Before you embark on a project, think how it fits your interests.

There’s a point at which things just don’t seem to move in the way you planned. You’ve given something your best shot and it seems to amount to nothing. You’ve tried and tried and yet you meet with little or no success. You reach a stage where you have to decide whether it is worth putting it aside and move in a different direction or spend more time and energy trying to make it work in the hope that maybe that last burst of work will make a difference. On the one hand, you are reluctant to let go because you feel that you’ve already put so much time into it and it would all be wasted if you did not complete what you began. On the other hand, given the uncertainty of a good outcome, you worry that you will end up wasting even more time if you stick with it.

There are many contexts where this could happen, in different parts of our lives — personal, professional, educational. But in each case the conflict is similar: we’ve invested something, we need to consider what’s the best way to recover it or to cut our losses and, move on. We often put up with bad relationships because we feel we have invested too much in them to give up. We enter into a degree or diploma programme without a clear idea of where it will take them or whether we really have the aptitude or temperament for the field. We take up a project without closely examining its feasibility.

Take time to think

Let’s take the example of a typical college project or internship. Usually you have a period of time that is meant for exploration, where you must look at various options and pick one to pursue. In this phase, you are expected to take a close look at these options, think about how they fit with your interests and whether they are manageable in terms of your time and other constraints. If you have really thought about these aspects while making the choice, you end up, in most cases, with a reasonable fit. But there are also cases where, after you have started on the project (or internship) you find it is really not what you had imagined. If you discover this soon enough and there are ways to change your situation, you might still be able to make the switch. It all depends on your ability to evaluate this “fit” early enough for it to be practically possible to get out of it. The important thing is, that you recognise early enough that you are not likely to benefit from the experience and that you do something about it. Too often we sit around feeling miserable about being in the wrong place and we do not see how we can change it. So, before you embark on a project or internship, take some time to think carefully about these aspects and find out whether and how you might ask for a change.

Finding alternatives

There are also situations where you have started something on your own, say a research or design project. This is something that takes an investment of your creative abilities, maybe resources such as money, equipment and time. Some distance into the project you find that your calculations are not quite right, but you keep going because you are thinking more about what you’ve put into it rather than whether you will reach the desired goal or output. In these cases, it is important that you continually take stock whether or not you will get what you need/want by the set deadline. If you do this diligently, then maybe you can pull out of the project and start another with enough time to get some results. Often I find that students wait until the end of the semester to report that they are not getting anywhere with a project—and at this point, I, as a teacher/facilitator can do little to help, as we do not have enough time to begin a new project. Here, too, it is important to develop a mechanism to recognise the signs that something is not working out and to find or create alternatives.

We often assume that a path once taken cannot be changed. Or that changing it means the time already spent going down that path is wasted. It is true that we have put in a lot of ourselves (and often, much more) into that journey. But wouldn’t you agree that it is better to spend a little more and get something out of it rather than continue with something that we know is going to fail (or not give us a satisfactory result)? Besides, there is something important that can be learnt from such an experience — the understanding of what does not work and why. In other words, it’s the beginning of the ability to assess risk. This is a valuable take-away that will help in estimating the possible success of future projects.

The writer teaches in the department of Communication, University of Hyderabad, and is the editor of Teacher Plus. www.teacherplus.org. Email: usha.raman@gmail.com