I constantly find myself pulling Seth Godin’s The Dip off the bookshelf and thumbing through the yellowed, dog-eared pages covered in margin notes and scribbles.
When you start a lot of things, you inevitably have to stop a lot of things. I’ve always ascribed to the notion that at least 9 out of 10 things you try will fail. The percentage is probably higher for me, but we all fail. A lot.
Failure can come in many forms, and it’s usually determined by your own expectations. If I set a goal (and I wouldn’t because I hate goal-setting) of writing 2,000 words a day on my manuscript, and I end a session at 1,987 words, technically, that’s a failure.
But if we broaden the scope and get less scientific, failure is more about the general feeling of disappointment. As Godin talks about, every project or initiative comes to a natural dip—the place where we must decide to keep working on a project that isn’t succeeding, thereby pushing through the dip or where we decide to we give up and start something new, presumably something with a better chance of success.
When something is going well, I never pause to ask if I’m going to push through the dip and therefore, we’re talking about something that has a much higher rate of failure because we’ve removed the 10% success rate from the equation.
The moment I begin asking myself, “Is this worth it?” is the moment I’ve hit a conflict that is going to force a choice: Give up or stick with it?
My dad loved ZZ Top. We went to see them on the Afterburner tour on April 10, 1986, a time when they were at the peak of their commercial success. The band formed in Texas in 1969.
Soon, I’m going to see ZZ Top perform on their 50th-anniversary tour. You read that right. Fifty years. Since 1969, the same three guys have played their signature bluesy-rock shuffle for generations of fans—Dusty Hill, Billy Gibbons, and in the greatest irony in rock history, Frank Beard (the only member of ZZ Top without a beard).
For fifty years, the same three guys have played together. The band has never broken up and never had any other members. Other than U2, should they continue as they are, I can’t think of another band that has achieved this or has the potential to do so. The Rolling Stones are still out there, but not with all of the original members.
ZZ Top had their biggest hits during the heyday of the music industry. Not only did you see their videos in heavy rotation on MTV (“Legs” and “Sharp Dressed Man”), but they sold millions of records. As of 2016, ZZ Top had 11 gold records, 7 platinum records, and 3 multi-platinum albums totaling more than 50 million album sales, worldwide.
But the 1980s are in the rearview of that bright-red 1933 Ford Coupe they used to drive around. And yet, here they are, still touring and performing.
I often wonder how many times over the years, Billy Gibbons asked Dusty and Frank, “Is this worth it?” And how many times did they say yes?
There’s wisdom in the facial hair and bones of that little ol’ band from Texas. Maybe when you do what you are, you don’t have a choice. Dip be damned.
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