Live for the Dip


I gave my first talk on goal-setting at a bookstore last week and I bombed. My friends and family might tell you otherwise...and several people said afterward that they really got something out of it, but in my heart and gut I know that I bombed. No amount of excuses - tired, busy, just starting out - could make up for how lame I felt. And by lame, I mean totally and utterly disappointed in myself.

Within 10 minutes of starting, as the camera man was throwing things at the store owner to get his attention, I started sweating and stuttering and wishing I could just quit. Stop mid-sentence and sprint toward the door. How the hell am I going to do this for 45 more minutes? I felt like a bumbling idiot at best and a disorganized motivational hack at worst.

Even after 5 years of training at Google and "faking it til I make it," I've never been more uncomfortable at the front of a room. That feeling usually goes away within five minutes. It didn't go away this time. I was laid out in the bottom of a dip and I knew it.

Live for the Dip...It Means You Are on Exactly the Right Track

"Mistakes are part of the dues one pays for a full life." —Sophia Loren

If you've ever pursued a big goal that took many months (or years) of commitment or tried learning a new complex skill, you have almost surely experienced the dip. The drop in motivation. The feeling of being totally frustrated and ready to give up at any minute. When you're in the dip, you question whether this effort is even worth your time, and whether you are capable of achieving it.

The dip sucks the fun out. It waves the "how bad do you want this" flag and your demons tell you life would be easier if you just quit...that you could avoid all this discomfort by just walking away. But you know that's not true. You know there's light at the end of the tunnel, you just don't know how long it will take to get there.

The dip is usually unavoidable. It doesn't mean you've done something wrong, it actually means you are on exactly the right track. I've started repeating the phrase, "live for the dip" to myself and my coaching clients, because I've realized that hitting the dip is not something to avoid, it is a milestone worth celebrating. It feels uncomfortable, but it is necessary in order to move forward. Seth Godin published a book on this topic, but I prefer to reference a diagram I learned in many years of working in Training and Development:

Levels of Learning - The Conscious Competence Matrix

Levels of Learning - The Conscious Competence Matrix

  • Unconscious incompetence - You don't know what you don't know (ignorance is bliss)
  • Conscious incompetence - The dip! You suddenly become aware of how much you have to learn. You might feel dumb, incompetent, frustrated or discouraged as you realize you need more skills, time or practice in order to move forward.
  • Conscious competence - You've started to master the new skill, but you still have to actively think about whether you are doing it right.
  • Unconscious competence - You don't even have to think about it any more - the new skill comes naturally and/or finishing the goal becomes completely do-able. This is really the fun part, where you are flowing and "in the zone."

This model applies to many different situations. A few examples:

  • Learning a new skill - if you weren't born with it, you almost always have to go through a phase of being a total beginner. You have to crawl before you can walk.
  • Pursuing a long-term goal - when the adrenaline and excitement wear off at the start of a big goal, you'll often get hit by reality where you realize how challenging the pursuit of this goal will actually be.
  • Athletic Events - Marathon runners often hit "the wall" where they simply can't imagine running another 100 yards, let alone finish the entire 26.2 (my wall lasted seven excruciatingly boring miles from 17-23).
  • In relationships - you often have to have your first fight and work through it successfully in order to take your relationship to the next level.

Celebrate the Dip - A Few Words of Encouragement

  • Big goals aren't handed to you. You have to earn them.
  • If it is anything worth doing, you will hit a dip.
  • The dip is the toll you cross, the dues you pay.
  • You will want to give up.
  • You will question yourself.
  • You will feel uncomfortable.
  • You will want to fling yourself back into your comfort zone, but you won't.
  • You will push through it.
  • And as much as it might suck, celebrate as you wade your way through the dip.
  • Live for the dip.
  • Laugh when you can; cry, scream or vent if you need to; and know that you'll emerge stronger on the other side. Dragon slayed. Finish line in sight. Big dream conquered.


P.S. I'm going to be representing Gen Y on an upcoming panel discussion called Generations in the Workplace. The webinar will be held on Thursday, Sept. 9 at 12:00 p.m. PST. Click here to sign-up -- I'd love to "see" you there.

P.P.S. Hopefully I won't bomb this one :)