The power of giving up

Yet again this week, I’ve seen and half-read some motivational blog post about how important it is ‘never to give up’. Hogwash, I say, folks. This is not a new lesson, but one I learnt about 10 years ago, when confronted with odds I could not beat – first personal, and then professional as a consequence. Yet, a couple of times a year I am reminded of one of the most powerful mantras that I’ve learnt then: ‘give up, when you can’t win; walk away, fight another day – if it’s still worth it then. If not – let go.’ Following my stoic prussian lutheran upbringing – and a diet of pop psychology and Rocky movies – giving up was never an option. There is a heroic attractiveness to the one who fights against significant resistance – in a western context to be rewarded with success in the end. In other contexts, e.g. in Japanese literature and other forms of storytelling, the heroism often lies in giving it all – and dying trying. I find both tomes problematic. Both work on the assumption that there is a prize to be won – success in one, honour in the other. But both are defined by sacrifice and a range of suffering – which is cleansing, cathartic. Yet both, I dare say, are problematic – as they imply some form of reward that will be worth the struggle. Well, life doesn’t work that way – effort does not equate success, and it shouldn’t (as most lecturers marking essays will agree with). Effort can be laudable, sacrificing something may be worth it – but in itself, ‘not giving up’ has no intrinsic value. It may even lead to harm, if not directly by incorporating failure into a self-perception which is based on never giving up until you reach success. And it can leave insecurities and scars – or worse affect your long-term wellbeing. Probably this was one of the most important lessons of my adult life so far – sometimes you can’t win, and the art is in assessing the situation realistically, and walk away from it if needed. It’s very hard to consciously give up in a society which is so defined by (short term) success. Learning to buck the trend, and walking away with more or less dignity, can not only be better for you – but may actually help you feel better about yourself. I don’t know if it’s made me a better regarded individual, but it has helped me in both my personal and professional lives. I dare you – once in a while when you think you can’t go on anymore, just don’t. Have a cup of tea, think it through, give up, and follow a different path.

May 3rd, 2013 by