The Horse & The Ramp

Sometimes you mess up. You fail, you falter, you fall. And when that happens, you have to make a difficult choice from among three options. The choice is difficult because all three options are sometimes correct!

The three options are: quit, try again, or change.

Sometimes it is absolutely the correct choice to quit. Sometimes you try something and what you learn from the very first failure is that you have made a grave error in judgment and you should walk away from the whole thing. It’s sensible to do that when it’s appropriate! Maybe you attempt to jump a gorge on your skateboard and you end up really, really hurt – you barely survive. Once you’re healed, it’s very sensible to just not do that again.

Sometimes you should try again. You might have almost made it, or you might just need a little more practice. Maybe the stars didn’t align this time, but they could. And sometimes you should change your approach considerably, but still aim for the same goal.

How do you know?

When the horse bucks you and you’re laying on the ground, it can be hard to get a sense of the right answer. Is this horse a lost cause? Do you just need to get back on? Or do you need to walk it around a little first and get it calm, then maybe try a different riding technique?

A lot of it depends on how steep your success ramp is.

All goals need a time frame, or they’re not goals. You can’t ever succeed or fail if you don’t define “by when.” So a true goal is never “tame that horse.” It’s “tame that horse by the end of the year.” You don’t have infinite time in your life.

So whether or not you should quit, try again, or change depends a lot on how much time you have!

If you have a lot of time, then try again. Get in more reps, gather more data, practice, and practice some more. If you have a medium amount of time, change your approach. Try some variations, develop some new ideas, and see what sticks. And if you don’t have much time at all, quit. Walk away before you burn everything in your attempt.

Notice that “a lot of time” becomes “a medium amount of time” after a while! So this also ends up being your order of operations. First, try again. After some tries, change what you’re doing if you still haven’t succeeded. And if you try different things and still don’t get it, know when to walk away and save some juice for the next project.

You can tame any horse and you can climb any ramp, but you can’t ride every horse up every ramp, so be smart.

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