The Consolation of Thoroughness
The most reliable reason to be nice and go the extra mile
Posted Dec 09, 2014
You two broke up, but for months after you can't stop thinking about what might have been. You're distracted by regrets, what if’s and if only’s.
You decided not to pursue your dream of making it big in your first-choice career, and ever since you’ve been haunted by the thought that you might have quit too soon.
You bail out of a friendship, and wonder after whether maybe you acted prematurely.
Sometimes you’ve just got to quit trying to achieve satisfaction in a relationship, friendship, career or job. You assess the prospects. You decide they’re not good enough and you leave.
Trouble is, having left, you never find out what would have happened had you just given it more time and effort. For example you might divorce over irreconcilable differences, but having divorced how do you ever know for sure that the differences are truly irreconcilable? You didn't stay around to find out.
The opposite isn’t true: If you decide to stay with something hoping to achieve satisfaction, there you are in it. Maybe staying doesn’t pay off, but at least you find that out. When you don’t stay, you never find out what would have happened had you stuck around.
We’re often counseled to be nicer, to go the extra mile, to give 110% but usually on moral grounds. I think there’s a practical, personal, even selfish reason that’s often overlooked.
I call it the consolation of thoroughness and I think it’s the best insurance policy against regret, and if only’s, should you ever decide to quit trying
To achieve the consolation of thoroughness, err way over into generosity while your trying to make it work. Meet the person or task way more than half way.
That way, if you ultimately decide it won’t work, at least you know you really tried to make it work. You don’t end up doubting whether you could have done better, or worse, making up exaggerated excuses for yourself to drown out the doubt. By giving your all while you’re in it, you can give it up more gracefully if you have to leave it.
My dad, a big executive, used to say that whenever he was thinking of firing people, he’d first try giving them a raise. Though he never explained, I’m guessing it was to achieve consolation of thoroughness.
I’m sure he gave the raise with clear indication of what he wanted to see improved, or else it would have been a cruel bait and switch: “You’ve earned a raise; you’re fired.”
Got to watch out for that in all relationships: Don’t just bend over backwards giving the other person the impression that you’re already satisfied. Set clear expectations for what you’re hoping improves, but having set them, set about doing everything you can to make it work. That way if it doesn’t you won’t get sucked into wonder about whether you could have done more.
It would be nice if we could stick with all relationships and pursuits forever, giving our 110% to 100% of everything, but we can’t. There will be times in our lives when we decide to quit.
When we do quit, we don’t want to be plagued by doubt about whether we did the right thing. It’s distracting. It keeps us from moving on to give our 110% to the next gambit.
When in doubt, do yourself a favor, don’t lean half out while in it. Lean in, give your all so that if you decide you have to leave, you can with peace of mind, consolation of thoroughness.
Image from internet, labeled for reuse.