When to Quit your Passion and Change Course

Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Nick Thacker of LiveHacked.com.

Remember what it was like the first few weeks in a foreign language class? The first couple days learning a new musical instrument? HTML or Javascript? Or what about the first few days of a new workout?

They’re easy—the first period of developmental progress in just about anything comes with the reward of great results.

When I first started playing trombone, I enjoyed the same sort of success—I was getting better and better, and putting in very little effort to do so. Throughout my grade school years, and even into college, my improvement slowed a little, but I was still achieving great gains in my playing ability.

But I wasn’t even close to “hands-down amazing.”

Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Outliers, says it takes 10,000 hours to get to the level of “hands-down amazing” (my words, not his) that gets people noticed. If you do the math, you’ll realize I was somewhere near my 5,000th hour of playing trombone—thousands of hours short of reaching “hands-down amazing.”

In our professional lives, there’s a point between when we’re considered “good at what we do” and “hands-down amazing.” Seth Godin calls this The Dip:

Every new project (or job, or hobby, or company) starts out exciting and fun. Then it gets harder and less fun, until it hits a low point-really hard, and not much fun at all.” (source).

So that means that the 5,000th hour is like the bottom of The Dip—the place where it seems as though all hope is lost—the point where you reach a plateau. No matter what you do, you just can’t seem to “break through” The Dip and get to the next level.

The red pill or the blue pill—recognizing you’re in The Dip.

Sometimes it’s hard to tell if you’re truly in The Dip or just in a dip. For me, growth in my musical abilities was like a staircase, like it is for many of us:

  1. You get better.
  2. You stop getting better, so you change something about the way you’re doing things.
  3. You get better again.

This process continues, until—after you’ve invested countless hours (actually, somewhere around 5,000!) and even dollars—into this particular aspect of your life or work, you just stop getting better altogether.

Period, zip, nada. You’re stuck, and nothing you’ve done before can break you out of The Dip. Godin points out that in most instances, if the prize at the end is worth having, then you’re best off by continuing down the same road—effectively “pushing through” The Dip, no matter how unrelentingly terrible it gets at the 5,000th hour.

So at this point, I had two options: push through and keep studying music, or give up and change course. In life and work, at the point of reaching The Dip you can choose to abandon the work altogether, or you change your methods and keep pushing forward.

But do you even want to continue?

Sometimes we second-guess what it is we’re trying to do—to find out if it’s truly “worth it.” This is what The Dip tries to help you figure out. Go read it—I won’t get into it here.

Either way—whether you decide to “push through” or not—you need to get clarity. Clarity comes when we specifically, purposefully, and physically outline our goals, and once we have clarity in this particular Dip, we can make a decision about how best to proceed.

To achieve clarity, write down (now!) the answers to these questions:

  1. What is the “light” at the end of your tunnel? To perform in Carnegie Hall? To be the biggest blogger on the block?
  2. Why do you want to reach the light (What does it mean for you to achieve it)? Money? Happiness? Fulfillment or recognition?
  3. If you weren’t pushing toward [insert your light at the end of your tunnel], what would you be doing?

Once you’ve answered these questions as honestly as you’re able, you should be at a point where you’re more clear about how best to proceed. When I took this “test,” I found these answers:

  1. The “light” at the end of my tunnel was working on my own terms, with the ability to create and build things.
  2. I wanted to reach the light because that meant I’d achieved a dream, and I had the means to provide for a family while doing something I loved.
  3. If I wasn’t pushing toward that light, I’d be pushing toward something for someone else—an unfulfilling (at best) lifestyle for me.

I achieved clarity at that moment and decided that it didn’t matter if I didn’t become a great trombone player, band director, or composer. These were things I liked to do, but I didn’t feel the need to push toward them all day, every day.

At that point, I changed the game.

From then on, I started taking business courses—specifically marketing and entrepreneurship courses, and joined a business organization that let me throw ideas around with other like-minded individuals.

The “rules” of college were to go to school for four years, take classes that let you work toward a certain degree, and then graduate with the best grades possible.

I changed the rules, and subsequently changed course in my life.

If you want to push through The Dip and make it to the other side, or if you want to change course altogether, you need to change the rules. Don’t adhere to the status quo, or go about the normal course of action. To change the rules, and change the game, you can try a few things that have helped me:

  1. Be a fringe player. If everyone’s going one direction, go the other.
  2. Study something new. If you’re in a line of work that deals with people, take a few courses on animal science or computer programming.
  3. Try a “difficult” hobby. I like hobbies, but the ones that really change my life are the ones that take much more focus and in-depth study. Try building a nuclear reactor, or a car from a kit.
  4. Write about it. Writing, as a hobby, is a great release from the pressures of the world. Writing can be a “game changer” though we you do it persistently and actively enough to help other people who are experiencing a similar Dip.
  5. Quit. Recognize what it was about your particular area of study or work that you loved, and take it with you into another field. For me, playing trombone wasn’t the draw—it was creating something (music) from nothing. Now, I write and create things from nothing all the time, but music is rarely involved.

Fighting through your Dip will be tricky—it’s supposed to be. It’s the design of it; it keeps true experts scarce and the rest of the world in demand. If you truly desire the “light” at the end of your tunnel—at the other side of The Dip—stick through, make it work, change the game, and get there.

If you’re not sure, or know that you no longer want that light, change course by changing the game. Sometimes it really is best to give up.

It’s the most freeing, awesome experience I’ve had, to feel the risk of it while seeing the limitless possibilities out there for me.

Give it a shot—what’s Your Dip, and what’s your decision?

Nick Thacker is a writer, blogger, and author, who teaches people to live better through creating and building their online platform. He blogs at LiveHacked.com.

photo courtesy of Jacob Bøtter

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Comment & Add Your Voice

PureSignal May 15, 2012 at 12:45 pm

“The Dip” is one book I can honestly say has changed my life…and Nick, I think you should write another short book as a sequel called “Clarity”.
It’s amazing how many times we get ourselves trapped into pushing through the Dip, and get through the other side only to find it wasn’t worth all that effort.
Sure, hindsight is 20/20, but who wants to waste 10,000 hours?
Most the time, a little “clarity” in the beginning is all it would take to choose the right Dip to dive into.
Great post Nick.


NickThacker May 15, 2012 at 6:27 pm

 @PureSignal Hey Kyle! 
Wow, man, that’s a pretty freakin’ amazing comment–THANKS! I’d love to write a sequel to any of Godin’s stuff, but I doubt I’d ever get that opportunity!
Haha, I do like the clarity idea, though… might hit you up on that soon!
Take care, 

izmaelarkin May 16, 2012 at 9:58 pm

Hi Nick,
Learning that quitting is not only a viable option but imperative to being successful has made a major difference in my life. Not too long ago, I believed that I needed to finish everything I started. The problem was that this left me stuck trying to finish a bunch of projects that were pointless, I didn’t enjoy and were only preventing me from really moving forward in my life. On top of this, I would eventually end up quitting some of these projects anyways because they brought no joy. Recently, I have begun really asssessing what matters and what to stick with. It has made a huge difference. Good post.


NickThacker May 17, 2012 at 5:53 am

 @izmaelarkin Hi izmaelarkin; 
I was exactly the same way for most of my life–I always wanted to take on new and bigger projects. I think finally getting married is what saved me–I had to take stock of my time and prioritize much better. Now, I keep my plate full, but not overflowing!
Thanks for the awesome comment!

Ishana May 24, 2012 at 1:50 pm

Brilliant post.
I’ve asked similar questions of myself before in regards to writing when I feel exceptionally poor at the activity. I’ve also tried quitting writing altogether, which made me realize how much writing is a part of my personality. I can’t not write. Remembering that is what pushes me past each plateau I hit, and will hopefully push me through The Dip as well. I may not ever become a published author, but I’ll still keep writing because it’s what I love to do. Sometimes accepting you’re not the best, and might never be, is what lets you enjoy things so much more.


NickThacker May 25, 2012 at 7:50 am

 @Ishana Thanks, Ishana!
It’s easier than ever to become a “published” writer (even if it’s self-published…), and the gap between “traditional” and “self-pubbed” is becoming less and less each day. 
I’ve always focused on “being the best I can be,” and tried not to focus on the Kings and Hemingways and Tolkiens out there–there will ALWAYS be someone “better” than me, but that’s not the point!
Awesome comment–and thanks for sharing!

bubbaconnie June 19, 2012 at 11:57 am

Hey, Jonathan, have you heard of the fastest growing MLM in the world? I would love to introduce you to a connection. People work from their computers (wherever they might be) and are really make money which they can then share with others (if they choose to….that’s what I will do).


Nahum Correa Ruvalcaba July 29, 2012 at 1:09 am

Nick, great post, and I have to say that I support the main idea of it.

I wrote back to you, because I experienced something else related to this matter of “quitting certain passions and doing course changes”, and I’d like to share it with everybody.

Here’s my story…

Since college (last year of it) I pursuit a dream, a professional dream: being a consultant.

But I’ve got to admit I had no idea how to achieve it.


Without knowing, and realizing I began to research on the topic, until more than 2000 hours later, I learned I was at the beginning of my professional journey.


Feeling worried about this fact, I began another research (like 100 hours long) looking for consultants profiles to analyze them and learn from them just looking at their career achievements.


Without knowing, and almost unconsciously, I’ve subscribed to social networks where professionals like consultants gather.


I began to fight against something like a thousand doubts and fears running through my mind 24/7. ¿It was worth the effort?, I’ve spent something like a full year (or more) reading and learning business stuff but, ¿for what? I don’t see any results.


At that time, I began to push myself.

At the beginning, just like you said on the article, it was fun to read all that stuff (oh yeah, you bet) but at some point it became a joke I couldn’t understand.

But, at some point, something inside myself began to say:

“you can do it”
“you can learn it”
“you can master it”
“you are multiplying your professional value”
“you are separating yourself from a lot of professionals”


I continued, reading and learning on my free time, with my dream in the front line: To became a business consultant.


One day all the pieces, began to fit, in the puzzle. And I realized that without knowing it I was reaching my goal step by step.

I reviewed my progress and, oh yeah, I was reaching my goal.

My passion (business consultancy) was standing firm on the ground of uncertainty: If I never saw myself making advances… “it doesn’t mean that I was not advancing”.

Later, when I saw the movie “Facing the giants”, I understood what was happening to me and since then “To Quit” is not part of my vocabulary. (well it depend if the goal is worth it)

Here’s the scene if you are your readers are interested on it.

( Caution: you could motivate yourself. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UdmpNNp2lmE )

I wrote this because I’d like to add a third option to your article’s title:

1.- ¿When to quit?
2.- ¿When to change course?
3.- ¿When to give a check to your passion, and stay on the road, no matter what?

Thanks for reading me.

-Nahum Correa Ruvalcaba-


Arnold Miller September 24, 2012 at 8:00 am

Sometimes you can hit the dip alot sooner than 5000 hours!


Drumming Techniques September 24, 2012 at 8:06 am

There are so many MLM schemes out there. My dad got into zeeks rewards and almost lost $5,000. Luckily they didn’t cash his check and he was able to get his money back. Good timing.

Anyways, myself and some partners had an idea to do online music lessons and we have been plugging away for close to 14 months now. What I have found is that there is so much information out there directed towards start-ups and not all of it applies to every kind of start up.


LessonsReview May 16, 2012 at 7:25 am

 @NickThacker You’re welcome man! I think you hit on a great concept, and knowing Seth (strictly as a long-time reader of course), he would reward your creativity if you wrote a short free guide to accompany The Dip.
If it packed a punch and you openly declared it as the “Sequel to The Dip: Clarity”, you would probably get some great press from him and others that love the book.
Either way, thanks for the inspiration!


LessonsReview May 16, 2012 at 7:26 am

You’re welcome man! I think you hit on a great concept, and knowing Seth (strictly as a long-time reader of course), he would reward your creativity if you wrote a short free guide to accompany The Dip.
If it packed a punch and you openly declared it as the “Sequel to The Dip: Clarity”, you would probably get some great press from him and others that love the book.
Either way, thanks for the inspiration!


PureSignal May 16, 2012 at 7:26 am

You’re welcome man! I think you hit on a great concept, and knowing Seth (strictly as a long-time reader of course), he would reward your creativity if you wrote a short free guide to accompany The Dip.
If it packed a punch and you openly declared it as the “Sequel to The Dip: Clarity”, you would probably get some great press from him and others that love the book.
Either way, thanks for the inspiration!


NickThacker May 16, 2012 at 7:49 am

 @PureSignal Wow, that’s a pretty sweet idea–it does seem like he’d be into something like that!
Thanks, Kyle!


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