F** it - How to know when a project is not worth pursuing anymore

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Written by B

F** it - How to know when a project is not worth pursuing anymore

You are riding a horse. Well, at least you try. You try to drive your animal friend. You move forwards and backwards. You press your thighs against the corps. You feel the sweat or tears running down your cheeks. Nothing happens. The horse isn’t moving. The horse is dead.

Besides the fact that is would be creepy to have literally ridden a dead horse, all of us have experienced situations in which we felt this way. We felt stuck. While investing all our effort and resources in a project, we were not moving forward - in the least in the direction, we initially aimed for. Depressingly, with no signs for the wind to change soon. There is a great Indian saying that encourages you to change your life once you get stuck: “If a horse is dead - get off.” This is a simple sentence - that does not capture the difficulties associated with identifying and getting off a “dead horse”.


Why are we fooled in the first place?

When we are not forced to or have other constrains that influence our decision, no sane person would start a project that is doomed to fail or make him or her unhappy. Nevertheless, from time to time we realize that we are currently working on projects that are on the way to failure or make us hugely unhappy. Realizing this is always tough and leaves us with feelings of regret and (self-)blame. Why haven’t we realized more quickly that have gone astray?


  • We are unaware of change

What might have appeared like a promising project, might have actually been a promising project – in the beginning. However, life kicks in and a once promising project turns out to be not so promising anymore. You might have changed. What was good for you a few month or years ago, is now nothing you want or need. Other parties involved in the project might have changed. The environment might have changed. Nothing of this lies in your control and is absolutely natural. Sometimes you are lucky to grow with your project in a similar direction but sometimes you simply grow apart. However, once we have made a decision we do not question it constantly. Which is fine and even necessary to finish the project. We need to focus our resources and concentrate on the project. However, we are therefore unaware that the precondition, to which we agreed to do a project, might have changed.


How we are fooled by project perspectives


  • We have a limited perspective

Even if you question the project things change gradually. This makes it even harder to notice the change. Every project has ups and downs. Abandoning every project during a low might leave you never finishing any project. Therefore, we need time to accumulate evidence about the project to find out whether it is on a constant downturn. This allows us then to look at the project from the distance. Keeping a factual record of things that stressed you out or annoyed you might help to not to be influenced by biased perceptions or daily moods when assessing your situation.


  • We listen to what people say vs. what they do 

Looking at the facts and results your project is highly important. Especially, when you don’t want to be fooled or influenced by other people’s framing and interpretation of your situation. A boss might give you the impression that your dissatisfaction is inapproriate or that it is your fault. You might get promised a bright future that might never come. Keep also a record of promises made to you and wether they are kept. Make a comparison between what you have been told and what actually happens to you. So much of our perception if fooled because we rely on words instead of deed. 


  • We have irrational reasons

When you have invested time, energy and maybe even money in a project you might be the one making excuses to remain on the project. One reason might be that giving up might feel like a failiure and impossible option for you. Or you migh focus too much on the “sunk costs”, namely all the resources you have already invested. By focusing on these sunk costs you will willingly accept to waste even more resources, simply toavoid accepting the loss. 


When Do We know that a project is indeed not pursuing anymore?  

How do you know that your project and you are not going through some tough times? There are a few key aspects that might help you to make a decision. When you are afraid or undecided whether or not you should leave your project, take the following aspects into consideration.


  • How likely is a change?  

No project that is worth pursing will be all sunny and great all the times. Hard times are always there and they offer even a good learning opportunity. However, you need to have a silver lining. Do you have good reason to assume that your project will turn out in the end the way you want it to? Is there a trend visible that things in general get better or worse? 


  • How costly is change?

How hard it is to leave a project unfinished depends on the costs you not only lose but also need to pay to abondon the project. The fear of risks should not prevent you to take the steps necessary for you to pursue your career, however, if the costs of changing your way outweigh your benfits it might be a better option to stay. For example, if there are only a few weeks or month left until you finish the project.   


  • What are the alternatives?  

This aspect is not about having an alternative already lined up, which is nice, however not necessary. Considering alternative is important to not lose sight of what  are realistic expectations on your life and the projects you are pursuring. Make sure that you have realistic standards you apply to your project. Otherwise, you will jump from project to project and never be satisfied. Certain compromises are always necessary. As it is said: You cannot take a bath without getting wet.


  • Does the project add up to your purpose?  

Right in the beginning I talked about change. Change of yourself or your goals and priorities. Ask yourself whether finishing the project will get you where you want. Either personally or professionally. Will you turn into a person you never wanted to be? Consider leaving the project. You realized you rather want to be an architect instead of a doctor? It makes not sense to further attend medical school.


  • Are you constantly unhappy?  

Happiness is a difficult concept. As we often only experience small moments of happiness. Further, happiness is influenced a lot by our outlook on life. During most of the times we have feelings of indifference towards the life we are living. However, feeling deeply unhappy most of the time is something you should work on. Changing a project or analyzing the aspects that lead to your unhappiness is something I deeply recommend once you feel so trapped in negative feelings.

Have you applied these tipps? Then tell me how it went in the comments or send me an email. I am very interested in how my personal ideas work for others and whether it helped you.

Published on Saturday 26th September 2020

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