Some of us just don’t know when to quit.
Now don’t get your security blanket all knotted up. This is not a post that celebrates the merits of quitting. This is about knowing when to start over, when to begin again.
In the game of poker there is a principle referred to as being “pot committed”. It goes a little something like this: When a player has been betting on a hand that is showing decreasing odds of winning with each round, it is quite possible that they are better off staying in at that point rather than folding. They have already contributed so much money to the pot they might as well see it through.
We often get to this point with an endeavor or project. We get so invested in what we have devoted a great deal of time and energy and whatever valuable resource we dumped into it that we will feel it is all wasted, all for naught if we tear it down and start over.
Our delicate little human egos can’t seem to grasp the concept that abandoning a project that we have over-invested in is not a sign of failure. Indicators and warning signs and red flags and shots across the bow merely cause us to shrug them off and dismiss them with a wave of our hand, convinced we can circumvent the iceberg straight ahead. Hey, with the amount of time and energy and resources we’ve put into this boat, it is nigh indestructible, right? I think we’ve all heard that before somewhere…
Allow me to relate the following experience as an illustration:
Last week I made a hot sauce. I had planned to make it on Friday so I thawed the peppers on Thursday. Friday became bloated with sundry unrelated tasks so the peppers sat on the kitchen counter through to Monday, which I proclaimed Hot Sauce Making Day 2.0.
I cut open the bag of peppers which had oddly inflated like a parade float. That was the first alert to pop up. Throwing caution to the wind I poured out the liquid from the bag which was likely some grade of capsaicin-ladened moonshine and proceeded to separate the stems from the peppers. A few of them bubbled a bit of juice with a teeny hiss, quietly whispering to me that this endeavor might not be such a good idea. Icy waters be damned, said the captain of my ego that had become as bloated as those peppers. Full speed ahead.
The peppers were nicely laid out on a jelly roll pan all prepared for roasting, just under a pound of little imp tongues laughing at me as they went into the oven. I just kept throwing proverbial poker chips into this project as I cooked the garlic and onions and produced the already cooked sugar pumpkin. It would have been a good time to abandon the project when, after having roasted the peppers, the oven carried a pungent smell akin to a ferret spraying a pile of week old grass clippings. Nope. The writ decreed by the whir of the food processor had spoken. I was officially pot committed.
See that Tower card? That is the wings of Icarus melting in the sun, hubris taking us to heights where we have no business as land dwellers. If we don’t figure out when to quit, no matter how tall we’ve built the structure it will come crashing down with resounding inevitability. It does not mean we have to completely walk away, never to return; it means we have to start over, begin again, lay a fresh foundation and break ground anew.
I stared at the three bottles of hot sauce, playing the “it’s still good” game, like staring at the dog that had gained unfettered access to the Thanksgiving turkey when the guests were due to arrive in five minutes. I took one more tiny taste test to discover the final klaxons in the form of a strange tingling sensation that had undermined the flavor, perhaps from the botulin that was dancing on the tip of my tongue. Deciding it would be more welcomed in the forehead of the vanity stricken than in the stomachs of the sauce recipients, I discarded my completed project.
Was I pot committed? Indeed. Would those who ate my sauce be pot committed? If by a pot you mean a commode, quite likely. Either we acknowledge defeat and cut our losses or the leviathan comes and devours us in the midst of our pride. We can make the choice to tear down and begin again or the universe will make it for us, with disastrous results.