Persist. Keep going. Don't give up. Do the work. In athletics, entrepreneurship, dating, and many other arenas the advice is the same. Why?
Why is all advice ultimately the same? Because it's all there is.
At a recent university talk, Bob Mankoff, cartoon editor of The New Yorker magazine, explained what it takes to get cartoons included in this excellent publication—don't give up. He talked about the value of a daily routine. You sit down at your desk at the same time each day, and you stay there for four hours and create cartoons. And much of what you produce will be crap—but you keep sketching, keep producing, and sometimes you'll create something pretty good, an occasionally a jewel. The only way to get to the good stuff is to plow through the bad.
At the 2014 World Domination Summit, author Scott Berkun talked about narrative bias—our tendency to explain things through familiar stories. He mentioned watching a documentary about Picasso in which the painter created a lot of work, most of it, according to Berkun, crap. If Picasso created some crap on the way to his masterpieces, that's encouraging to the rest of us poor saps, right?
In The Obstacle is the Way, self-starter Ryan Holiday introduces us to Stoicism, a philosophy of dealing with what is at hand, pushing through challenges, and never giving up. This mindset goes back thousands of years, a key champion being Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, who was born in April 121 C.E.
Yes, pickup artists too.
In The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists, author Neil Strauss becomes a relentlessly persistent, curious, pickup machine. Obviously this raises the possibility of persisting at something unhealthy (manipulative pickups). If you persist at something that's bad for you or the people you interact with or are responsible for (see: most recent wars) you need a reality check.
Just some blogger I used to know
I used to enjoy the essays of a blogger who calls himself "The Ferrett." He was funny, topical and a pretty good writer. Then he stopped blogging, or maybe I just lost track of his blog among the deluge of web sites I deal with every day. But he popped up again, saying "Attention, World: I SOLD A NOVEL." Ferrett started writing at age 19, and wrote no less than seven novels and numerous short stories. At age 43, he sold the seventh. His advice:
I don’t care what novel you’re on.
Do not give up.
It's all there is. Persistence, slogging through failure, mediocre output, and setbacks.
The big question—knowing when to quit
Sure, you're saying—don't give up, keep trying, keep creating. You may agree with this mindset, but you note it doesn't address a key question: how do you know when to give up on a particular project, career, or relationship? The idea of giving up can often leave us with the feeling of failure, regret, and second-guessing ourselves "if only I had done this, said that, spend more time on..." A little post-mortem analysis, as they call it in startup land, can be helpful—seeing where you went wrong can help you avoid repeating mistakes. There are certainly times to quit, give up, or radically change direction.
But after you've had time to reflect, grab the reins again and move forward. We feel best when we are doing something, anything, towards a goal. Action gives life meaning. And picking up something new can mentally overwrite the previous failure with new efforts. So it circles back around to the same mindset, the same advice. And I know it's tiring, can seem like a platitude, and perhaps on your worst days you'll want to scream or pound your fists over one more upbeat Facebook post on "Ten Keys to Success From People Who Make a Shitload More Money Than Your Whole Family," but once you get over your past failure and incorporate it as a learning experience, you can move forward yet again.