“The honest man must be a perpetual renegade, the life of an honest man a perpetual infidelity. For the man who wishes to remain faithful to truth must make himself perpetually unfaithful to all the continual, successive, indefatigable renascent errors.” – Charles Peguy

DF, a friend and colleague, wrote me last week with this message:

“I learned something important today, something every writer must learn how to do.

“I learned that you have to be merciless in your editing. If you have to delete 2,000 words from a 5,500-word piece just a few hours before it’s due — and come up with 2,000 new words that are more compelling — then that is what you have to do.

“I learned that it’s OK to hack out bad material and leave a gaping hole. It is much more liberating than thinking you’re tied to what you’ve previously written. If something doesn’t work, it’s up to you to either make it work or delete it. When it’s time to delete, you must do so and not look back.

“I have a good quote about this, which I keep on my desk at all times, printed out in 36-point type.”

(The quote DF referred to is the one by Charles Peguy at the beginning of today’s message.)

DF is a writer — and this insight certainly applies to writing. But it is equally valid for any pursuit. If you really want to be successful in life, you must work long and hard in pursuit of your goal — but you must also be prepared to abandon your path in an instant the moment you discover it is leading you the wrong way.

This is one of the hardest things to learn: After putting time and energy into doing something one way, it’s very difficult to abandon it in a moment’s time. Giving up on a pursued goal means (1) you’ve been wrong and (2) you’ve wasted time. Neither of these thoughts is easy to face. The easy solution is to keep on keeping on, even when you suspect you are spinning your wheels. I’ve been guilty of this in the past, and I’ve seen dozens of friends and colleagues make the same mistake.

Two maxims to ponder:

1. You cannot eradicate past foolishness by continuing foolish behavior. You can only prolong it.

2. The moment you recognize your foolish past and initiate a different pattern of behavior, you begin to act wisely.

Learning to change directions is a great skill. It can help you in almost every area of your life and applies to small goals as well as big ones.

Example: You are engaged in some small argument. You are making your point quite well when you suddenly realize you are wrong. No one else recognizes this at the moment. You are winning the discussion. What do you do?

Are you wise enough to admit your mistake immediately and start saying something that does make sense? Or will you push on stubbornly, hoping to avoid the embarrassment of admitting you were wrong?

If you think you may have trouble with small issues like some minor argument, it’s likely you will have trouble with the big issues too. Spend a few minutes thinking about everything you are doing right now — everything that involves the pursuit of a major goal. Ask yourself if the path you are taking is absolutely the best one possible. Could it be that there’s another way to accomplish your goal — a better way — that you haven’t pursued because it would mean admitting you’ve been wrong?

It’s worth thinking about.

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