years, still blogs at least once every 2-3 days
- The student who stays in college the entire four years to get her degree
- The Pittsburgh Pirates, who are on pace for their 18th consecutive losing season (a record), yet still play with passion every game
- The entrepreneur who, after failing in his first 10 businesses, becomes a wildly successful millionaire in his 11th business (thanks to the lessons learned from his first 10 failures)
- Your dog, who begs and begs until you give him scraps of food from your meal
- Apple’s break-out with the iPod and iPhone, in world that was dominated by Microsoft (at a time when Apple’s main business was with personal computers)
- The actor who, after years of minor acting roles and waiting on tables in restaurants, becomes the star of an award-winning film
One of the best ways to successfully follow through with a project or business is to stand out, and it’s the reason most of the people (or dog) in the above examples were able to follow through. Doing good work, getting noticed, and being appreciated are significant motivating factors that will provide endless fuel to your fire. The only way to really achieve these things are to stand out. Provide excellent quality. Be unique. Do the opposite of everyone else. Do something crazy (in a good way).
The cream always rises to the top, and continuous, lasting impressions can always be sustained by high quality and differentiation. My friends, I’ve thrown too many clichés into this section, so I think you get the point.
Know When to Quit
What? I thought we’re supposed to follow through and never give up? Why are you telling me to quit? Hold on, italicized text, I will explain.
It’s critically important that you don’t follow through with your plans blindly. Yes, you should act with consistency and remain dedicated, but only when you’re getting somewhere. You should continue only if you’re heading toward where you want to be. It’s a painful and worthless exercise to run in place when you’re trying to get somewhere. Working hard is fundamental, but working smart is imperative.
If you aren’t on the path to your goal, stop. Assess the situation. Can you tweak a few things to get back on track? If so, make the necessary improvements and continue. Is your project so completely derailed that any additional effort is simply a waste of time? It’s probably time to quit.
Not knowing when to quit is just as bad as quitting prematurely.
I wasn’t planning on walking along the beach and finding inspiration for a blog post, but sometimes you just have to take things as they come to you. Just remember to not only make profound impressions – follow through on them and don’t let them fade. What helps you to follow through on your projects? Please share in the comments!
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