You’ve done it. We all have done it. It wasn't what we planned on, but we did it. We quit—gave up, threw in the towel, quit playing before time ran out.
Sure, “It’s always too soon too quit,” may have been ringing in our head but it didn’t stop us from taking our foot off the accelerator and pushing ourselves to the sideline. We abandoned our claim to being a victor and put on the badge of victim.
Now we are looking around to be comforted. Nothing to be ashamed of—everyone has quit. I am not alone—right? It just wasn’t meant to be. Besides, when the going gets tough the tough don’t always get going. Sometimes, we just have to say it wasn’t meant to be and move on.
Sometimes it won’t work out or we truly have come to the end of a race and it is time to move on. But what if the race is not over? What if there is still time on the clock? Second curve thinking is not permission to quit or abandon the pursuit of personal excellence. It is not a profound and intellectual way to frame up an excuse. Second curve thinking is about developing resiliency.
This is exactly what I was thinking when my 4-0 Washington State Cougars looked up at the scoreboard as they headed to the locker room at halftime—Oregon State 24 Washington State 6.
Did an undefeated 1st place team still playing for a conference championship and a trip to The Rose Bowl quit in a 1st half filled with adversity? There were very few signs suggesting their race had life.
Every important race with a great achievement waiting at the finish line will run into adversity, disappointment and failure. When you come upon it don’t be too quick to quit. Sometimes second curve thinking is keeping your eye on the finish line (goal/dream) while you reinvest yourself in making your best effort and adjust your strategy.
“Of all the virtues we can learn, no trait is more useful, more essential for survival, and more likely to improve the quality of life than the ability to transform adversity into an enjoyable challenge.”
Principles of 2nd Curve Thinking
A critical principle of second curve thinking is to not accept the past as the best guide to the future.
This is relevant in terms of both success and failure. A history of success can lead you to think it will continue and blind you to impending danger or changes. While a history of failing or not experiencing breakthrough performances can you lead you to accept lesser outcomes.
So, what happened in the locker room at halftime? WSU had not won six games in a row since 2003. Goodness, after winning 19 conference games and a conference championship in three seasons from 2001-2003, WSU only had 22 conference wins over the next 10 years! Sure these players were not part of those teams but everyone knows the history.
Going into the locker room the goal had not changed nor had the ability or potential to execute. What was required was a to shift to second curve thinking. The past was not the guide to the future either in terms of the history or the first half performance.
“I’ve always made a total effort, even when the odds seemed entirely against me. I never quit trying; I never felt that I didn’t have a chance to win.”
Second curve thinking is the path to finishing strong. It is a mindset of focusing on and paying attention to the next step in the race, the next best action—demonstrating resiliency.
Struggle is never welcomed and rarely embraced. But it is struggle that paves the way to developing the strength necessary to press on and finish strong.
There is a resiliency in second curve thinking.
Eric Greitens frames it up perfectly in his wonderful book Resilience: Hard-Won Wisdom for Living a Better Life, “Resilience is the virtue that enables people to move through hardship and become better. No one escapes pain, fear, and suffering. Yet from pain can come wisdom, from fear can come courage, from suffering can come strength— if we have the virtue of resilience.”
What happened in the locker room? It wasn't magic. It was the simple reminder of the power of resiliency. No I wasn't there. I didn't need to be—what took place in the 2nd half confirmed the message—shift to the 2nd curve.
When the last click of the clock expired did anyone expect to look up at the scoreboard and see Washington State 35—Oregon State 31?
Victors apply the principle of second curve thinking. Victims look at the scoreboard and allow it to dictate their effort and ultimately define their outcomes.
Games give us a great perspective on second curve thinking because the competition takes place in a defined window of time. As long as there is time there is opportunity—maybe not always to win but certainly to learn, grow and improve.
Is there still time on the clock in important races you are running? Then there is time to raise your impact. If what you do matters to the people you love and lead and the scoreboard is not currently reflecting victory, commit to taking the next best step—simple. There is a reason Einstein said simplicity is the highest form of intelligence.
Resiliency counts—sometimes we just have put our best effort into doing our job better.
“Age wrinkles the body; quitting wrinkles the soul.”