Every time I see a meme or quote that tells people to never give up, I feel myself cringe. For many of my high-achieving clients (who are nothing like me—wink, wink) this kind of advice can keep them running full speed in a career, task, role, or relationship that is slowly killing them—sometimes literally.
While I realize that many fulfilling aspects of life take work, focus, determination and discomfort, holding onto an idea that you MUST push through with something that isn’t serving you can be both depleting and damaging to your life and spirit.
Real life is not black and white. It can’t be captured in the simplicity of “NEVER GIVE UP!” The key is to get clear about when to throw in the towel and when to push through.
Throw In The Towel
I remember the moment I realized that I was a horrible waitress. I didn’t have the detailed thinking for the job, and it stressed me out to holy hell. And perhaps most notably, I remember finally realizing that my career as a professor (something I had spent a decade building) was wrong for me and I wanted out. Truth bomb. If I had it to do again, I would have walked away from my Ph.D. program. Yep, I would have quit. While I don’t regret that I earned my doctorate, because regret does nothing for me, I won’t dare ignore the lesson I learned. When I know it’s not right, when I know I need out –I give myself permission to GIVE UP. To QUIT.
I use the terms GIVE UP and QUIT on purpose because I think the negative connotations we attach to them are unnecessary. Sometimes we need to quit. Sometimes we need to say MERCY. Throughout life, we explore, gather information, grow, and change, and as a result, what we need and want often evolves. You don’t have to feel like a failure even when you decide it’s time to throw in the towel.
You get to decide what it means when you make a choice in your life. You may decide to leave your career because your talents are better served elsewhere. You may admit to your boss that “yes, it would be best to have someone else take over the budget breakdown” because this is not your strength. You may concede that quitting your marathon training is a healthy choice because your knees feel like they are being raked over hot coals. Yes, I know, your internal critic wants to yell: “You gave up! You failed!” WHOA! Slow down, cowboy! Don’t jump to conclusions that make you feel shitty and defeated. Life is a beautifully complex array of circumstances and discoveries. Allowing yourself to push through with grit and determination when it feels right is no different than allowing yourself to let go when something feels wrong. When giving up feels like freedom from a process that does not honor your strengths and desires, it is likely best to yell MERCY.
Now, before you go running into your bosses office to give your epic “I’m outta here” speech, let me offer some insight on when to dig for the grit and keep going.
As a coach, I am on alert for two common reasons that often lead people to walk away too soon.
1. Crisis of confidence
In coaching, I find that clients are often afraid that they are not capable. This is the perfect opportunity to work them through these fears with counter-stories and examples. Doing something that scares you will build your confidence. No matter the outcome. Use your friends, therapists, and coaches to help you move beyond the crisis of confidence so that you can keep moving toward what you deeply desire. Furthermore, a real crisis of confidence is often rooted in my second scenario for pushing through:
2. Fear of failure
This one is a biggie for many people. Often our fear of failure is really a fear of judgment. Too often we throw in the towel before we have the opportunity to fail. We fear looking stupid to our family, friends and ourselves if we don’t succeed. I understand how powerful this fear is; I, too, have been horrified by the idea that people are going to chat it up about my failures or choices.
But the idea that the judgment of others should dictate our lives is downright crazy. As I recently stated on my podcast episode Fear of Judgment, people will ALWAYS judge. It’s part of how we make sense of the world. They will judge you for being awesome, judge you for being tall, judge you for being too popular, judge you for making a mistake, and yes, judge you for failure. But judgment is NOT about you. It’s about the judger. It’s all a game of projection. When someone judges your failure, it’s because they are playing their own game of comparison to determine how they measure up in their own lives. When you get clear about your deep self-worth and realize it’s not directly connected to external achievements, you are free to fail without making it mean you are somehow less worthy. Don’t quit to avoid failing. It teaches you that failure is unbearable. It’s not. It’s uncomfortable and incredibly informative but not lethal.
Bottom Line: Quit For The Right Reasons
Yes, I know, that isn’t quite as catchy as “never give up.” Maybe don’t turn it into a bumper sticker, but tuck it into your mind. Giving up is perfectly fine; just take some time to become introspective about WHY you want to close this door. You will know when it feels freeing and when it feels like a fear-based choice. When you choose freedom over fear to guide your life, the journey is a hell of a lot more exciting. Maybe that should be the bumper sticker.